The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been running a project in the Inner Niger Delta, which lies in the Sahelian zone in Mali, since 1984. The Inner Niger Delta covers some 30,000 square kilometres in central Mali with an average rainfall of 300-450mm. The rich postflood pastures, which are avaialble from late November in the south and from early January in the north, are much sought after dry season grazing areas for cattle, sheep and goats from the surrounding Shael. Recent periods of low rainfall has seriously reduced the maximum height of the annual flood of the River Niger, which in consequence has reduced flooding area and duration. The resulting increase in pressure on the remaining parts of the plain has been found to be a major cause of their recent degradation.
The IUCN project is examining the social, ecological and economic factors which dictate how the natural resources of the area are used by different groups of people. One of the critical requirements is to set up better management systsems which do not depend on the already overstretched resources of the state forestry department for their implementation, and which go some way towards reversing the abusive use of common land, which is resulting in the severe degradation ofthe resource base on which rural inhabitants depend.