The inhabitants of the Lake Chad basin face many challenges. Years of drought (with 95% of the lake's surface area reduced) and unsustainable management have led to significant imbalances in ecosystems, which were not compensated by the recent increase of the lake's area since the 2000s. The main sources of livelihoods in the basin -agriculture, livestock farming, and fisheries- depend on healthy environments. The degraded ecosystems, added to political and security unrest, compromise these resources.
Last update: 27 September 2022

Strengthening the resilience of the local communities means strengthening the link between humans and nature, developing the communities' governance of their environment and their quality of life. As demonstrated by UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme since 1971, the only path to achieving climate change adaptation and poverty reduction sustainably is through restoring harmony between humans and nature. UNESCO replicates these principles in the Lake Chad basin through 3 main lines of actions: restoring ecosystems, fostering a green economy, and assisting Member States in creating designated sites that are exceptional in their restoration of the relationship between humans and nature.

Ecosystem restoration

Restoring ecosystems means to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems, which contributes to ending poverty and combatting climate change. For the women, men and children of the Lake Chad basin, it means working in harmony with nature to increase sources of revenue for them and for future generations.

women watering plant in the restored dune plain of Artomossi, Chad
The role played by women in the restoration of dune plains in Artomossi was essential in its success. In total, 4 ha of dune plains were restored.
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a woman is cutting spirulina in squares to prepare the patties once it is dry. barriers of dried branches are set up around the drying spirulina to protect them
Drying spirulina is a challenging process, further complicated by strong winds. Restoring the dunes in Artomossi improved working conditions for the women who produce the algae. UNESCO is also assisting them in obtaining certification to sale their production.
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UNESCO, together with the local communities and stakeholders, is restoring degraded ecosystems in the region of Bol, Chad, with the support of international and local partners (Eden Project, University of N'Djamena, Great green wall, CECOQDA). 

Combat desertification

In Artomossi, harvesting and processing spirulina (Spirulina arthrospira platensis) is a significant economic activity, due to its high nutritional value and the important income generated by its sale. About 200 women produce the algae in the area; however, the progressive silting up of Artomossi and strong winds are preventing them from working. UNESCO and the Great Green Wall, along with the local communities, are working to restore the nearby ouadi, which will facilitate the harvest. In agreement with the local population, a borehole will be dug to give them access to drinking water, thanks to the support of PRESIBALT Chad. The women are also obtaining certifications for the production of spirulina, strengthening their capacities and increasing their financial resilience. 

4 hectares

of dune plains were restored, to improve the working conditions of the women harvesting spirulina 

Sustainable fishing practices

In Khaya, there are many people who have been displaced from the islands of Lake Chad by Boko Haram, and they rely on fishing in traditional canoes for their income. Every day, the catch is salted and then consumed or sold locally. Discussions with the fishermen revealed that the catch was dwindling and the fish were getting smaller and smaller. 

UNESCO is working with them to identify and geo-reference spawning grounds and introduce an effective no fishing/crossing area for sustainable fishing. Income-generating activities based on green economy will be implemented to diversify their sources of income. 

82 hectares

of spawning grounds have been identified in the Ngorerom-Ngouya-Boune area for a no-fishing zone.

Bring water back

In Njar Ngourta, the wadi is no longer connected to the lake and thus water is scarce. The surrounding villages rely on agriculture and pastoralism for their livelihoods. Without water, the vegetation is degraded and livestock roams at large. Few other commercial products or other food sources are available.

UNESCO, with the University of N'Djamena, analysed the feasibility of building a sluice gate, flooding the wadi once more for the nearby 7 villages. Financial partners are being approached to fund the work. 

Green economy

To strengthen the Lake Chad basin communities’ resilience to natural hazards, including extreme weather and climate change, their economic resilience must also be strengthened. The work is vast and the needs dire. A World Bank report indicated in 2021 that the poverty rate (less than 1.90 USD per day) was 59% in the Extreme North region of Cameroon and 78% in the Lake Chad region of Nigeria. Diversifying sources of income is thus vital to bring relief and security to the communities. In each of the areas where UNESCO intervened, income-generating activities based on green economy were set up. 

Women learning how to build ovens from cloth to keep food warm
Women living near Andirni and Djermé, in the Waza Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon, learnt sustainable practices to improve their daily lives, such as how to farm sustainable and how to build ovens.
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Women taking part in production of balanites oil in Niger near lake Chad
Women living near Diffa in Niger learnt how to cultivate balanites trees and produce oil from their fruits, thus increasing their incomes considerably
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Women and men learning how to fish farm sustainably in Nigeria
After learning about several income-generating activities, communities of Hadejia Nguru Bade Biosphere Reserve, Nigeria, chose to develop a fish farm
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Women sorting shea nuts to process
Women in Ndélé, Central African Republic, strengthened their capacity to produce and process shea-based products
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Meeting the communities' needs

UNESCO organised consultations with local populations around Lake Chad to assess their needs and wishes. 

In Nigeria for instance, a large consultation was organized in the newly-designated Hadejia Nguru Bade Biosphere Reserve to present several income-generating activities compatible with a green economy. The proposed activities were all relevant to the ecosystem and market of the region, for example beekeeping and slug-farming. After a vote, fish-farming was chosen by the communities. Likewise, in Ndélé, Central African Republic, an activity on the production and processing of shea nuts was introduced. In the region of the Sena Oura National Park, Chad, beekeeping was selected. 


pilot income-generating activities were developed around Lake Chad (3 in each country).

Training (with) the communities

Trainings for trainers were organised at the inception of the project by UNESCO's partner, the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN). By training trainers, a large number of indirect beneficiaries is reached. AIWOCCAN, a Cameroonian organization, was present during this early-on training. Later, they trained the indigenous women of Andirni and Djermé (Cameroon) in sustainable farming and other practices linked to their daily lives (keeping food warm, building sustainable ovens, etc.). They also trained these women in teaching what they learnt in the villages nearby, and a training manual was developed. 

All around Lake Chad, communities were trained in various activities in order to master the whole process of production. For instance in Niger, near Diffa, women were not only trained in extracting oil from the balanites fruit and processing it, but also in taking care of the trees and soil sustainably to ensure the durability of their activity. 

30,000 people

were reached directly or indirectly through the trainings. 

Strengthening the communities' economy

Through their work, the communities are strengthening their economy and their ability to adapt to future hazards. They set up activities that generate income and savings in a sustainable way by producing manufactured goods like balanites oil in Niger, or shea-based cosmetics in the Central African Republic, which have added market value compared to the raw products. They also became less dependent on market availability by producing their own food, notably in Bara (Chad), thus increasing their food security. The semi-nomadic indigenous women of Bara have been working together to enhance the development of their activity by setting-up a cooperative to perpetuate their crop farming activity (buying the necessary seeds or equipment together or organizing the sale of crops through the cooperation). With the Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT), they also bought land, a first for women in the region. 

360,000 FCFA

(about 600 USD): the value of each woman's harvest in Andirni and Djermé, Cameroon, thanks to work implemented with AIWO-CAN.



UNESCO-designated sites for sustainable development

UNESCO strengthens the communities’ resilience in its designated sites (World Heritage sites, biosphere reserves and UNESCO Global Geoparks).  These special places promote sustainable development, focus on the protection of natural and cultural heritage and on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and geological resources, and addresses the challenges of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The communities are at the heart of the designation process, taking ownership of their future. 

Lancrenon waterfalls in Doumba-Rey Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon
Lancrenon waterfalls in Doumba-Rey Biosphere Reserve
Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Tree nursery, BIOPALT initiatives to improve livelihoods in Sena Oura Biosphere Reserve, Chad
This tree nursery in Sena Oura Biosphere Reserve, Chad, is one of the BIOPALT initiatives to improve livelihoods
Presentation of the ecological and socio-economic studies developed by the BIOPALT project to the community of the Doumba-Rey Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon
The ecological and socio-economic studies developed by the BIOPALT project are presented to the community of the Doumba-Rey Biosphere Reserve, Cameroon

Community ownership

Local communities are at the heart of the Man and the Biosphere Programme and the World Heritage Convention. Behind the ideology of the BIOPALT project "for and by communities" is the vision of these two UNESCO programmes. 

In order for a site to be designated, local communities must be consulted and must approve the nomination file, otherwise the proposal for designation is not admissible. In this context, UNESCO has organized awareness-raising, consultation and feedback workshops for each of the activities organized as part of the BIOPALT project. The communities have a better understanding of their environment, of what it provides for them and what they can do to protect it. By taking ownership of the nomination process, they reclaim their link to their environment. 

3,000 people

consulted as part of the process to designate biosphere reserves and a World Heritage site in the 5 countries.

Knowledge and management of resources

UNESCO designated sites are full of sometimes unsuspected resources. Biological, hydrological or human, they are the heart of what makes these sites exceptional. In order to capture this exceptionality, UNESCO has undertaken studies on biophysical, socio-economic and cultural data in the intervention zones of the five countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Nigeria) of the BIOPALT project. 

The results of these studies will be used to support nomination dossiers for inscription on the World Heritage List or in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. One study, for example, has updated our knowledge of the fauna and flora present in the basin, in particular endangered species, and another on the ecosystem services that a given site provides. The results of these studies were also used in BIOPALT project activities on natural and cultural resource management. 

14 studies

carried out on hydrology, biodiversity and cultural heritage, such as: hydroclimatic variability, fauna and flora inventories, socioeconomic studies, paleoclimatological studies, management plans, sustainable financing of biosphere reserves, etc.


professional Master's course and a MOOC on the management of biosphere reserves and the MAB Programme, the first in Africa, hosted by ERAIFT.