The 38 floodplain forests of Mali’s Inner Niger Delta are very important to the economy and livelihoods of the 1.5 million people who live there. They contain much of the natural wealth of the delta and are therefore referred to locally as ‘banks’.
These forests of Acacia kirkii trees in the arid Sahel are seasonally flooded and help bring the delta to life for both people and nature. The forest plants provide important medicines to people and serve as spawning grounds for fish species with high monetary value, and habitat for thousands of waterbirds that roost in the trees.
Replanting forests to support birds, fish and people
The bird droppings fertilise trees and borgu grasses and accelerate the growth rate of the young fish and provide fodder to livestock. Many of these birds spend their winters in Mali and migrate to Europe and Asia to breed in the summer, so the forests are important supporting biodiversity far beyond the delta.
Because of overcutting of the trees, overhunting of birds and climate change, many of the flood forests have disappeared and others have been seriously cut back. Wetlands International in collaboration with local communities is replanting Acacia forests and reducing the hunting pressures on waterbirds by promoting sustainable livelihoods through our bio-rights approach, so that the birds, fish and people are once again benefiting from the natural ecosystem services provided by these ‘banks’.
I am personally impressed how restoration activities at just one flood forest can provide far-reaching benefits in the delta. I was told by fishing communities located 150 kilometres away that they capture fish tagged from the restored Amanangou flooded forest!
Creating resilient communities and adapting to climate change
I recently accompanied the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Maarten Brouwer, on a field visit to the Mopti region of the Inner Niger Delta. View a short video clip that highlights his visit and the flood forest restoration work.
It was gratifying to hear the local people reaffirm the positive impacts of Wetlands International’s work under the Partners for Resilience collaboration, funded by the Dutch government. The communities put particular emphasis on the importance of restoring the functions and services of their flooded forest ‘banks’ for improving their livelihoods, adapting to climate change and making them more resilient to disasters.
Ambassador Brouwer emphasised the need for large scale replication of the good practices and lessons learned from the restoration of flooded forests. I am certain that if we can open more flood forest ‘banks’, it will lead to a healthier Inner Niger Delta ecosystem that sustains and improves the livelihoods of many other rural communities.