In Niger, a ‘crazy idea’ to restore degraded land pays off


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The carbon credit payment ceremony in Koné Béri, Niger, was cause for celebration. Photo: World Bank
The carbon credit payment ceremony in Koné Béri, Niger, was cause for celebration. Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Managing Director of Operations, participated in the event. Photo: World Bank

February 21, 2020 was a day of celebration in Koné Béri, Niger. People gathered in the village for a ceremony 14 years in the making. Some had doubted that a “crazy idea to sell the air,” as local communities referred to the sale of carbon credits generated from their agro-forestry plantations, would ever come to fruition.  But on this day, leaders representing 26 rural communities accepted the first carbon credit payment ever made to Niger for reducing emissions.

These communities spanning six regions of the country earned a combined $450,000 for the greenhouse gas sequestered by 7,200 hectares of Acacia Senegal trees. The communities planted the trees on once-abandoned land and nurtured them over 14 years as part of an afforestation agro-forestry project—part of the World Bank’s Community Action Program (known as PAC). The program, now its third and final phase, is the first of its kind in West Africa to earn carbon revenues.

This accomplishment was proudly shared by all of us involved in the project, namely Niger’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the dynamic Franco-Nigerien agri-business, Achats Service International (ASI), the World Bank and BioCarbon Fund, and over 100,000 men and women of the participating communities whose patience and dedication was a true inspiration.

Members of the Tchida community showed us around their thriving Acacia plantation. Photo: Mirko Serkovic
Members of the Tchida community showed us around their thriving Acacia plantation. Photo: Mirko Serkovic

Back in 2006 when the project launched, villagers were incredulous that someone would pay for the greenhouse gases that their trees could eventually capture. Their skepticism was valid; at that time, carbon offset markets were nascent with no track record of success. The project was a very early pilot that brought the BioCarbon Fund on board to buy carbon credits generated until 2020.

Far-fetched or not, project partners embraced the opportunity to reclaim deserted land and try new methods of agro-forestry to boost food supplies and incomes in some of the poorest areas of Niger. With consistent PAC training and support, community groups formed and worked together to raise knee-high Acacia Senegal saplings into mature groves.

The trees have yielded not only carbon revenue but many other important benefits.  Acacia Senegal trees were chosen for their soil restoration properties and the Arabic gum they produce. The gum is used as a stabilizer in the food industry and, now, it is a source of income for communities who collect and sell it to ASI for export. As the trees have grown, so too has the vitality of the soil. Communities can now intercrop their trees with food crops like cowpea, groundnut, and millet. Surpluses are sold at local markets. Animal fodder is also being grown to feed local herds. All of this is generating significant income and employment, particularly for women and young people, and helping to reduce the rural exodus currently experienced in Niger.

Communities tap their trees to collect the Arabic gum, which they sell to ASI for export. It is used as a stabilizer in the food industry. Photo: Mirko Serkovic
Communities tap their trees to collect the Arabic gum, which they sell to ASI for export. It is used as a stabilizer in the food industry. Photo: Mirko Serkovic

It is incredible that these once degraded, abandoned drylands now support a variety of sustainable, income-generating activities and reconstituted natural habitats. The project has created microclimates and enabled the appearance of new plant and animal species. When I visited the Tchida project site, I was surrounded by the vibrancy of nature. Birds flew through the greenery and the trees provided much-needed shade from the extreme heat. It contrasted starkly with the surrounding area, sunbaked and brown and in a continuous state of degradation.

After 10 years of diligent care, the plantations had enough volume to embark on the carbon certification process. By 2017, we were deep into it, measuring the diameter and height of trees in project sites across the country, calculating carbon sequestration, and engaging a third party to audit our results. It took two years to complete, but in 2019, the UN issued the carbon credits generated by the project. ASI aggregated and sold these credits to the BioCarbon Fund, and has now distributed the carbon payments to all 26 participating communities based on the size of their plantations.

The difference is stark between the reclaimed land of Kogorou’s plantation on the left and abandoned land on the right. Photo: Mirko Serkovic
The difference is stark between the reclaimed land of Kogorou’s plantation on the left and abandoned land on the right. Photo: Mirko Serkovic

Communities are using the money in a number of ways, including to maintain and expand their plantations, purchase agricultural equipment and inputs, rehabilitate water points, provide much-needed supplies for local schools and health posts, lend to women and youth, and the list goes on. It is a double-win on top of the investments provided by PAC.

At the payment ceremony in Koné Béri, community members noted that the World Bank had supported them all the way to finish line, saying it had not only “taught them to fish” so to speak, but also “provided the fishing net and boat!” The project concludes in 2020, but community groups are well established and will continue cultivating their plantations with ASI as their partner.

It was a truly special moment meeting community leaders and hearing how they plan to use carbon payments to invest in local development. I’m honored to have worked with them. Photo: World Bank
It was a truly special moment meeting community leaders and hearing how they plan to use carbon payments to invest in local development. I’m honored to have worked with them. Photo: World Bank

Niger is at the frontline of climate change and desertification—at least 100,000 hectares of agricultural land is lost each year. To help ensure food security, the government seeks to build on successes like this project to restore 3.2 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. Scaled-up investments and partnerships are needed to achieve this ambitious goal. Our pilot experience shows a great deal of time, commitment, and community involvement is needed to sustainably rehabilitate land through afforestation, but these 26 communities proved it is possible…and it can pay off.


Mirko Serkovic

Natural Resource Management Specialist in the Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice

June 13, 2020

What a nice story, Mirko! Congratulations!

Hal Moggridge
June 13, 2020

This project in Niger is admirable indeed

Abdulmumin Abdulhamid
June 13, 2020

Kudos to world bank for commendable project and also community for striving for 15years to start benefiting.

David Harold Chester
June 01, 2020

Who owns this land? As soon as it provides a useful product its value will grow and so will the rent that its produce makes. This rent should be returned to the government as a revenue, being paid to those who manage the working of the land and the payment of its workers in return for the produce. If the land ever becomes privately owned then the benefit from the opportunity it provides will become privatized into the hands of the land owners who will become monopolists and dominate the way the local production is run and exclude those whom they see as unfit to make proper used of the land. It has happened before and can result in the big differences between the rich and the poor that are felt in many other places.

Mirko Serkovic
June 13, 2020

Dear David,

Many thanks for your comments and questions. The community groups that work the land receive the benefits directly - be it from the growing of crops, generation of fodder, sale of Arabic gum and sale of carbon credits.

The majority of the land that forms part of the project can be classified in two groups: (i) previously vacant land (that had not evidence of ownership), for which the rights of the communities who work this land was recognized and formalized through acts of customary holdings; and (ii) private land, owned by individuals from the area, which was lend to community groups working the land for renewable periods of 10-20 years. The private owners enjoy partial financial benefits from the sale of Arabic gum and carbon credits, according to a distribution key agreed to between the parties.

The project had a positive contribution in terms of land tenure, to build the ownership of community groups working the land and to ensure they benefit from the project outcomes directly.

David Harold Chester
June 13, 2020

In my previous comment the explanation was preliminary. here is more about land occupation and its ethics.

The Most Socially Just Tax

A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem of poverty derives from lack of the opportunities to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed about 140 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts. (I would guess that they even don’t want to know, which is even worse!) In “Progress and Poverty”, see REF. Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other kinds of tax on earnings, sales of produce, services, capital-gains etc. This regime of land value tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for landlords, tax collectors and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land dominance and its capitalistic exploitation have their own (unjust) rewards.

17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

Four Advantages for Government:
1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it should replace them. The author has shown in REF.5, that taxation of any kind is beneficial to the country as a whole due to its national income providing for more work too, but that when the tax applies to land the topology and spread of its effects are about 3 times as beneficial as when the same amounts of income are taken directly from labor.
2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible, because the sites are visible to all and who owns each site is public knowledge. The army of tax collectors who are opposing a similar set of lawyers, are no longer busy with tax loop-holes in the law, so the number of people more productively employed will grow and the penalty on the country of having complicated taxation is less.
3. Consumers pay less for their purchases due to lower production costs (see below). They can buy more goods and enjoy a raised standard of living. This creates greater satisfaction with the management of national affairs and more prosperity.
4. The national economy stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below). The withholding of unused land is eliminated see item 7, so there is less need for the complications of frequent land sales, with developers searching and buyers hunting for unused sites.

Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:
5. LVT is progressive—this tax depends on the site area as well as its position. The owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax per unit of area. Urban sites provide the most usefulness and their owners will pay at greater rates, whilst big rural sites have less value and can be farmed appropriately, to meet their ability to provide useful produce. Small-holder farming closer to population centers becomes more practical, due to local markets and reduced distribution costs.
6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large proportion of the present ground-rent from the tenants (who do use the land properly), becomes transformed into the LVT, with the result that the land has less sales-value but retains a significant “rental” value.
7. LVT stops speculation in land prices, because the withholding of land from its proper use is not worthwhile.
8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even though their rental value can grow over a longer term. As more sites become available, the competition for them is less fierce and entrepreneurs have more of a chance to get started.
9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that come into use.
10. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-based shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below, items 12 and 13).

Three Aspects Regarding Communities:
11. With LVT, there is an incentive to use land for production, transport or residence, rather than it being vacant and held unused.
12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses, and because they pay less ground-rent–consequently demand grows, whilst unemployment and poverty decrease.
13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too because the effectiveness of labor has been raised.

Four Aspects About Ethics:
14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this national extortion by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from the land owner or by the banks–LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.
15. Previous bribery and corruption for gaining privileged information about land, cease. Before, this was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank accounts!)
16. The improved use of the more central land of cities reduces the environmental damage due to unused sites being dumping-grounds, and the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use (with its air-pollution), when traveling between home and workplace.
17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way– to provide more jobs because their production costs are reduced. Then untaxed earnings will correspond more closely to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly and fully introduced as a single tax, it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.

Henry George: “Progress and Poverty” 1897, reprinted 1978 by the Schalkenbach Foundation, New York, USA

Joaquin Olivero
March 16, 2021

Hi Mirko! congratulations on your work. I find this project quite fascinating and was wondering if I could have permission to use some of the images for a video. Thank you!

Djibrilla Madougou
March 16, 2021

Very nice.