Building peace in the minds of men and women

BIOsphere and Heritage of Lake Chad (BIOPALT) project

Unusual potential

"Lake Chad, unusual potential" reveals the many facets of the Lake Chad basin: its variability, diversity and opportunities. Each of the panels is directly linked to the activities implemented in the region as part of the Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad project: from the preparation of Biosphere Reserve and Transboundary World Heritage Site nomination dossiers, to the implementation of green economy activities for the benefit of communities, to the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Through this photo gallery, it is the contribution of the unusual potential of Lake Chad to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that appears. In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, each panel is presented in 4 local languages in addition to French and English: Kanembou, Boudouma, Kanouri and Fula. 

Kanouri is a linguistic continuum that has developed around Lake Chad, particularly through the Kingdom of Kanem-Bornou. It belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language family. Kanuri languages or dialects are spoken all around the lake: the provinces bordering the lake in Chad, in the states of Bornou and Yobe in Nigeria, as well as in eastern Niger, or the far north of Cameroon. The state of Bornou in Nigeria has the highest number of Kanuri speakers. The city of Maiduguri, located in this state, is considered to be the main city of the Kanuri. It is the city with the most Kanouriphones and the residence of the Sultan of Bornou, a traditional authority. It is the dialect of Maiduguri that is presented here under the name of Kanouri.  

Kanembou, another variant of kanouri, is also presented. It is spoken by the people of the same name who are mainly on the northern shore of Lake Chad in Chad. This people comes from the kingdom of Kanem. The latter lasted more than 1,000 years with an apogee around the 11th and 12th centuries. It was during this period that this people settled in the Kanem region of what is now Chad before expanding. Their control of Saharan wells has made them essential elements of trade in the region. The kingdom was overthrown in the 16th century. The survivors of the ruling family found refuge west of Lake Chad, where the Bornou Empire was born.  

Boudouma is the language of people living on the islands of the northern basin of Lake Chad and on the northern shores as far as Niger. In their language, they call themselves the Yedina people. They are neighbours of the Kouri people who live on the southern islands and who gave their name to the region's emblematic cow race. The history of these people has been poorly documented. There are several versions of their origins but all focus on water and Lake Chad, which shows a strong attachment to the area. Unknown peoples, they were feared by their shoreline neighbours because of their regular raids on villages during the dry months. Experts in navigation, they travelled on kadeys, long and narrow papyrus canoes. 

Fula is the language spoken by the Fulani people. They are a nomadic people, present throughout the Sahelian strip in West and Central Africa. In Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, there are M'Bororo Fulani. They are breeders of M'Bororoji, red oxen with long horns, from which they get their name. Living as close as possible to their livestock, they follow them on their transhumances in search of pasture and water. 


My lake, my future (pirogue)

Pirogue:      mara (kanembou)      kadey (boudouma)      kadai (kanuri)      kobewal (fulfulde)


The pirogue is an emblem of the cultural landscape of Lake Chad. Made of papyrus (the Boudouma kadeys), large wooden boats topped with a net (the wam-zemi for the Kotoko on the Chari and Logone rivers), or small wooden boats, the pirogue is at the heart of the life of the lake. It has been used and is still used for travel and fishing. It is not uncommon to see the lake populated by fishing canoes in the early morning. Pirogues are thus symbols of exchange and sharing and testify to the know-how and adaptation of communities to their environment. With the activities set up by the BIOPALT project, these are all qualities that will be strengthened and will ensure a sustainable future for the lake's inhabitants.



Without borders (pastoralism)

Pastoralism:      sine (kanembou)      hane (boudouma)      sə́nye (kanuri)      dourgol / gainaka (fulfulde)


Herding is one of the cornerstones of the economy in the Lake Chad region. Herds are an important capital, producing meat, milk, or even skins. Pastoral herding, in particular, is the heir to ancient local traditions linked to seasonal cycles and climatic constraints. Nomadic pastoralism is characterised by extensive herding, i.e. herds graze over large areas and irregular distances.

The Fulani M'Bororo people are nomadic and their members are present from Nigeria to the Central African Republic, including Chad and Cameroon. They are a people of breeders of a variety of red zebu called M'Bororoji. They travel along long transhumance routes through the countries according to the availability of water sources and pastures. Livestock feeding is a major concern in the basin and livestock producers are facing increasing challenges. But since the great drought of the 1980s and the ongoing desertification, rangelands have sometimes been reduced. The regeneration time of each grazing area has been thus impacted. In addition, insecurity on the islands of Lake Chad, controlled by members of the Boko Haram sect, has also diverted traditional transhumance corridors. Finally, the passage of herds can be a source of conflict when traditional roads are interrupted by the transformation of the basin's fertile lands into agricultural fields.

These conflicts related to access to natural resources can be mitigated through the PCCP (Potential Conflict to Potential Cooperation) method applied by UNESCO. This training programme for stakeholders facilitates dialogue, strengthens capacity and manages natural resources in a peaceful manner. The programme has been developed for the management of transboundary water resources. As part of the BIOPALT project, this system is being extended to all natural resources. Training of trainers from various categories of actors is being organized to reach 30,000 individuals by the end of the project in 2020.


Migration (elephant)

Elephant:      mame (kanembou)      tambali (boudouma)      kə̀mówùn (kanuri)      djiwa (fulfulde)


The Lake Chad basin is home to a large population of African savannah elephants. They are found along the Chari and Logone rivers, from the Central African Republic through Cameroon to Chad. To find food, elephant herds migrate long distances, and they have distinct territories between the dry and rainy seasons. For example, in the dry season, for 9 to 10 months, they are seen between the area of Kousseri in Cameroon and Lake Chad.

These migrations help to balance biodiversity and strengthen ecosystems. Elephants are the architects of landscapes. For instance, they are known to create pastures for animals. They also help to disperse seeds and their waste fertilizes the soil.

The African savannah elephant is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In Central Africa, 75% of the species has disappeared in 40 years. Cohabitation between humans and elephants is most difficult. They are hunted by poachers for their ivory, their habitats are reduced and they are slaughtered to protect crops. The creation of Biosphere Reserves and a transboundary World Heritage site in the Lake Chad basin will contribute to the conservation of elephants and their habitats and to the improvement of their relationships with humans. Within the framework of the BIOPALT project, UNESCO is supporting the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in the creation of several national and/or transboundary Biosphere Reserves and a transboundary World Heritage site. These ecosystems combine nature conservation and human development.



green gold (spirulina)

Spirulina:      dié / doui (kanembou)      lawi (boudouma)      dié (kanuri)      no mbobi (fulfulde)


Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) is a blue alga rich in protein (60 to 70% of dry matter) and vitamins; it has a natural detoxifying effect, it is antioxidant and revitalizes the immune system. In comparison, 15g of spirulina contains as much protein as 100g of beef. These values make spirulina a particularly interesting food to fight malnutrition. Originally from Lake Chad, where it has been used by Kanem women for thousands of years, it is now easily produced in a variety of countries on a large scale for food and cosmetic purposes.

Spirulina develops in the water bodies of small oases (wadi) around the lake, particularly in the Chadian region. It is harvested mainly by women in the Kanem and Lake Chad regions of Chad. The water from the ponds is collected in iron containers and poured into a spherical tank in the sand. This filters the water and leaves algae deposits. These deposits are then poured into the sand in the shape of a cake about 2 cm high and left to dry in the sun. The patties are then cut into pieces and the sand is removed. They are sold on the market or exported to neighbouring countries.

These practices, these repeated and precise gestures, reflect the very special integration of spirulina into the cultural landscape of Lake Chad. This is why it is included in the nomination dossier for the "Cultural Landscape of Lake Chad" on the World Heritage List proposed by Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad and which the BIOPALT project is accompanying.

BIOPALT is also committed to supporting local populations in their green economy projects concerning this algae production and in a pilot project for the ecological rehabilitation of a spirulina production site in order to sustainably develop the activity of these women and improve their income.  



important bird area (bird)

Bird:      ngoudo (kanembou)      koulii (boudouma)      ngúdò (kanuri)      zondou (fulfulde)


The Important Areas for the Conservation of Birds (IBA) programme is a global cooperation initiative within the framework of the Birdlife International programme. An IBA is a site to be protected that is essential for bird conservation. To be classified as an IBA, a site must either be the habitat of a species internationally recognized as endangered, the habitat of a large number of migratory birds, or the habitat of a large number of species with a restricted biotope.

Lake Chad is home to the largest bird populations in the Sahel. It is a major site for migratory waterbirds from Europe and Asia. At least 70 species of birds stop over there each year. There are also Afro tropical species and its basin is the refuge of all West African vulture species. Three species belonging to this site are classified as near-threatened in the IUCN Red List (2018) while one species is classified as vulnerable.

The bird in the frame is the crowned crane (Balearica pavonina). Its range extends from Senegal to Ethiopia along the Sahel. It frequents mixed wet and grassy areas and is visible on the banks of shallow rivers and lakes such as Lake Chad. It can also be seen following herds of herbivores that dislodge insects as they move. It is classified as vulnerable by IUCN due to habitat loss and illegal trade.

The rehabilitation activities of degraded ecosystems undertaken as part of the BIOPALT project also aim to conserve critical bird habitats. Similarly, the creation of Biosphere Reserves and a transboundary World Heritage site in the Lake Chad basin will contribute to the conservation of birds and their habitats.



water quality (water)

Water :      indji (kanembou)      amai (boudouma)      njî (kanuri)      diyam (fulfulde)


Clean water is vital for human health, ecosystems, biodiversity and food safety. Lake Chad is a source of livelihoods of millions of people. Yet, deteriorating water quality and increasing water pollution in Lake Chad is hindering economic growth, aggravating health conditions and threatening the sustainable development and peace in the region. In the Lake Chad region, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water. This water crisis has caused a displacement of local populations, including women, children, and the poor and vulnerable. Water pollution in Lake Chad is also putting at risk fisheries, farming and livestock herding of local communities. 

The BIOPALT project therefore puts special focus on supporting the riparian countries in reducing water pollution and improving water quality in Lake Chad. In the framework of the project, satellite-based near real-time monitoring of water quality of Lake Chad and its tributaries will be available through the UNESCO World Water Quality Portal of the International Initiative on Water Quality of UNESCO International Hydrological Programme. Information on key water quality parameters (turbidity, chlorophyll, organic matters, etc,), as well as on the lake surface area will be available on a regular basis using satellite-derived data. This innovative way of satellite-based water quality monitoring will facilitate science-based policy-making for reducing water pollution (such as excess algae growth, or chlorophyll) and the sustainable management of the precious water resource of Lake Chad. It will also contribute to good health, economic development and the peace in the region. 



Variability (lake)

Lake :      broume (kanembou)      koulou (boudouma)      kùlúwù (kanuri)      weedou (fulfulde)


Lake Chad is the fourth largest lake in Africa and the largest in West and Central Africa. Its large area could have separated its residents, but on the contrary, it brings them closer together. The traditions, beliefs and lifestyles of peoples are all centered on this unique ecosystem. It allows exchanges between its inhabitants and thus forms a real cultural landscape. 

Lake Chad is unique for its variability. The lake’s water volume varies with the seasons and annual rainfall. With about 90% reduction of its surface area over the past 40 years, it was feared that the lake was on the verge of disappearance. The precipitation decrease, in turn caused by climate change, and unsustainable human activities are the main causes of the reduction of the lake’s water level. All the same, lately the lake’s surface area has shown a slight increase. This shows that the Lake Chad is highly sensitive to climate variability and climate change. 
The base year 1973 shows a lake in its characteristic form and the year 1986 the significant loss of water. The years 2000 and 2018 show the filling of the lake in its northern and southern pools. However, these photos can be misleading. The shallow depth of the lake (2 to 3m in places) appears as land on a satellite photo while it is a part of the water. Similarly, the vegetation (red in 1973 and green in the following years) may suggest that it is land, but this does not take into account floating vegetation. 

One of the objectives of the BIOPALT project is to improve knowledge of the lake. Changes in the lake’s surface area will be monitored by satellite images on a seasonal basis through the UNESCO World Water Quality Portal. The analysis of these satellite-based information on the lake’s surface area, coupled with climate and rainfall data and information from the ground, will strengthen our knowledge of Lake Chad and thus our ability to better predict the variability of the lake and, ultimately, build the resilience of the populations.



Resilience (flood)

Flood :      idji-ndjbo (kanembou)      amainamblaa (boudouma)      ambaliya (kanuri)      ilam (fulfulde)


Flooding occurs in the Lake Chad region whenever the lake's tributaries overflow as a result of heavy rains. In 2019, floods occurred in the Lake Chad area of Niger following the overflow of the Komadougou Yobe River that feeds the lake. About 23,000 people were forced to leave their homes and rice fields were drowned. This ecological crisis has caused a major humanitarian crisis. The BIOPALT project works to strengthen the resilience capacities of local communities and institutions in the countries of the Lake Chad Basin to monitor and warn of floods and droughts. To this end, it is developing a partnership with the AGRHYMET Regional Centre based in Niger and specialized in information and training in hydrology and natural resource management. This Centre maps vulnerable areas at risk of flooding in the Lake Chad basin and sets up an early warning system for floods.



Interdependency (wadi)

Wadi :      bodo (kanembou)      ngouherra (boudouma)      kùlúwù (kanuri)      tchofol (fulfulde)


Wadis are ponds that constitute a complex system fed by rainwater, groundwater and water from the lake. Its level is intermittent, dry except during the rainy season when it is filled with water, offering spectacular floods. During the hot and dry season, this ecosystem is an essential factor of production for riverside communities that practice off-season agriculture, market gardening and herding. Unfortunately, it has not been spared by the ecological crisis in Lake Chad. Several Wadis have dried up. The BIOPALT project is implementing a pilot action to rehabilitate a Wadi in the locality of Njar-Ngourta near Bol in Chad. This action will facilitate the coexistence between farmers and herders in seven villages and contribute to the promotion of peace and living together.   



Adaptation (kouri cow)

Kouri Cow :      feu boré (kanembou)      ha boré (boudouma)      kuri (kanuri)      naggé kouri (fulfulde)


The Kouri cow is an endemic species of Lake Chad. It is associated with a centuries-old tradition of nomadism that is strongly rooted in the cultural identity of the communities of Lake Chad. It is recognizable by its high (up to 1m!) and thick horns, its white coat and its absence of hump. This breed is one of the oldest on the African continent. It is also called kuburi, lake cow race or boudouma. It is only found on the islands and on the shores of Lake Chad. The kouri cow is not only very well adapted to its semi-aquatic environment, it is also a very good milk producer (4 to 6 litres per day compared to 1 and 2 litres per day for the other species in the region). These data not only demonstrate the breed's adaptability but also the extent of the breeders' knowledge and practices.

Despite the importance of its presence in the lake area, the kouri cow is endangered or diluted with other species. The deteriorating security situation has led pastoralists to leave the lake area and withdraw to the mainland. In order to overcome this, the BIOPALT project provides support to the NGO Kouri, based in the Lake Chad region of Niger, in the creation of a fodder farm, far from the insecure areas of the lake to produce and serve the herders of Kouri bulls in fodder for these animals. This activity will benefit nearly 5,000 people, including 2,000 women.  



Solidarity (fishing)

Fishing:      bini djettou (kanembou)      bini kinda (boudouma)      bə́nyì kə́nta (kanuri)      gawago (fulfulde)


Fishing is an age-old economic activity in Lake Chad. It is almost entirely practiced by native fishermen on their pirogues following traditional practices. The fishing industry is a source of income that contributes to poverty reduction and food security. It is also a vehicle for social cohesion and integrated into cultural practices. For example, fishing demonstrations sometimes accompany weddings and religious holidays. It is also not uncommon to see a fisherman make an offering to a lake spirit, whose identity, abilities and whims depend on villages or peoples.

Fishing is also an example of solidarity that can be found around the lake. In Cameroon, for example, collective fishing takes place over several days, mainly during the hot season. On the day this photo was taken, the catches were divided in two: one part was used for the consumption of households involved in fishing while another part contributed to the implementation of social projects.

However, the practices used to fish on a large scale, such as in community fisheries, are no longer sustainable because of the large quantities of fish now required to meet the needs of communities. As the number and frequency of catches have increased, the fish caught are becoming younger and smaller, thus compromising the renewal of the stocks. Within the framework of the BIOPALT project, UNESCO and its partners are implementing a pilot action to rehabilitate a spawning ground to facilitate the reproduction of species with a view to ensuring the sustainability of this activity. 



know-how (cultural landscape)

Cultural landscape:      hal lardouyé (kanembou)      ding dindii (boudouma)      adan'de (kanuri)      tabiyadji boymadji (fulfulde)


Lake Chad is unique in that it is covered by approximately 942 islands, many of which are inhabited by several communities that depend on its resources and perpetuate traditional ways of life that ensure their resilience. This coexistence between humans and nature, which dates back to the Paleolithic era, gives a true cultural landscape dimension to this vast lake. There is no other lake landscape inhabited by humans of such immense geographical size on earth.

The BIOPALT project is assisting Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad in the preparation of a nomination dossier for the inscription of the "Cultural Landscape of Lake Chad" on the World Heritage List.

The term "cultural landscape" covers a wide variety of manifestations of the interaction between humans and his natural environment. Cultural landscapes often reflect specific techniques for sustainable land use, taking into consideration the characteristics and boundaries of the natural environment in which they are established, as well as a specific spiritual relationship with nature. The protection of cultural landscapes can contribute to modern techniques for sustainable use and land development while conserving or improving the natural values of the landscape. The continued existence of traditional forms of land use supports biological diversity in many parts of the world. The protection of traditional cultural landscapes is therefore useful for the maintenance of biological diversity.

The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was the first international legal instrument to recognize and protect cultural landscapes in 1992.    


Tradition (music)

Music:      biké (kanembou)      algai (boudouma)      kayya (kanuri)      pidjirlé (fulfulde)


The safeguarding of Lake Chad requires taking into account the cultural dimension that underpins the identity, lifestyles, practices and traditional knowledge of local communities. Music is an important unifying and social cohesion element among the populations of Lake Chad. It constitutes a true intangible cultural heritage. The know-how is passed on orally from generation to generation. Among the lake's emblematic musical instruments is the flute.   




builders (woman)

Woman:      kamou (kanembou)      ngreem (boudouma)      kamu (kanuri)      debbo (fulfulde)


The women of Lake Chad are real builders. They are the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed in the evening. They have multidimensional vocations and participate in all activities of daily life. Without them, Lake Chad cannot be a cultural landscape because they play a fundamental role in the interaction between communities and nature. For example, it is women who usually build houses. These are made from local materials available locally such as earth, wood and various fibres. Some micro villages are built on the same model, from which a real harmony emerges between human development and the elements of nature. 



give back (community)

Community:      kindjili (kanembou)      miyaou nglaguiite (boudouma)      ummaa (kanuri)      legole (fulfulde)


There are many communities around Lake Chad. While some are ancestral, such as the Kanem (Ngizim, Koyam, Yedinas, etc.) or Bornou (Sao, Babur, Baldabu, etc.) peoples, others have emerged from successive waves of immigration since the 1950s and come from the hinterland or even further afield. Indeed, community migration on the lake began in the 1950s and increased in the 1970s and 1980s due to drought and the lake's passage to its small level, revealing areas with high agricultural, fisheries and pastoral potential. As a result, Lake Chad has become one of the most diverse community environments in Africa. For example, the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement indicates that in 2005, nearly 70 ethnic groups claimed were registered on the island of Kofya (mouth of the Chari river).

These lake communities contribute to its diversity and strength and are a major source of its opportunities. Local communities are at the heart of the BIOPALT project. It strives to involve them in the implementation of all its activities and makes it a point of honour to give back the fruit of this collaboration.


Participation (dialogue)

Dialogue:      chôri (kanembou)      yadjabakali yalhoubori (boudouma)      chukumoi duto (kanuri)      sarwago (fulfulde)


Consultation is essential in the management and conservation of a transboundary site as large as Lake Chad. The BIOPALT project gives this a high priority. As its motto is "nothing for communities without communities", none of its activities have been defined in the absence of communities and all stakeholders. The project began with a broad consultation process at local, national and regional levels in order to have a common understanding and real ownership, to define and agree together on the content of activities, to agree on priority intervention areas and the roles and responsibilities of each. These meetings mobilized more than 300 people (local and indigenous communities, elected officials, decision-makers, technicians, scientists, civil society) in a participatory and inclusive approach. They were key moments and a great specificity of the project. They have made it possible to build a common and new vision for transboundary cooperation on Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage site in the Lake region.    



sharing (training)

Training:      ndilo (kanembou)      kainidi (boudouma)      nzukuro (kanuri)      ekitindgo (fulfulde)


The BIOPALT project pays particular attention to training and capacity strengthening in the countries of the Lake Chad basin on Biosphere Reserves, World Heritage sites and the peaceful management of natural resources as well as the promotion of income-generating activities based on green economies. More than 150 trainers have been trained in these different fields and will be expected to train several thousand individuals. These training sessions and experience sharing lay the foundations for the sustainability of the project's achievements. They also provide an opportunity to create a local network of professional experts who are sensitized and trained on the multidimensional issues of Lake Chad.