No systemic solutions without participative diagnostics

Some ecosystems are considered sacred places: Mare sacrée in Mountougoula (Mali) (c) Harald van der Hoek

In the context of our multi-year program (2022-2026), co-funded by the Belgian DGD, Join For Water is active in nine countries around the world. During the first year of the program, our teams active in our partner countries have conducted participative diagnostics with the aim to acquire a systemic view of water issues in certain regions. Below, we’ll highlight some of the participative methods used in Benin and Mali.

The knowledge gathered from the local populations have given us the opportunity to design interventions that provide a sustainable response to ecosystem threats, keeping in mind the needs of the inhabitants.

Benin: new techniques lead to unique insights

In Benin we carried out participative diagnostics on 18 sites in and around the Mono and Ouémé river. We elaborated on six major themes: the restoration of forests and alluvial plains, the potential of using biomass for energy, the restoration of mangroves, the maintenance of canals for transportation, access to irrigation and the use of efficient irrigation techniques. One interesting technique was the use of aerial photographs from Google, on which local people could indicate which ecosystems were used for what purpose. Despite initial fears that they would not be able to read the maps, it turned out that the method led to relevant and unique insights. Some ecosystems, for example, were indicated to have great religious value for the local population. On a broader level, the diagnostics considered themes of gender and inclusion, as well as the role of citizens. The diagnostical techniques showed, among other things, that men have better access to the different services of the ecosystems, like fishing and water transportation.

Mali: ecosystems also considered sacred places

In Mali, a similar exercise was carried out in three municipalities near the capital Bamako, specifically in Baguinéda-Camp, Mandé and Mountougoula. In all of the 74 villages in the three municipalities, focus groups with women, amongst others, were held. There, we learned that the freshwater ecosystems in and around the Niger river play a very important role for agriculture (rice and other cereals, vegetables, trees), trade (fish, sand, gravel, fruits, firewood, charcoal, vegetables), and transportation (shipping). Apart from agricultural, economic, and industrial services, the forests and seasonal streams with gallery forests around Bamako protect homes and fields from flooding and provide cooling. As is the case in Benin, some of them are considered sacred places where people go for mental or physical problems. These systems, as well as the services they provide, are being threatened by deforestation, overgrazing, pollution, and fires, and are under pressure from Bamako’s urban sprawl and the population growth of the three municipalities. Using the collected data, then, a progress report was compiled and presented to the representatives of the municipalities, the villages, and the regional technical services. Based on the participative diagnostics, Join For Water, its partner organizations, and the local authorities have decided to start working on preserving the freshwater ecosystems in 16 specific villages. In these villages, more detailed information will be collected on the resilience of the freshwater ecosystems and the population using other participatory tools, such as social maps, cross-cutting walks, systems diagrams, etc. Concrete actions will be decided in the coming months in consultation with the local population.