Social Innovation Project 2020-2021

Harnessing Local Knowledge: Rural Development, Migration, and Climate Change in the West African Sahel

                                     Project Leader
                                   Dr. Isaie Dougnon
                                     Project Interns
                                  Christine Ibrahim Puri
                                     Molly Gleason

The Sahel is a semi-arid region which stretches across the African continent from Senegal to Eritrea. It has been deeply affected by climate change and desertification. In this context, land reforms, state water policy, and foreign-led development projects have often led to new challenges for family farmers. Despite the emphasis on community engagement among many development projects, outside experts most propose technical solutions and include local perspectives as an afterthought. This project aims to create a set of strategies based on field research, which organizations can use to better integrate the local knowledge and adaptive strategies of farmers in two regions of Mali, one of the largest countries in the Sahelian region of Africa. By understanding how farmers and households have confronted and adapted to changing environments and unstable access to water, why rural development projects privileging technical expertise do not attain their goals, and documenting the new challenges that local populations seek solutions to, this social innovation project aims to create a clear method and basis for action that development projects can use to efficiently evaluate the needs of the vulnerable populations they serve and employ local knowledge and forms of expertise to design better interventions. This project is also contributing to the Water and Migration initiative at Fordham’s Institute for International Humanitarian Affairs.