Nelly Bassily | June 16, 2008
Ibrahim Danjimo is a Nigerien farmer in his 40s. He has been working the sandy, rocky soil of his small village since he was a child. Some 20 years ago, Mr. Danjimo began to realize that the trees were disappearing. The Sahelian winds blew strongly across his land. The sand dunes threatened to engulf his hut. His water well dried up.
During the 1970s and 80s, a severe drought combined with a population explosion and destructive agricultural practices stripped bare vast expanses of land. The desert seemed determined to swallow everything.
Mr. Danjimo and some other farmers from the Guidan Bakoye village in Niger took a decision that seemed radical at the time. They would no longer rip young trees out of their fields before planting seeds, as their families had done for generations. Instead, they protected the trees, and carefully ploughed around them when sowing millet, sorghum, peanuts, and beans.
Over time, more and more Nigeriens came to value and plant trees, and some of the effects of desertification were reversed. Ibrahim Idy is a Nigerien farmer in the Zinder region. Some 20 baobab trees grow in his field. Mr. Idy sells the leaves and fruit of the baobab, earning about 300 American dollars, or 200 Euros, each year. He used these extra earnings to buy a motorized water pump to irrigate his cabbage and lettuce plants. As a result, his children do not have to gather as much water for the farm, and Mr. Idy can afford to send them to school.
Dr. Mahamane Larwanou is an agroforestry expert at the L’Université de Niamey in Niger. He believes that the more trees are grown in Niger, the better people will be able to adapt to climate change. He says that, by planting trees, farmers can take control and limit the impact of changes on their land. For example, planting trees can help prevent crop destruction and floods because tree roots hold water in the ground, preventing it from running off across rocky, barren fields and creating gullies.
To this end, a company called Tree Nation is asking people to fund the planting of trees in Dosso, Niger. According to the company’s website, it’s as easy as choosing a tree, buying it online, and naming it. The cost? It depends on which tree you buy. A Senegalese acacia tree costs 10 Euros, or about 15 American dollars, while a baobab tree costs 75 Euros, or 115 American dollars. Tree Nation says it will work closely with local communities, nurseries, and organisations to ensure the best possible environment for the trees to grow. Tree Nation hopes to plant 8 million trees in Niger, as part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign. So far, they’ve planted a little over 31,000.