Niger has a total land mass of 1,266,700 square kilometers. In 2007, eighty-four percent of Niger’s 14 million people lived in rural areas, the vast majority in a semi-fertile swath of land along the country’s southern border where rainfed agriculture is possible. The northern half of the country is covered by the Sahara Desert and is sparsely populated. A semi-arid zone used for pastoralism separates the two areas (Hobbs 1998; Gnoumou and Bloch 2003; World Bank 2009a) [1]. In 2003–2005, agricultural land comprised 30% of Niger’s total land area. Only 0.5% of Niger’s cropland was irrigated. Forests and woodlands make up 1% of the country, and nationally protected areas covered 7% of Niger’s total land area. Most Nigerians depend on agriculture, thus on their land [1].

Rural land includes individual land, family land, and village common lands, known as chieftaincy lands, while the chieftaincy lands include cultivated land, pasture land, fallow, and land devoted to village activities; chieftaincy lands are held and managed by the chief on behalf of the group. Rural lands are managed by customary institutions that hold lands according to a variety of indigenous tenure forms,  urban lands are owned and managed by the state and by collectives while occupants enjoy use-rights. Ultimately, vacant lands are owned by the state [1].

The country has struggled with desertification, land degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity for many years.  A literature review reveals that 40-50% of the lands of Niger were deforested over a period of less than 30 years (between 1958 and 1997) with current rates of degradation estimated at 80,000 to 120,000 hectares annually [2].

Driven by the rapid population growth and the increasing demand for food, agricultural expansion is the most dramatic change in Niger’s landscapes. Over the period 1975–2013, cultivated areas have increased from 12.6 percent in 1975 to 18.1 percent in 2000 and 24.5 percent in 2013. This represents a total increase of 94.2 percent. Agriculture expansion mostly occurred on the productive sandy soils of the valleys in the Tillaberi region, where cropland is now encroaching on traditional pastoral lands. On the surrounding plateaus and terraces of western Niger, a mosaic of steppe and short grass savanna dominates. The Zinder-Maradi region, already heavily cultivated in 1975, is now a wall-to-wall homogeneous agricultural landscape. However, agriculture is still expanding eastward on the remaining short grass Sahelian savannas of the Manga regions. In addition, an increase of 50 percent in irrigated agriculture was observed along the Niger River [3].


Land degradation is mainly due to Land use/cover change [4]. Driven by the rapid population growth and the increasing demand for food, agricultural expansion has been a key factor for land degradation [3]. A common example in Niger is the replacement of forest by cropland. While desertification is often wrongly attributed solely to droughts, the reality is a deadly combination of continued land abuse during periods of deficient rainfall that result in the degradation processes of vegetation cover loss, wind and water erosion and ultimately desertification (UNESCO 2003) [5].


Key policies and governance approach

Niger’s Rural Code (Principes d’Orientation du Code Rural, Ordinance 93-015 of 2 March 1993) is the most recent land legislation in Niger. The Code has the following objectives: (i) increase rural tenure security; (ii) better organize and manage rural land; (iii) promote sustainable natural resource management and conservation; and (iv) better plan and manage the country’s natural resources. It also recognises the private property rights of groups and individuals if such rights were acquired according to either customary or formal law [1].

Moreover, the 1997 Memorandum for Orientation for Livestock Policy, and the 1998 Strategic Orientation Document (DOS) for the agricultural sector specify that sustainable land management (SLM) is a precondition for sustainable agricultural development. This policy framework gives a clear mandate for mainstreaming SLM in all ministries that affect land management significantly. Niger is also one of the 37 countries in the world that have revised their national forest policy (NFP) to include sustainable forest management (SFM) (FAO 2014). Niger’s NFP also specifically links SFM and ecosystem services [4].

Niger is also one of four Sub-Saharan countries which have formulated sustainable land use management policies (FAO, 2016). The policies include community participation integrated land-use systems; strategies that lead to direct improvement of local community welfare and land use mapping that ensures local development.  This has led to a significant increase in afforestation progress in Niger – much higher than the average sub-region and regional averages [4].

Niger has formulated a National Plan on Soil Fertility and Water Management, whose objective is to promote the use of appropriate technologies for SLWM (RoN 2006). This policy further shows government’s sustainable development and its commitment to SLWM. In 2006, the government also adopted a National Strategy for Sustainable Input Supply to Farmers (SIAD). The inputs being promoted under the SIAD include seed, fertilizers, pesticides, feed, and others. The objectives of SIAD are to ensure regular access to agricultural inputs at a competitive price; to regulate production, marketing and use of agricultural inputs and to strengthen the capacity of farmer organizations to produce and market their products [4].


Successes and remaining challenges

One the biggest challenges is to prevent soil fertility decline and the degradation of land resources under the existing realities of high and growing human population and livestock increasing the demand for land to meet food and animal feed demand [2].

An easy example to understand the status of land protection in Niger can be found looking to the extent of grasslands and woodlands increase. Those increased the most while the bare land decreased by about 10 million ha – which is about 2.6% of the non-desert land area. This illustrates Nigerien achievement in its efforts to combat desertification [5].

The dire scarcity of trees and tree products changed the community’s perception from tree cutting to clear land to tree planting and protection. The tree scarcity also affected the livestock sector, especially in the central part of Niger, where trees are used as fodder during the dry season. The government also responded to this land degradation by promoting tree planting [4].


Initiatives and Development Plans


Niger has ratified all three Earth Summit conventions—United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Accordingly, Niger created Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature and Cultural Reserve in 2007, which covers 97,000 km2 or 14 % of the land area (Sahara Conservation Fund 2007). To address desertification and land degradation in general, the government adopted the UNCCD convention in 2000 and prepared its national Action Plan (NAP). The NAP sets short-term and long-term plans to address land degradation through promotion of sustainable pasture management, water harvesting, tree planting, developing livestock markets, and other strategies [4].

In January 2018, the country prepared its Land Degradation Neutrality Country report, defining the targets to achieve by 2030 [6].

Through its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) in 2006, Niger identified 14 climate change adaptation action strategies with the broad objectives of food security, sustainable resource management, and poverty reduction. Among these 14 strategies, some land-related actions were identified:  (i) pasture and rangeland improvement; (ii) increasing livestock productivity by improving local livestock breeds; (iii) development and protection of water resources for domestic use, irrigation, and livestock; (iv) promotion of sustainable land and water management (SLWM) practices that enhance adaptation to climate change; (v) promoting peri-urban agriculture and nonfarm activities; (vi) building the capacity and organizational skills of rural community development groups; (vii) preventing and fighting against climate-related pests and diseases; and (viii) dissemination of climate information [4].

Moreover,  a large area of degraded land has been rehabilitated through a presidential program on land rehabilitation and several donors funded projects. At least 250,000 ha of land have been rehabilitated using tree planting and soil and water conservation (SWC) measures since the mid-1980s. The rehabilitated land is about 16 % of the 16 million ha cropland in 2012 (FAOSTAT 2014) [4].

Worth to mention is the European Union Land Governance Programme - Country Implementation (EULGP CI) project through which the EU wanted to contribute to securing pastoral land tenure systems in Niger by improving the recognition of livestock owners’ land rights, securing areas and resources reserved for livestock farming, preventing conflicts related to the use of pastoral resources, strengthening the capacities of the Rural Code in the area of pastoral land and in land development planning (Schéma d’Aménagement Foncier SAF). The project took place from 2015 to 2018 with the involvement of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the National Rural Code Committee. During the implementation of the project, several areas and resources have been inventoried and legally secured [7].


Goals and Ambitions

Niger commits to achieving Land Degradation Neutrality by 2030 and reducing the area of degraded land from 9% to 5%. This, with the aim of increasing vegetation cover from 17% to 19% and sustainably improving the living conditions of people. More specifically, necessary actions will be taken to [6]:

  • Restore 44% (4,440,500 ha) of the 10,761,076 ha of degraded land in 2010;
  • Reduce to 2% (252,101 ha) the area of cultivated lands showing negative trends of net primary productivity;
  • Reduce from 1% (100,074.3 ha) to 0% the annual rate of forest/savanna/wetland conversion into other types of land;
  • Halt sand encroachment and water erosion (gully erosion) along the Niger river;
  • Sequester 292,000 tons of carbon in the ground and/or biomass through good agroforestry practices (windbreak system, hedges, assisted natural regeneration, forage bank, food bank, etc.).


  • Release at least 5% of the national budget for LDN and take all necessary measures in order to sustain Sustainable Land Management activities;
  • Sensitize municipalities to participate in projects as conditions for access to financing;
  • Generalize community access as the only condition for access to financing for projects.