Natural resources, both renewable and extractives are extremely important to the livelihoods and economies of the Sahel (defined as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger). For example, agriculture accounts for over 30% of Mali’s GDP and cotton and gold account for over 80% of exports (IMF, 2018, p. 6). There is potential for conflict between renewable and extractive
natural resource sectors. For example, pastoralists in Niger have lost access to migration routes and land due to the enclosure by mining corporations (Larsen & Mamosso, 2014).
The region is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, including oil, gold and uranium (UN, 2018, p. 7). However, the Sahel, a semi-arid region, is one of the poorest and most
environmentally degraded in the world (USAID, 2017, p. 1). For example, Niger, despite its abundant extractive resources is ranked 187/188 on the Human Development Index (Sangare &
Maisonnave, 2018, p. 581).
Agriculture, both rain-fed subsistence farming and livestock herding (pastoralism), dominates livelihoods in the five Sahel countries (Liehr, Drees, & Hummel, 2016, p. 147). Given the importance of agriculture, its development remains a matter of urgency (Ferdi, 2016, p. 62). However, the share of international aid directed at renewable natural resources in the region is comparatively low: in 2014, only 6-7% of French and American aid and 16% of multilateral programme aid was devoted to agriculture, fisheries and forests (Ferdi, 2016, p. 62).
The Sahel’s renewable resources are under pressure from population growth and climate change, which could increase land degradation, reduce agricultural productivity and increase food insecurity (Liehr et al., 2016, p. 148). For example, the World Bank argues that land pressures in the Sahel are contributing to the region’s fragility trap. Donors are concerned that these pressures and their impacts on natural resources could drive instability and conflict in an already fragile region, increase marginal communities vulnerability to violent extremism and increase out-migration from the region (USAID, 2018, p. 3).
Key challenges in terms of the management of renewable resources include:
- increasing conflict between pastoralists and farmers due to competition for land and water;
- poor soils and soil erosion, which impact agricultural productivity and crop yields;
- land-use and land-cover changes, for example, forest cover in West Africa decreased by 37% between 1975 and 2013 due to deforestation for agricultural expansion (USAID, 2017);
- the inter-connected nature of environmental issues. For example, limited access to water constrains agricultural and livestock production (USAID, 2018). Water scarcity is fuelled by unsustainable natural resource use and population pressures, which in turn propel the degradation of agricultural and pasture land. This fuels natural resource-based conflicts, loss of livelihoods, and food insecurity (USAID, 2018).
- Climate change is identified as a key challenge in the literature, however, it is largely outside the scope of this report.
Effective strategies to improve renewable natural resources management have focused on land rehabilitation and water management. Projects such as the World Food Programme Cash for
Assets in Niger have increased the number of hectares under cultivation in targeted areas. Successful strategies involve local communities and need to be scaled-up to the national or regional level.
Extractive resources, including uranium in Niger and oil in Chad, are extremely important export commodities for the countries of the Sahel. However, NGOs, civil society and donors are
concerned about the transparency and governance of extractive industries as well as the generation and use of revenues (Larsen & Mamosso, 2014). For example, the IMF (2016) argues that more work is needed to improve the transparency of Chad’s oil sector. Larsen & Mamosso (2014) argue that development cooperation needs to do more to foster a properly functioning domestic governance regime for Niger’s uranium mines. There are a number of concerns surrounding uranium mining in Niger including a lack of transparency around the revenues and taxes it receives from mine operating corporations, how these revenues are spent and environmental concerns including soil and water contamination (Larsen & Mamosso, 2014).
Practitioners, donors and academics have suggested a number of strategies or interventions to improve the effectiveness of extractive resources management. These include improving the flow
of information about extractives; greater disclosure of information and compliance with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; and, building the capacity of government staff to monitor compliance with regulations (IMF, 2016; Larsen & Mamosso, 2014). The World Bank and IMF are key actors working to improve governance of the extractives sector.
There is a vast literature on the Sahel’s natural resources in both English and French. Due to the broad nature of natural resources management, it is not possible to cover all the issues relating
to land, water, forests, fisheries and extractives in this report. Consequently, the following sections largely focus on land-use, land degradation and competition between pastoralists and farmers, and on the governance of extractive resources. The final section of the report presents a number of evidence-based and recommended strategies for improving land and water management as they pertain to agriculture and livelihoods, and strategies for improving the management of extractive resources. In agriculture, particular attention is needed to the role of women as gender has been shown to impact agricultural productivity, with land owned by women being less productive than land owned by men (World Bank, 2018).