Mali’s Western Sahel is an agro-pastoral zone decreasing mainly from north to south. Climate is typical of the Sudanese-Sahelian region with precipitation varying between 350 and 750 mm per year concentrated mostly from July to September. The zone is characterized by fluctuating temperatures ranging between 25° C and 40° C with an average temperature range of 15° C.
The water regime is largely dependent on rainfall poorly distributed in time and space. The amount of water in the zone is subject to intense irreversible sanding of their lands since their water resources undergo intense exploitation for various agro-pastoral activities. With the exception of the lowlands, soil is sandy loam.
However, it is important to note that in the last few decades, internal factors (increase in herd size, growing demographics, disappearance of production system specialization, etc.) and external factors (climate change, globalization of the economy, depletion of natural resources, etc.) have brought marked changes in the relationship between stakeholder and users of natural resources.
All of these factors contribute to exacerbating the depletion of natural resources and generate competition where key partners are in conflict with stakeholders, various interests, divergence of exploitation or production strategies.
To deal with this situation, the State and development partners have undertaken efforts across projects and water infrastructure management programs (large diameter wells, water hole drilling and water retention dams).
For the most part, managing these infrastructures requires significant resources which are linked to mobilization of external finances whose number is limited and poorly managed.
With these constraints in mind, other local, cheaper and less limiting solutions should be considered.
The water pool conservation belt is an innovation that helps maintain runoff waters in pools that have low retention capacity. In effect, the zone has several shallow temporary pools that overflow easily during the rainy season. Most of the time, they dry up in 3 or 4 months after the rainy season.
Innovation consists of raising the edges of the ponds with mesh bags filled with sand that are sun and water resistant. In the case where most communities are illiterate, the first task will be to teach village facilitators the basic notions of surveying in order to identify the flow direction of water to the pond. Diagnostics will be necessary for land issues.
To carry out the work, the village(s) concerned will organize themselves to mobilize the work force which consists of blocking water flow to the filled pools. The bags will be placed at the upper part of the pools about 1 m high. It will look like a stony line along the pools’ edges, but the belt will not be closed since the lower part will be left open to allow water to flow into the pool. This will allow the pool to increase its volume without impacting the rate of infiltration.
What makes this water pool conservation belt unique is that it is simple and accessible, uses essentially local materials and gets interested populations involved.
The project allows local populations, transhumans and their herds access water during the dry season. The conservation belt helps improve the incomes of sedentary populations and transhumans because with the scarcity of rain, saving are based increasingly on their livestock.
Transhuman families arrive in the zone and have difficulty sharing water resources with the sedentary population. They must go back to water access points where most of their needs are met. In this way the project provides the framework for peaceful cohabitation between natives and newcomers.
The potential to expand the belt is significant because of its adaptability to the entire zone and even zones in other areas threatened by the progressively encroaching desert. The process to transfer skills from the State to decentralized communities in natural resource management can be a factor of success.
Interest for rural populations to maintain and preserve their main sources of income could also be a determining factor in project ownership.
The populations’ access to water resources is becoming more and more difficult and managing water access points is a source of conflict between residents and transhuman stakeholders. Refuge areas for transhumans are State and projects facilities since natural resources (rivers, forests, etc.) are either depleted or protected by law. UNESCO designated the Baoulé loop as a world heritage site. The forest along the river is the largest pasture reserve and the main access route to the river’s water is just one is example.
Developing compensatory strategies is central to keeping livestock off reserve.
The project’s business model rests on adapting production systems to climate change to ensure income for rural populations. This model intends to improve agro-pastoral productivity. The project does not require much in terms of resources compared to drilling water holes, for example. It is only conditional on acquiring bags to implement the project.