Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reclaiming the Sahara Desert

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In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert


In this dust-choked region, long seen as an increasingly barren wasteland decaying into desert, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks in part to poor farmers whose simple methods cost little or nothing at all.

Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility.

Recent studies of vegetation patterns, based on detailed satellite images and on-the-ground inventories of trees, have found that Niger, a place of persistent hunger and deprivation, has recently added millions of new trees and is now far greener than it was 30 years ago.

These gains, moreover, have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded, confounding the conventional wisdom that population growth leads to the loss of trees and accelerates land degradation, scientists studying Niger say.

The vegetation is densest, researchers have found, in some of the most densely populated regions of the country.

“The general picture of the Sahel is much less bleak than we tend to assume,” said Chris P. Reij, a soil conservationist who has been working in the region for more than 30 years and helped lead a study published last summer on Niger’s vegetation patterns. “Niger was for us an enormous surprise.” [snip] New York Times

The question is, does this information have value for North American farmers, too?
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