Aziza Mohammed Abdallah Mukhtar wears an unassuming smile that does not betray the important role she plays in her Zamzam farming community of nearly 3,000 residents in Sudan’s arid North Darfur State.
About four years ago, Aziza was struggling to eke out a living as a tobacco farmer in the Zamzam Village Council about 14 kilometres south west of the state capital El Fasher.
“The crop takes seven months to mature under the local water-scarce conditions and that is too long for us to wait in order to get our earnings,” says the widow and mother of five - three sons and two daughters.
Today, 52-year-old Aziza is elated that she has been able to make a transition to farming crops such as watermelon, sorghum, tomato, okra, and sesame thanks to a project aimed at spreading seasonal water to increase agricultural productivity and reduce soil erosion in various parts of North Darfur.
“This project has enabled me to finance my children’s education,” she adds. One of her daughters studies agricultural engineering while two of her sons study electrical engineering at universities in Khartoum.
Since 2014, UN Environment has been implementing the European Union-funded Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project in partnership with the non-governmental organization Practical Action as well as the Government of Sudan and local communities such as Aziza’s.
Six years before the project, Aziza’s land was not receiving any spillover waters from the wadi flow.
However, in June 2015, area residents - from various communities with diverse ethnic backgrounds and livelihoods - joined hands to build the Seil Gideim water spreading weir. The 7-meter-high weir, a water-spreading earth embankment constructed using a mix of manual labour and earth movers, extends about 1.2 kilometres along the Zamzam administrative area. It has helped area residents to diversify agricultural output especially in light of reduced rainfall especially over the past decade.
The weir was built as part of the first phase of the 6.8 million euros project launched in 2013 and completed in 2017. Two other water-spreading weirs, three water channels, and two water reservoirs - locally known as hafirs - have been constructed or rehabilitated. This has enabled nearly 1,600 households from 34 village councils to triple production of sorghum and millet and to grow vegetables and cash crops well into the dry season.
Similarly, about 35 acres of dry and sandy upland ‘gos’ lands have been planted with trees and managed as community forests. Six community nurseries - with a potential capacity to produce 40,000 seedlings annually - were also established.
In addition, the project has helped reduce tensions, and avert conflict, between communities over scarce natural resources, especially between pastoralists and crop farmers.
In September, Aziza was one of the community representatives from the Wadi El Ku project area chosen to participate in a peacebuilding and agricultural training programme held in Kigali, Rwanda. Since her return, she has been sharing the best practices learned from their hosts with the Zamzam community.
The second phase, launched on 25 November 2018, is expected to expand application of integrated water resource management to communities upstream and downstream of the wider Wadi El Ku catchment. It will also directly benefit 80,000 households within the catchment area and indirectly benefit a further 700,000 people in North Darfur.
“Our hope is that the same model could be reproduced in a number of other regions, in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. This will help local populations to better manage their natural resources in partnership towards a peaceful and profitable future,” said His Excellency Ambassador Jean-Michel Dumond, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan during the launch.
UN Environment has been providing environmental support to Sudan since the 1990s. In 2007, its country programme was established with an office in Khartoum and it has been involved in activities to address various environmental challenges facing Sudan.
Its work spans natural resource management, livelihoods, climate change adaptation, environmental governance, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and strengthening women’s roles in local peacebuilding processes over natural resource-based conflicts.
“Lessons from Darfur, and elsewhere, demonstrate that the key to maintaining peace is heavily influenced by the equitable sharing of resources among local communities. Support from the European Union and the United Nations are making it possible for residents of the Wadi El Ku basin to sustain their livelihoods, and even to prosper, within the limitations of the tough semi-desert conditions,” says Gary Lewis, UN Environment’s Policy Director.
In June 2017, UN Environment and Practical Action won the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s Land for Life Award in recognition of the role of the project in reversing environmental degradation and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources in the drylands.
UN Environment has also, in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Duke University, and the University of California at Irvine, developed a groundbreaking massive open online course on environmental security and sustaining peace.
The inaugural course, which was conducted between 1 March and 10 May 2018, synthesized 100,000 pages of material and 225 case studies from over 60 post-conflict countries into seven hours of dynamic video lectures. It was based on experiences and lessons learned from over 1,000 experts and 10 United Nations agencies. The next session of the course will commence in February 2019.
Learn more about UN Environment’s work the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts.