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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid