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How Tuaregs, Hausas are avoiding another Darfur

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"A few years from now you will see the land completely changed," says Mahadi Adamou, a local Hausa farmer who helped organize the building of the banks supported by a $17,000 grant from the Nigerien government's Special Presidential Fund.

"Trees will be coming up and there will be pastures. But," he adds, "it is just starting and will take time."

Mr. Vogt says the building of 521 water traps by local people is a solution that involves everyone who relies on the land for survival.

SOS Sahel has helped set up local resource management committees that include both Hausa farmers and Tuareg nomads alike. Tensions between the two groups have often flared into small-scale clashes over the decades and Tuaregs say they are excluded by the government.

Having previously experimented with smaller, horseshoe-shaped water traps, one of the local communities saw a need for larger traps and made a successful bid for cash from the new government fund earlier this year.

The key to this small success is time – and patience. These local committees have taken shape over 10 years learning to manage the land to everyone's benefit and to do so without the constant support of Western technicians and money.

This is not the usual method of 'in and out' development with a limited lifespan tied to a specific project, says Vogt, a Dutchman who has lived in Niger for 13 years with his Scottish wife and Hausa-speaking children. "It is difficult for donors to put money into social investment [like this] because it is difficult to see the results immediately," he explains.

Conservation is saving lives

While the replanting of this Sahelian forest with its sparse scattering of thorny acacias, hardy bushes, and clumps of grass is driven by pragmatic and economic reasoning, conservation is a useful byproduct that can quite literally save lives.

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