Artomossi, fighting against silting
A wadi is a river bed in endoreic semi-desert regions. Often dry, it can fill up suddenly during periods of flooding or heavy rainfall. Artomossi, near Bol in the Lake Province of Chad, is home to a 156-hectare wadi that supports many people in the village and in neighbouring areas through the exploitation of spirulina by women. Spirulina is an algae known for its nutritional and cosmetic properties, but also for the economic benefits to the women who depend on it.
The production of this algae is now threatened by the accelerated degradation of the Lake's ecosystems. Climate change, drought and desertification are leading to the silting up of the wadis and the disappearance of the plant cover, exposing them to the wind. When the wind blows, the spirulina disappears from the surface of the water and harvesting has to be interrupted.
UNESCO and local populations have chosen this site to restore a degraded ecosystem in the Lake Chad region. This activity is implemented with the communities, the first concerned, and its international (Eden Project) and local partners (National Agency of the Great Green Wall, University of N'Djamena, National Centre for Food Quality Control).
Consultations and concertations
A consultation of nearly 200 people, including 20 traditional chiefs, the chiefs of the villages exploiting the wadi and the landowners, was undertaken first of all to gain a better understanding of the area, its local, social and economic realities, its customs, its customary law, its land tenure and its governance of natural resources. These people were sensitised and mobilised against land degradation and silting and its social, economic and ecological consequences. 80% of them were women, the first to be affected by these consequences.
With the agreement of the authorities for the implementation of an operation to restore the wadi, a map was drawn up to identify, locate and demarcate the site. The selected area of 4ha is subject to roaming animal grazing. In order to preserve the reforestation area while taking into account local realities, it was agreed that the area would be semi-partitioned. 2ha of the area would be fenced off in a hermetically sealed manner, while the second half would be an area of assisted natural regeneration, without fencing, where the animals could roam. A monitoring committee representing the five groups of women spirulina harvesters was created and a memorandum of understanding was put in place to provide a framework for community management and ensure the visibility of the activity.
This part is particularly important for the smooth running of the activity and its sustainability by ensuring that the women take full ownership of the project.
The training of participants took place in two stages. A first theoretical stage on the mastery of techniques and technologies for sustainable land management and the fight against silting was followed by 35 participants. For the second part, 100 participants learned the techniques of production, planting, development of plantation perimeters (forest half-moons, forest trenches, digging of water collection basins, etc.), as well as those related to the maintenance and protection of plants.
After these trainings, the communities became fully aware of the socio-economic importance of Artomossi's wadi and the threats it faces. The community stakeholders came out of the training more aware and mobilised for reforestation, for site development and for the maintenance of plants against silting of the wadi.
Procurement of plants
The site chosen for restoration already has some trees (acacia, myrrh, balanites), fruit trees and herbaceous plants and wildlife potential (terrestrial, aquatic and avian) that could be replenished with the ecological restoration.
7,500 plants were acquired from a local nursery to start the restoration. The plants were chosen according to their ecological and economic values. Ecological as the species sought had to be adapted to the arid and semi-arid zones and naturally present in the Sahel, had to fix the soil, but also to be fast-growing and resistant to drought. And economic value as they must also have other functions such as food for herds, firewood, or fruits for consumption or production. In Niger, for example, UNESCO has trained women to extract oil from the fruit of the balanite tree for direct use or processing into cosmetics. With the planting and maintenance of balanites in Artomossi, the same activity can be envisaged.
Thus, some 6,000 plants of Acacia raddiana, Prosopis juliflora and cineraria, as well as more than 1,500 plants of Ziziphus mauritiana, Balanites aegyptiaca and Parkingsonia acculeita have been selected at the partner nursery.
In this arid area, drought is endemic. Water is fundamental to any ecological restoration activity. It is therefore necessary to consider not only a short-term supply of water to start the restoration but also a long-term supply for the maintenance of the site.
Activities started in the dry season. In order to moisten the plants, water was brought from the neighbouring village after arrangements with them and transported in cans on horseback. The water from the wadi itself is too cloudy and therefore not compatible with the watering of forest plants.
Water retention basins have been built to collect rainwater.
5,000 forest half-moons have been built. These are small basins for collecting runoff water, which are made manually in the plantation perimeter for humidification. 2,875 were dug inside the fence and the rest in the assisted natural regeneration zone.
6 mini water collection basins were dug. These are simple rainwater collection holes of 6m3, dug in the open and buried in the ground, with the bottom covered with a tarpaulin to prevent water infiltration. They are installed perpendicular to the slope of the site to collect run-off water.
The planting of the selected seedlings is preceded by extensive work to prepare the site and the soil. A staking was carried out to mark the location and density of the plantation, and the soil was dug and moistened. Organic fertiliser (manure) was applied to the soil to ensure that its structure was maintained and to facilitate the easy recovery of the plants or accelerated germination after the sowing.
The planting itself again addresses the issue of fulfilling several objectives at once. For example, 1,500 forest species (Ziziphus mauritiana, and Parkingsonia acculeita) were planted to create a vegetative hedge at the edge of fences or in ravines. Small millet was also sown, as its root system is able to fix the soil quickly and it develops easily in sandy environments and on mobile dunes. Moreover, it is part of the staple diet of the local population and its offshoots (stems and bran) are used as food for livestock or birds. 5,000 other plants were planted on the 4ha.
The maintenance and sustainability of the activity depends mainly on the participation of the communities. It is their monitoring that determines the care to be given to the plants (watering, cleaning, repotting, pruning, pest and rodent control, etc.). Some 2,000 plants have been identified and replaced. Today, 70% of the plantation is still viable and in good health, which demonstrates the significant social mobilisation and the mastery of restoration and maintenance techniques by the communities. Feedback from the management committee has highlighted the need for a drinking water well, the drilling of which was granted by PRESIBALT Chad.
In addition to the ecological restoration activities, UNESCO is also supporting the women of Artomossi in obtaining certification for the production of spirulina, which would facilitate sales and thus increase the income of the women producers.
Awareness-raising work by UNESCO, its partners and community representatives continues to reach everyone about the challenges of ecological restoration and climate change.