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The Sahel Wood Energy project, supported by the Agence française de Développement (AFD) and the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) is committed to preserving the Sahel’s forests through better management. It uses two observation satellites to do this.

This article was first published on our site www.afd.fr 

In the Sahel, wood is still the main cooking fuel being used by 90% of households. The vast scale of fuelwood collection is a major factor in the degradation of forests across the region. In fact, between 2000 and 2020, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali lost almost 15% of their forest cover for this reason. This situation generates serious negative impacts, such as reduced biodiversity, increased greenhouse gas emissions and loss of income. Using wood as fuel also results in repeated exposure to cooking fumes, which is detrimental to health and primarily affects women.

However, there is growing recognition of the damage caused by such over-exploitation of the forest among the population, communities and the authorities. This makes it ideal to host the launch of forest protection initiatives, like the Sahel Wood Energy project, led by Niger and supported by the Agence française de développement (AFD) and the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM).

One of the programme’s objectives is to facilitate access to sustainable firewood, so that 50% of wood used for cooking in the capital, Niamey, will come from sustainably-managed forest spaces (compared with just 5% today). “The Sahel is a priority area of activity for the AFD on this topic, given the sustained pace of forest degradation”, emphasises Damien Delhomme, project manager in the AFD’s Energy division.

Pinpointing deforestation to the nearest hectare

To achieve this objective, the state of Niger is relying on two very highly-placed allies: the Terre Sentinel-2 (A and B) observation satellites, managed by the European Space Agency. By comparing the images taken each week by these satellites, the Nigerian forestry administration will be able to identify to the nearest hectare any new areas impacted by deforestation. “The satellites allow forest surveillance to be conducted objectively, and their support is now possible as part of a project financed by a funding partner. The images used are free“, explains Damien Delhomme.

The data collected will be made available to the general public via a web platform. In just a few clicks, local people can then watch on their smartphone how the forests are changing around their community. This application will also enable close monitoring of wooded areas for local communities, as well as for the devolved and central administrations responsible for exploitation of the wood energy resource.

Better tracking of movements on the wood markets

To improve management and preservation of this resource, the first step is to set out the operating rules: land usage map, productivity assessment, annual operating quotas etc. The data transmitted by the Sentinel-2 satellites allows these quotas to be updated each year by acting as an independent third party.

The Sahel Wood Energy programme draws on feedback from a previous pilot project, Fonabes, undertaken in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali by the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research (Cirad), with financing from the FFEM. It will support the structuring of rural wood markets and will be given legal person status, enabling it to manage a “drop-off and sell” platform at community scale. Goals: better traceability of movements in terms of price and quantity, collection of taxes to benefit the community and training of woodcutters in the sustainable exploitation of the resource.

These “drop-off and sell” points will then have quotas to respect, followed by the community and controlled by the forest administration through an information system tracing the transactions. In Niger, where these are already operating, most carriers actually prefer working with these rural markets.

Making progress in neighbouring communities

The programme officially started in April 2022, and is financed through a number of AFD and FFEM grants totalling €8 million. For this, two financing agreements have been signed: one with the State of Niger for the sustainable management of the forests and another with a consortium formed by Hystra, Geres and Entrepreneurs du monde to support the distribution of improved, fuel-efficient hearths.

The challenge is also to steer local populations towards good practices for the sustainable management of forests. “We need to put in place an incentive system for sustainable resource management”, explains Guillaume Salle, project team manager at the AFD’s Agriculture, rural development and biodiversity division. “The project will allow local populations to be supported while their income sources diversify. If half the communities neighbouring the capital, Niamey, follow the system’s lead, then we’ll be making progress."