OASIS contributes to understanding of best practices for increasing resilience in the Sahel

Warrantage and FMNR are two farmer-led practices to help mitigate impacts of climate change on agriculture in the Sahel. In late 2016, the OASIS Initiative released two reports on these practices. The two comprehensive literature reviews were commissioned by USAID’s Sahel Resilience Learning Project. We are now disseminating the findings to local partners and organizations to assist them in making evidence-informed decisions based on the experiences of communities and experts in the region.

We are excited that the next phase of this effort will build on our “Sister School” partnership with the University Abdou Moumouni (UAM) in Niamey, Niger. Several graduate students from UAM will be focusing on these topics for their masters theses, providing them with valuable experience conducting community-level research as well as gathering and building the evidence base on perspectives of communities who are practicing Warrantage and FMNR in the region.

Download full report in English
Download two-page brief in English: coming soon
Téléchargez le rapport entier en français: coming soon
Téléchargez le résumé en français: coming soon



Population and climate change: who will the grand convergence leave behind?

Population and climate change: who will the grand convergence leave behind?

Martha M Campbell, John Casterline, Federico Castillo, Alisha Graves, Thomas L Hall, John F May, Daniel Perlman, *Malcolm Potts, J Joseph Speidel, Julia Walsh, Michael F Wehner, Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu

For many developing countries, investments in health have proved a great success. The Lancet Commission “Global health 2035: a world converging within a generation” and the 2014 Gates annual letter envision the possibility of a “grand convergence” by which more countries will have a child mortality rate as low as 15 per 1000 livebirths in 20 years time. We wish to draw attention to the special case of the least developed countries, which on present evidence are likely to be excluded from such a convergence. To start a discussion we will focus on the Sahel (the 1 million square-mile semi-arid zone of Africa stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea) where the clash of uniquely rapid population growth and some of the harshest effects of climate change are likely to have the greatest overall effects on health.

Boko Haram chose its victims for a reason -- to stop progress

Boko Haram chose its victims for a reason -- to stop progress

Malcolm Potts and Alisha Graves

Millions of people around the world have tweeted in recent weeks using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. That's an important sentiment, and not just as it relates to the kidnapping of 276 female students by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

The region in which the abductions took place is reaching an ecological and social tipping point, and in the years to come, much will depend on its girls.

In a video released on May 4, Boko Haram's despicable leader, Abubakar Shekau, says: "Girls must give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12."

As despicable as Shekau is, he does understand something: The schooling of girls has the power to transform a culture, which makes it a threat to his kind of repressive fundamentalism. Like blowing up cellphone towers and power plants, kidnapping girls as they take their final exams is a strategy that makes sense if the goal is to stop progress.

If Boko Haram continues to kidnap girls with impunity, then it will be only rational for parents to go back to the age-old cultural tradition of marrying daughters as soon as they reach puberty. To send them to school would risk their being abducted, or worse.

Family planning: The quick carbon payoff

Family planning: The quick carbon payoff

Alisha Graves

In so many realms of national policy, the interests of the entire population must be balanced against the rights of individuals. And so it would seem to be with climate mitigation and family planning—how can nations reduce their carbon dioxide emissions if nothing prevents individuals from having as many babies as they want? But the truth lies deeper than that. Because so many individuals havemore babies than they want, providing them the means to plan their families can help nations contain their total carbon emissions.

In Round One, Alex Ezeh wrote that "the greatest culprits in the race to destroy the planet are the countries with the heaviest carbon footprints." As an American, I admit that my country is guilty as charged. In 2011 (the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available), per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the United States were 17 metric tons. That is more than double the global per capita average. Meanwhile, about half of the pregnancies in the United States are unintended—and as of 2008, 60 percent of those pregnancies ended in birth. Under such circumstances, the United States should demonstrate much greater political commitment to family planning—and should make family planning an explicit element of national climate policy. By failing to promote family planning vigorously enough, the United States is both missing a large opportunity in climate mitigation and denying people the ability to make individual decisions about the size of their families.

Green sex for climate's sake

Alisha Graves

There's no single solution for climate change, no magic bullet that can stabilize and eventually reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But separating sex from childbearing represents an underappreciated opportunity to forestall climate disaster.

To be sure, addressing the climate challenge will require a wide range of approaches. Conservation policies must be implemented, and major investments are needed to develop and scale up renewable energy technologies. But another opportunity—often overlooked—is ensuring that every woman has both the information and the means to separate sex from childbearing. All over the world, whenever good family planning programs are put in place, couples choose to have fewer children. The family's health benefits, household resources per capita increase, and each couple's carbon footprint shrinks.

Perhaps the most important equation in the world is one made famous by John Holdren, currently a science and technology advisor to President Obama, and biologist Paul Ehrlich: I=PAT. "I" stands for impact on the environment, "P" for population, "A" for affluence, and "T" for technology. Technology can either ameliorate or intensify human beings' impact on the environment—but affluence and population have a straight multiplying effect. That is, affluence leads to increased consumption and pollution. Higher population means more carbon footprints on the biosphere. But there's a twist: Sinceper capita emissions in wealthy countries are much greater than in low-income countries, averting an unintended pregnancy in a high-emitting country will do more to help the climate than will averting a similar pregnancy in a low-emitting country.

The Sahel: A Malthusian challenge?

Potts M, Henderson C, Campbell M.
Environ Resource Econ. 2013 Aug;55(4):501–12. doi: 10.1007/s10640-013-9679-2

Abstract: The population of the least developed countries of the Sahel will more than triple from 100 million to 340 million by 2050, and new research projects that today’s extreme temperatures will become the norm by mid-century. The region is characterized by poverty, illiteracy, weak infrastructure, failed states, widespread conflict, and an abysmal status of women. Scenarios beyond 2050 demonstrate that, without urgent and significant action today, the Sahel could become the first part of planet earth that suffers large-scale starvation and escalating conflict as a growing human population outruns diminishing natural resources. National governments and the international community can do a great deal to ameliorate this unfolding disaster if they put in place immediate policies and investments to help communities adapt to climate change, make family planning realistically available, and improve the status of girls and women. Implementing evidence-based action now will be an order of magnitude more humane and cost-effective than confronting disaster later. However, action will challenge some long held development paradigms of economists, demographers, and humanitarian organizations. If the crisis unfolding in the Sahel can help bridge the current intellectual chasm between the economic commitment to seemingly endless growth and the threat seen by some biologists and ecologists that human activity is bringing about irreversible damage to the biosphere, then it may be possible also to begin to solve this same formidable problem at a global level.

Why bold policies for family planning are needed now

Potts M, Weinrib R, Campbell M.
Contraception. 2013 Apr;87(4):393-5. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2013.01.001. Epub 2013 Jan 9.


The philosophy that the most transformative thing we can do is to give people access to family planning is also a philosophy of listening to what women want, not telling them what to do. It is lowering the TFR in a human rights framework. It is offering voluntary family planning even in low-resource settings where reducing average family size is one prerequisite for development. It is an important shift away from some of the misleading assertions made by advocates after the 1994 Cairo Conference that “fertility decline was a consequence of the developmental process and not a catalyst, and that the only way to insure its occurrence was by the indirect route of prompting development.” This belief, which is still influential among some economists and some women’s advocacy groups, is unrealistic and counterproductive as the example the Sahel demonstrates.

Crisis in the Sahel: Possible solutions and the consequences of inaction

Potts M, Zulu E, Wehner M, Castillo F, Henderson C. 
2013 Apr


The following report summarizes the OASIS@Berkeley Conference hosted by the University of California, Berkeley and the African Institute for Development Policy on September 21, 2012

Executive Summary

The following report documents how, over the next 30 to 40 years in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, between 100 million and 200 million people are likely to be without sustainable food supplies. This was the conclusion of a multidisciplinary group of experts from Africa and North America, who asked what will happen in the Sahel when new projections of global warming are combined with rapid population growth. The meeting was not the first on the Sahel, but the breadth of expertise in agriculture, climatology, demography, family planning, the status of women, terrorism, and national security was unique and the conceptualizations of the problems unusually clear and powerful.

The Sahel comprises one million square miles of arid and semi-arid land along the edge of the Sahara, stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. In 1950, the region contained 31 million people; today there are more than 100 million, and in 2050, there could be more than 300 million. New projections of climate change prepared for the OASIS meeting foresee a rise of 3°C to 5°C (7°F to 10°F) above today’s already high temperatures by 2050. Scientific projections several decades into the future can never be exact, and the forecasts of population and global warming made for 2050 might come a decade sooner or later, but they will occur. The projections for 2100 are startling, with a population of 600 million in the Sahel and temperatures up to 8°C (13°F) above today’s norms.

It would be totally implausible to sustainably accommodate this scale of growth. Without immediate, large-scale action, death rates from food shortages will rise as crops wither and livestock die and the largest involuntary migration in history could occur. Already today, 12 million to 18 million people in this region are hungry. Early marriage of girls to older men is common in many regions and no progress will be made until the age of marriage is raised and girls are enabled to go to school and make a meaningful contribution to the development of their country. Conflict and terrorism are proliferating, and more failed states are likely.

The strength of the OASIS conference was its goal to create the solutions needed to stave off the worst of the catastrophe facing the region. Building the evidence base to enable decision-makers at a national, regional and global level to invest in this critical change is our immediate purpose. Climate change needs to be addressed through agricultural adaptations and improved water management. Women need to be enabled through family planning to manage their childbearing. The key is to meet the unmet need for family planning in a human rights framework. Investing in girls and young women is critical to creating a successful and peaceful society. The meeting was unanimous that such solutions must be immediate and on a large scale.

The participants left with a commitment to construct a network of experts dedicated to strengthening scientific analysis of the problems facing the region and their solution. Everyone agreed that the cost of inaction — in depleted environment, increased hunger, humanitarian care for refugees, failed states, conflict, housing migrants, and the further spread of terrorism — will be many times that of action to improve agriculture, provide choices on childbearing, and invest in girls and young women.

Niger: Too little, too late

Potts M, Gidi V, Campbell M, Zureick S.
Int Perspect Sex Reprod Health. 2011 Jun;37(2):95-101. doi: 10.1363/3709511.

Abstract: Niger—with the world’s fastest growing population, its highest total fertility rate (TFR), a small and diminishing amount of arable land, low annual rainfall, a high level of malnutrition, extremely low levels of education, gross gender inequities and an uncertain future in the face of climate change—is the most extreme example of a catastrophe that is likely to overtake the Sahel. The policies chosen by Niger’s government and the international community to reduce rapid population growth and the speed with which they are implemented are of the utmost importance. In this comment, we review the problems posed by Niger’s rapid population growth and the policy options proposed to confront it.

Big issues deserve bold responses: Population and climate change in the Sahel

Potts M, Graves A.
Afr. J. Reprod. Health. 2013 Sept; 17(3): 9-11.


The London Summit on family planning in July 2012 represented a turning point in the willingness of governments and large philanthropic organizations to invest in family planning. The goal of the Summit was to meet 50% of the unmet need for family planning in developing countries. But we know from country-level data that when fertility falls, so does the desired family size. So we should aim to meet 100% of the current family planning need since unmet need will always prove a moving target – with demand for contraceptives growing as women have greater choices and realize they can be used safely. 

Any response to the problems set out above must be on a large scale and immediate. Business as usual is not acceptable. Obstetricians, physicians, development specialists, those committed to improving the status of women need to speak out in favor of universal, voluntary family planning. We have to help policymakers and other decision makers to understand the link between population and climate and remind them that demography is not destiny. We need to make the case that – while the cost of region-wide, integrated approaches are high – the cost of inaction is unacceptable. And we need to set much higher goals – because it is only when positive change happens on scale that societies can thrive.