Understanding the interaction between pastoralism and ecosystem services of the Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve of W in Benin Republic

PhD project by Charles Tamou. This study aims at studying interaction between the conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and its habitat in the Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve of the W and livestock production by pastoralists in Benin. Such understanding will be the basis of scenario analysis in order to identify options that will contribute to the improvement of the livelihoods of pastoralists while maintaining rangeland ecosystem integrity and biodiversity.

The region of the Transfrontier Biosphere Reserve of W (TBRW) is a large area of more than 560.000 ha devoted to wildlife and its habitat conservation since 1954. The landscape of this region consists of savannah, shrubland and riparian forests along the Niger river and its tributaries. But, since the drought of 1970, the region became the sink of cattle herds from Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria and sometimes from Mali and Mauritania, in search for water and fodder, usually in dry season. In spite of the fact that this activity is forbidden, pastoralists get in every year. Population growth triggers demand for more food and fibres and, as a consequence, crop farming (especially cotton cultivation) expanded around the region of the TBRW. This increased the area of crop cultivation in the region of TBRW and forced pastoralist to go into the inner of the TBRW. Results from an aerial survey in May 2003 showed that about 65000 transhumant cattle had entered TBRW. This situation led the TBRW-officer to use weapons in order to get cattle out of the protected area. But cattle are still present in the park and the competition for land in and around TBRW between pastoralists, crop farmers and nature conservation is high. It is therefore essential to explore whether these objectives can sustainably co-exist and if so, which options for sustainable use of the TBRW and its surrounding region can be identified. To do this we need to understand the interaction between vegetation and soil ecosystems of the TBRW on the one hand  and pastoralists’ practices on the other hand. This main objective of the present PhD project will be achieved by addressing the following sub-objectives:

  1. Analyze the competing uses of land in TBRW and its surrounding region;

  2. Analyze pastoralists’ practices, ecological knowledge and perception of the impacts of their activities on ecosystem services;

  3. Assess the impact of pastoralists’ practices on rangeland ecology;

  4. Analyze the sustainability of the current land use in this region and identify sustainable options for livestock production by pastoralists in compliance with conservation’s goal.