Menu Close

Ground-Truthing Sahelian Greening: Ethnographic and Spatial Evidence from Burkina Faso


West, Colin Thor; Moody, Aaron; Ilboudo Nébié, Elisabeth Kago; & Sanon, Oumar (2017). Ground-Truthing Sahelian Greening: Ethnographic and Spatial Evidence from Burkina Faso. Human Ecology, 45(1), 89-101. PMCID: PMC6675452


Historically, the Sahel of West Africa has been considered synonymous with desertification. In recent decades, however, satellite images reveal patterns of enhanced vegetation termed the "greening of the Sahel." This greening is well-documented but its mechanisms remain poorly understood. The Sahel is also a region emerging from a 30 year period of reduced rainfall in which several severe droughts occurred. As a response to droughts and land degradation, farmers have rehabilitated thousands of hectares of degraded soils by constructing low barriers of rock through widespread soil and water conservation (SWC) development projects. Remote sensing analyses suggest that these extensive soil conservation projects may explain greening in northern Burkina Faso. This study combines ethnographic fieldwork with the analysis of Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) data to test whether SWC investments contribute to greening. Ethnographic data reveal a tension between the perceptions of rural producers who feel that their SWC efforts contribute to greening and those of state officials who contend that SWC has only local impacts and that the regional landscape continues to degrade. Our analysis of GIS and RS data suggest that both perspectives are valid but contingent on the particular spatial and temporal scale used for analysis.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Human Ecology


West, Colin Thor
Moody, Aaron
Ilboudo Nébié, Elisabeth Kago
Sanon, Oumar