How To Grow 200 Million Trees

Farmers sow millet seed in a field outside Aguié, in the Maradi region of Niger. In recent decades farmers there have allowed millions of trees to regrow on land that had once been cleared.
DAVID ROSE/PANOS

The African country of Niger had a serious environmental problem. Decades of drought, clearing of land, and the need for firewood had decimated the native trees. The farming needed to feed the world’s fastest-growing population in one of the world’s poorest countries was preventing new trees from growing. The government had recognized the problem, but replanting efforts in the 1970s had largely failed. Sixty million trees had been planted, but fewer than 20 percent had survived.

And yet since then, at least 200 million new trees have been added. Astonishingly, this has been done with little outside help and almost no money. How?

The solution turned out to be simple — let new trees grow. They came back naturally, encouraged by thousands of farmers who began to realize their value.

Two events led to this rebirth. First in 1983, men who’d traveled abroad to look for work during the dry season returned late — too late to clear trunks and new seedlings from their fields before the rains came. Their only option was to plant in the fields as they were. Second, new growth was allowed to emerge from uncleared stumps.

The farmers quickly realized what they planted near young trees grew better and faster. Quite simply, falling leaves fertilized the soil and and kept it moist. Also, sand encroaching from the Sahara was stopped, and the crops were better protected from the wind. And dead branches still provide firewood.

So the solution to the environmental problem of deforestation turned out to be deceptively simple (and cheap) — let nature run its course. The challenge now is to publicize this success.

For more detail, see “How Farmers in Earth’s Least Developed Country Grew 200 Million Trees” by Katarina Hὂije and Craig Welch (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/how-farmers-in-earths-least-developed-country-grew-200-million-trees?).

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