The Sahelian nexus of forests, food and gender

CIFOR’s research highlights the links between forest restoration and women’s role in improving food security

Forests in the traditional mosaic landscapes of Burkina Faso have long provided fuelwood, fodder, nuts and leaves to sustain communities between harvests. But as these areas shrink due to human pressures, the burden grows heavier for women, who traditionally use forest resources to fill the food gap when the granaries are empty and the rains unpredictable.

“I don’t have the money to do big business, so my main activity is preparing soumbala from néré pods.”

In response, the local non-governmental organization Tiipaalga has encouraged families to enclose just 3 ha of land. These tiny plots then undergo a remarkable transformation, regenerating natural and planted species very quickly. A study led by CIFOR scientists Houria Djoudi and Nadia Djenontin found that families with these plots suffered fewer food-insecure days over the year. It also revealed that the foods women harvest from these plots not only complete their families’ meals, they also provide essential nutrients – a critical safety net during uncertain times.

CIFOR’s researchers worked with farmers to learn the lessons from Tiipaalga’s work and to bring that knowledge to other villages in Burkina Faso through farmer exchange visits. As new villages have begun enclosing plots and planting trees, gender dynamics have begun to shift. In a break from tradition, women are speaking up to ensure that trees like the néré (African locust bean), whose nutritious pods help sustain the family, are included in the village choices.