If the Little Prince happened to be in the desert of Keita, nowadays, he would not have to ask to a snake where the humans are, he would not feel alone anymore. Actually, he would not find much of the desert itself and he would meet many men and women who would tell him how they won over that sea of sand that was eating their land:
Thanks to the Italian Cooperation Bureau.
Twenty years ago, Keita Department seemed to be condemned to succumb under desertification, deep wind and water erosion, reduction of lands for cultivating and grazing, deforestation, decreasing of agricultural production, rural exodus, poor health care, high illiteracy rate.
In 1984, the region of Tahoua faced a disastrous drought; in the same year, the Italian Cooperation Bureau started the ambitious “Integrated Rural Development Project of Keita” to fight against desertification, which involved 380.000 people.
The first project, realized by the FAO, was made of three phases and was called “Rural Development Project in the Ader Doutchi Maggia”; it ended in 1999. The project divided the territory in basic units, where, at the same time, highly technological investments were made and the economic and social development was encouraged. In each basic unit were realized: forest and hydraulic installations, land reclamation, infrastructures (such as school, health centres, dams and roads), peasants associations. Moreover, technical assistance and financial support were made available to start new small economic activities and vocational training. Special attention was paid to the gender issue, with microcredit initiatives being realized for women associations.
At the moment, a fourth phase of “Local Development in the Ader Doutchi Maggia” is about to finish: it was aimed at consolidating the results of the previous work, by enhancing the preservation and administration of the economic and natural resources by the local population. The main goal was to enhance the sustainable development of region and the activities started in 2007 with a scheduled duration of two years.
Finally, some parallel activities were created all around the project. An independent fund for local economic activities (FAIL) was established, according to the development pattern of the Italy-Cilss Fund. In the phase of application to the Fund, the local associations are helped by the Italian NGO COSPE, trough a promoted project, with the financial support of the Italian Cooperation Bureau.
The total financial commitment of the Italian government was 65.981.203 USD, THE World Food Programme contributed with 18.507.325 USD and 320.000 USD were invested by the FAO, which makes a total amount of 84.808.528 USD, plus 3.768.745 USD of the fourth phase, managed by the UNDP-UNOPS.
Keita project is the crowning achievement of the Italian Cooperation and Development action in the fight against desertification: indeed, it became a source of inspiration ad scientific information. At the beginnings of 2006, the Keita lab initiative was created to protect, enhance and improve the knowledge obtained trough the project experience. Recently, there has been a proposal for a research centre, sponsored by several European and national universities, in order to enable students to carry on thesis researches, internships and to widespread environmental education. The official website of the project.