A Quantitative Evaluation of the Multiple Narratives of the Recent Sahelian Regreening

Mimi Stith Department of Anthropology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

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Alessandra Giannini International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York

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John del Corral International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York

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Susana Adamo Center for International Earth Science Information Network, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York

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Alex de Sherbinin Center for International Earth Science Information Network, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York

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Abstract

A spatial analysis is presented that aims to synthesize the evidence for climate and social dimensions of the “regreening” of the Sahel. Using an independently constructed archival database of donor-funded interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal in response to the persistence of drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the spatial distribution of these interventions is examined in relation to population density and to trends in precipitation and in greenness. Three categories of environmental change are classified: 1) regions at the northern grassland/shrubland edge of the Sahel where NDVI varies interannually with precipitation, 2) densely populated cropland regions of the Sahel where significant trends in precipitation and NDVI decouple at interannual time scales, and 3) regions at the southern savanna edge of the Sahel where NDVI variation is independent of precipitation. Examination of the spatial distribution of environmental change, number of development projects, and population density brings to the fore the second category, covering the cropland areas where population density and regreening are higher than average. While few, regions in this category coincide with emerging hotspots of regreening in northern Burkina Faso and southern central Niger known from case study literature. In examining the impact of efforts to rejuvenate the Sahelian environment and livelihoods in the aftermath of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of a varying and uncertain climate, the transition from desertification to regreening discourses is framed in the context of adaptation to climate change.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0012.s1.

Corresponding author address: Alessandra Giannini, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964. E-mail: alesall@iri.columbia.edu

This article is included in the In Honor of Peter J. Lamb special collection.

Abstract

A spatial analysis is presented that aims to synthesize the evidence for climate and social dimensions of the “regreening” of the Sahel. Using an independently constructed archival database of donor-funded interventions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal in response to the persistence of drought in the 1970s and 1980s, the spatial distribution of these interventions is examined in relation to population density and to trends in precipitation and in greenness. Three categories of environmental change are classified: 1) regions at the northern grassland/shrubland edge of the Sahel where NDVI varies interannually with precipitation, 2) densely populated cropland regions of the Sahel where significant trends in precipitation and NDVI decouple at interannual time scales, and 3) regions at the southern savanna edge of the Sahel where NDVI variation is independent of precipitation. Examination of the spatial distribution of environmental change, number of development projects, and population density brings to the fore the second category, covering the cropland areas where population density and regreening are higher than average. While few, regions in this category coincide with emerging hotspots of regreening in northern Burkina Faso and southern central Niger known from case study literature. In examining the impact of efforts to rejuvenate the Sahelian environment and livelihoods in the aftermath of the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of a varying and uncertain climate, the transition from desertification to regreening discourses is framed in the context of adaptation to climate change.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-15-0012.s1.

Corresponding author address: Alessandra Giannini, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964. E-mail: alesall@iri.columbia.edu

This article is included in the In Honor of Peter J. Lamb special collection.

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