There is significant potential for productive and resilient livelihoods and landscapes in the Sahel. National economies and urban centers are growing, and most Sahelian countries are seeing sustained increases in per capita livestock and crop production. The people of the Sahel are diverse, with a rich cultural heritage and long tradition of ‘multi-user’ sustainable land and resource management suited to the semi-arid, Sahelian conditions.
Despite this potential, people face many challenges. Sahelian countries continue to be amongst the poorest on earth, and their populations amongst the most vulnerable. Four of the bottom eight ranked countries in the 2018 Human Development Index are Sahelian countries (Out of 189 countries: Niger, 189; Chad, 186; Burkina Faso, 183; and Mali, 182). Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of farmers, pastoralists and other land and water users, as well the landscapes they collectively depend upon. The combined impacts of climate change (temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, more frequent and prolonged extreme events, particularly droughts and floods), competition over access to land and water and other natural resources, difficulties in engaging viable alternative livelihood opportunities, and increasing hostilities between people who depend on these fragile environments are threatening the region in complex and interconnected ways. As a result, the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel is anticipating what it describes as “persistent food insecurity” for the foreseeable future.
Achieving resilient livelihoods and landscapes in the Sahel, like drylands elsewhere, is made more complex by high levels of livelihood differentiation amongst people who live in rural areas. Farmers, pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, fisherfolk, hunters and foragers, amongst others, compete over access to land and other natural resources, and at the same time provide each other with a range of mutually beneficial services. These different livelihoods intersect with social differences, where ethnicity, gender, age generations and, in some instances, religion all contribute to determining rights and access to resources. As a result, sustainable management and governance of natural resources is highly complex, and the risk of conflict increases as new risks and uncertainties such as climate change add to this complexity.
When governments and development programmes focus on sector specific solutions, they risk breaking the intricate inter-connection of diverse and often mobile livelihoods and social categories inherent in managing the fragile Sahel environments, thereby contributing drivers of conflict. New approaches are needed which break-down sectoral silos and seek to strengthen coordinated local decision-making and complementarities across livelihoods, at the community level and within the local and national economy, markets and policy environment. Adaptive capacity, collaborative mechanisms, governance and innovation in the face of uncertainty are required to support decision making for long-term and continuous adaptation responses to changing climates.
There is a wealth of knowledge, experience and evidence emerging from development, disaster risk reduction, resilience and climate change adaptation programmes. There is also research that can help to both inform a way forward that is responsive to these complexities and diversities, and to chart a pathway to climate resilient and secure livelihoods in the Sahel, where critical issues the Sahel faces are addressed in an integrated, multi-actor and locally-owned way.
In this context, ALFA Sahel 2020 brings together actors, with direct, practical experience and research evidence, with policymakers to address these issues and gain common understandings about the current state of the Sahel, the challenges and opportunities experienced and what a resilient, sustainable and secure future Sahel might look like, with an emphasis on the relationship between farmers and pastoralists.
ALFA Sahel 2020 follows ALFA2017 which provided a platform for interactive learning on adaptation to climate change across Africa from which participants developed a communique with a set of messages for adaptation action, policy and financing. ALFA2017 brought together a wide range of organisations from across Africa to co-create a way forward for approaches to adaptation to climate change.