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

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-101
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Burkina Faso
  • Desertification
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Rapid participatory rural appraisal (RPRA)
  • Remote sensing (RS)
  • Sahel greening
  • Soil-water conservation (SWC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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