Analysis: Adaptation of Agriculture to climate change: Tera Department, Niger

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Adaptation de l’agriculture aux changements climatiques: Cas du département de Téra au Niger


Niger is considered to be a 3/4 desert country because of the fact of not having sufficient rainfall to enough support the growth of its trees or woody plants. Adding that it is a third world country (i.e. extreme drought, no agricultural insurance for the farmers), Niger is very vulnerable to climate change. Insuring food security in a changing climate in Niger has become an urgent criterion to be worked from now on. Niger depends on agriculture since it plays an important role in the economy of the country. Actually, the agriculture sector in Niger contributes between 30 and 40% to the total GDP of the country, and the majority (80%) of the total Nigerian population depends on it. In addition, the effects of climate change are increasing and becoming known worldwide; despite this, the physical knowledge of climate change is currently insufficient for decision makers. In fact, one of the key issues for asset owners and decision makers is to know how and when to adapt or help a certain community to adapt to the increased risks of the impacts of climate change, especially when considering decisions regarding investment and development strategies in a certain area or country. As a result, to determine if/when, and how to adapt to a changing climate, decision makers such as scientists need to develop methodologies. The following written thesis by Omar Daouda develops a methodology to investigate how agriculture in Niger, specifically the Tera Department, can best adapt to climate change.

The methodology is based on four criteria – the impact on the revenue of population; the impact on food security; the management of natural resources; and the revival of the local economy, and five alternatives – reinforcement of the capacities of technical services; rational use of water resources; vulgarization of plant and animal species that are best adapted to the climatic conditions; diversification and intensification of irrigated crops and forage species; and development of actions for water and soil conservation and soil restoration (CES / DRS) for forestry, agricultural and pastoral activities. The criteria and the alternatives were chosen based on their pertinence with the national guidelines of SRP (Strategy of Poverty Reduction in Niger), SDR (Strategy of the Rural Development in Niger), and PANA (National Action Plan for Adaptation to climate change). Since the objective of the study is to obtain the most adaptable solutions in a given context, AHP (Analytic Hierarchy Process), a multicriteria tool, was chosen as the best methodology among the most used methods such as cost/benefit and cost/efficiency analyses. AHP is a methodology that aims to resolve problems with several alternatives by simultaneously applying several criteria decisions. A comparison, specifically a binary comparison, to the main objective which is finding efficient options of adaptation to limit the negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, between the four criteria was made. Then, a comparison, also binary, to each criterion was made between the five alternatives.

If we take the four criteria, we can notice that four of them are connected in the sense that three of them are aimed at an ultimate goal, which is food security – the second criteria taken in the methodology. By definition, food security“exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”(World Food Summit, 1996). Plus, in the strategies of adaptation of agriculture to climate change, the impact on food security aims to eliminate famine. What must not be forgotten here that it is poverty, and not food deficiency, that leads to famine. In addition, the results of different multicriteria analyses showed that “the impact on food security”, with a weight of 55%, is the most important criterion that all the coping adaptation strategies of agriculture to climate change must be focused on in the department of Tera. According to the results of the methodology and since the “development of plant and animal species best adapted to climatic conditions” was proven to be the best alternative (with a weight of 47.4%), the criterion “impact on food security” should be mainly achieved by working on this third alternative. This alternative is based on the popularization of the animal and plant species that have the best ecological plasticity (resilience) to extreme drought. For example, in very old studies, Ziziphus mauritiana, Acacia laeta, Acacia seyal, Boscia angustifolia, Boscia salicifolia, Acacia Ehrenbergiana, and Rhus oxyacantha, were shown to be among the best adaptable plant species in the arid environment of Niger (Aubreville, 1993). Furthermore, the vulgarization of the best adaptable animal species to drought, like camel, can help.

On the other hand, the strengthening of technical services (with a weight of 4.4%), such as human, physical and financial capital, was the least preferable alternative. Seeing this should not be shocking because of the past results which didn’t meet the anticipated expectations. Furthermore, the donors who provided the funding for these services came from NGOs rather than the state. We can conclude here that unlike the state, NGOs play an important role in helping communities to adapt to the negative effects of climate change in the Tera Department. Also, one should notice that NGOs are not playing that effective role in helping the inhabitants of the Department of Tera to well adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. Where has all the technical support, such as all terrain-vehicles/tractors, gone? This makes us realize that most of the NGOs are not playing a sufficient role in the field of adaptation of agriculture to climate change. And apparently, there is an obvious gap between the role of international and local NGOs. Also, it is true that NGOs are increasing in number and influence. At the same time, the politics of NGOs poses challenges for those who must implement a sustainable development policy (Ffolliot, 2011). According to UNDP estimates, by 2002, more than $7 billion in aid to developing countries will flow through international NGOs (Mitri, 2011). So if the aids were flowing correctly, countries of the developing world, like Niger, would not have witnessed such extreme poverty. In addition, one should keep in mind that the excess of technical services, especially the physical capital, can cause damage to agriculture and the physical atmosphere, emitting more greenhouse gases. The second law of thermodynamics states that “all physical processes, natural and technological, proceed in such a way that the availability of the energy involved decreases” (Daly & Townsend, 1992). So, 100% efficiency does not exist. The first and the second laws of thermodynamics make it clear that all the energy used on the face of the Earth, renewable and non-renewable forms of energy, will ultimately be degraded to heat (Daly & Townsend, 1992). Moreover, the weights of the alternatives “rational use of water resources” and “diversification and intensification of irrigated crops and forage species”, which are respectively 7.2%and 17.3% seems more surprising. The explanation of this is that the Department of Tera does not have sufficient groundwater, unlike the rest of the country. Only surface water is available and it undergoes a competition between the population on one side, and between cattle and evaporation on the other side. Thus, intensification is hard to achieve in a place like the Tera Department because of the overexploitation of the scarce, available natural resources. It is important not to forget here that intensification can also have disadvantages. In fact, agricultural intensification can cause severe damage to the crops, individuals (i.e. farmers) and the physical atmosphere since it requires large inputs of labor, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and capital, on the same amount of land. Nitrogen-based fertilizers are an example on this. In fact, nitrogen-based fertilizers contribute significantly to the release into the atmosphere of nitrous oxide, a leading greenhouse gas with more than 300 times the heat-trapping impact of carbon dioxide (National Science Foundation, 2012). Mechanization which includes mechanical ploughing, harvesting and irrigation, is one of those examples. “By eliminating the traditional partner- the draft animal- the mechanization of agriculture allows the entire land area to be allocated to the production of food” (Daly & Townsend, 1992). On the other hand, the criteria “development of actions for water and soil conservation and soil restoration (CES / DRS) for forestry, agricultural and pastoral activities”, accounted for 25.1%, making it the second among the alternatives of adaptation of agriculture to climate change in the Department of Tera. Stone barriers (or stone contour lines), drip irrigation (or improved diguette system) and half-moon techniques were proven to be effective agro-forestry policies in the conservation and restoration of soil and water in the strategy of adaptation to climate change, especially when fighting wind and hybrid erosion in the Tera Department.

To conclude, the Tera Department is one of the vulnerable regions in Niger. And even if the region depends on the production of cattle, sheep and goats, for its economy, the emissions of greenhouse gases from such country are small compared to other regions in the developing world. Moreover, the vulgarization of plant and animal species has proven to be the best alternative for ensuring food security in a country very susceptible to the effects of climate change. Furthermore, when considering the adaption strategies to climate change, all the considered alternatives should work together since they are interrelated. Also, the state, NGOs and researchers, have an important role to play to assure the ultimate contribution of each alternative. If they work well together, they can achieve the best results of each alternative, especially the third alternative – the vulgarization of plant and animal species which are the most adapted to climate change (and the emerging climate conditions). This third alternative has important results on the other alternatives such as development of actions for water and soil conservation and soil restoration. For example, by first dissipating or popularizing the information about the best adapted plant and animal species to climate change, the actions of conservation and restoration can be improved for the better. In addition, the strategies for the adaption to climate change have their limits too.

Moreover, the role of different actors is very critical in raising the adaptation capacity of farmers to climate change. Policymakers, technical services, researchers, and farmers, have an important function to play, especially when it comes to assuring food security in a country that shows a poor resilience to the negative effects of climate change. For example, by favoring the research on agriculture and promoting the use of natural phosphates to fertilize land and actions against poverty through income-generating activities, policymakers can contribute to the vulgarization of plant and animal species the most adapted to climate change. The technical services can coordinate interventions in consultation with NGOs, and do an outreach campaign and training for farmers. Besides using the tools of an early warning system to plan agricultural and pastoral activities, researchers can promote, develop and disseminate information about the local plant and animal species the most resistant to drought. Farmers can prepare and disseminate a cultural calendar for the implementation of various agricultural operations such as the use of improved varieties (i.e. variety selection and breeding, crop rotation) that are adapted to the agro-climatic conditions of the area.

In addition, the missing part that I noted in the recommendation part of the written thesis of Omar, was the conflict between the farmer and the livestock producer. Actually, the forage plants are the cornerstone of rangeland management (Ffolliot, 2011). “For sustained use of forage plants, the correct number of grazing livestock on a rangeland must be balanced with available forager sources” (Ffolliot, 2011). In fact, the existing issue between farmers and livestock producers is an issue of managing the commons. The tragedy of commons is about the tragedy of freedom in a commons, and it involves population problems. Even if the effects of grazing are not felt by the herdsmen of a third world country due to low emissions of greenhouse gases, rangeland management should be an important goal in the policymaking decision to ensure food security. And of course, governments; researchers (i.e. ecologists) and farmers should play an essential role in this.

Furthermore, the role of different players should be integrated between the players, and the different players should be helpful and cooperative. Furthermore, one should notice that the AHP tool used in this study is a decision making process. In fact, the decision making process in natural resources management is based on four sequential steps, which are problem recognition, specification of strategies, specification of the decision criterion or criteria, and selection of the optimum strategy (Ffolliot, 2011). Each alternative used to a recognized problem/criterion is a strategy. And that’s what the AHP tool used in the study was about.

To add, managing the policy process involves the players, policy dialogue, getting the timing right, and the role of communications (Mitri, 2011). “It is important to include all key stakeholders in the environmental policy process and to identify and nurture participants who can play a leadership or supporting role in advancing the policy process” (Ffolliot, 2011). Donor coordination is also a very important for consistent and effective policies to emerge from the policy process. The policy dialogue enables the transparency and effectiveness of decision-making in the environmental policy arena (Mitri, 2011). It is important not to forget that the diffusion of the results of the dialogue to the local community or farmers, should be done in an explicit way. Also, the right timing is a significant component of the policy process. Since the policy process can take place over several months and years, persistence and patience are required (Mitri, 2011). The final management element in the policy process is communication. “Communication provides the means for building consensus among the public and stakeholders to support the policy reform that emerge from that consultative process” (Ffolliot, 2011). And that is how the co-construction of effective public policies can emerge. All kinds of players should be cooperative between each others in order to assure the trust between farmers and different stakeholders.

On a final note, we need to help each other. If different players act separately, the objective of food security, especially in a vulnerable country like Niger, will not be met. And it seems like we are living in an irony, or should we call it a negative feedback to use a scientific term. Speaking in general, without taking any specific country, agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. According to the New York Times reports, approximately a third of all the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and forestry (Gillis, 2011). And here we – researchers; farmers; governments and NGOs – are now must have effective and immediate solutions for the adaptation of agriculture in the face of the devastating effects of climate change to ensure food security. Economic and population growth are the root causes of our environmental problems. In my opinion, it is better to work on the root causes instead of finding solutions to the problems, or both!

Of course, easier said than done.

As Pogo said during the Vietnam War, “We’ve been the enemy and it us. Suddenly, we are both the invading barbarians and the only ones around to protect the city. Each one of us is at the center of the civilized world and on its edge” (Fennell, 2003).


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Aubreville, A. et al. (1993). Critères de choix du tracé et Liste indicative des espèces végétales. Retrieved from

Gillis, J. (June 4, 2011). Damaging the Earth to Feed Its People. The New York Times.

Mitri, G. (April 14, 2011).Decision-making and policymaking process: part 1. Lecture 15. University of Balamand.

National Science Foundation. (July 18, 2012). Scientists Develop New Carbon Accounting Method. Press Release 12-133. Retrieved from

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