News / Africa

Innovative African Farmers Find Going Green More Fruitful

Additional trees in the Sahel result in better crop

Crops grow better when planted near trees.
Crops grow better when planted near trees.

Multimedia

Audio

At a time when forests around the world are falling to make room for crops to feed more and more people, the opposite is happening in parts of Africa’s Sahel.

Farmers in this semi-arid region below the Sahara desert are growing more trees than they did three decades ago and they’re producing more crops and eating better because of it.

This transformation is taking place without much involvement from the usual international development agencies.

Going green

A recent documentary called "The Man Who Stopped the Desert" shows how Burkinabe farmer Yacouba Sawadogo has raised a forest where before there was nothing but barren land.

"Trees have a very important role to plays in nature," he says in the film. "They make rain fall and we can use them for other things as well."



By sharing what he has learned with neighboring farmers, the documentary shows how he and other innovative local farmers are helping to lead a remarkable environmental transformation in parts of the Sahel.

One of the early pioneers to promote this transformation was Tony Rinaudo, today with World Vision Australia, an anti-poverty non-governmental organization. However, Rinaudo says NGOs and international donors have not been the driving force.

"Much of the response has actually come from the farmers and the communities themselves, as opposed to NGOs and the government. Once the farmers have embraced and accepted this technology they’ve practiced it and they’ve shared it with their neighbors and it’s spread from farmer to farmer. So that’s been very exciting."

Aerial photography shows the dramatic increase in trees (in black) on land near Galma, Niger, from 1975 (left) to 2002 (right).
Aerial photography shows the dramatic increase in trees (in black) on land near Galma, Niger, from 1975 (left) to 2002 (right).

Transformation

The results have been most dramatic in Niger, where an estimated five million hectares are greener today than they were three decades ago. That’s an area about the size of Costa Rica.

But farmers are not doing it simply for the love of trees. Crops near trees tend to grow better in Niger's harsh, windswept environment. Trees block the wind. Their leaves fertilize the soil and protect the crop from drought by holding the moisture in the soil.

And that’s especially important in the Sahel, where drought and hunger are regular visitors. Just last year, drought left millions in Niger facing malnutrition.

During another drought in 2005, researchers compared villages where farmers tended trees to those that did not.

"The population of those villages really survive better than those who don’t have trees on their own farm because they can cut wood and take to the big city to sell and get some money to buy cereals," says Mahamane Larwanou of the African Forest Forum. "And also, they use the leaves and the fruits of those tree species just to survive."

Vested interest

If trees provide such clear benefits, then why have so many farmers been cutting them down? Experts say growing population has put pressure on farmers to plow up more land.

But part of the reason dates to French colonial policies which gave the state ownership of all trees and products derived from them. Larwanou says that was a strong disincentive for farmers to protect them.

"Even if you put all your effort into regenerating trees on your own farm, and then you don’t have the right to go and use it, what is the sense of doing that?"

Larwanou says a change in Niger’s forestry policy has helped drive the re-greening of this part of the Sahel.

Burkinabe farmer Yacouba Sawadogo has raised a forest on what used to be barren land.
Burkinabe farmer Yacouba Sawadogo has raised a forest on what used to be barren land.

Shared lessons

Now, some experts are working to bring these lessons to farmers across the continent. As climate change threatens to bury more of the Sahel under shifting sands, they hope to encourage more farmers to re-green their land.

Burkina Faso’s Yacouba Sawadogo is already convinced. "Nobody is looking after our forests. The population has grown, and the forests are suffering. If you cut down 10 trees in a day, and you don’t plant any in a year, then we are heading for destruction."

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid