KHATRE SY, Senegal, (AlertNet) – Dame Diop looks at the green leaves of trees growing on the sandy Sahelian soil of his Senegal village, Khatre Sy, and talks with modesty about the community’s effort to restore fertility to their degraded soil.
“There was a time when we could stand in the village and see cars on the road, although almost four kilometres separate the road from the village,” said the 45-year-old.
“The trees had disappeared because of many droughts and also because people were cutting them for firewood and for fodder for livestock,” he added. “We felt we would not survive if this desertification continued so we decided to act.”
The people of Khatre Sy, about 130km north of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, decided to pool their farmlands together and zone off sections to allow trees – mainly varieties of the African acacia – to regenerate. They used some of the regeneration sites as farmlands where they planted crops – groundnuts, millet and sorghum.
During the rainy season, crops are planted and can get nitrogen from falling leaves as the trees enter dormancy, while the tree’s bare branches don’t block sunlight. The trees also produce seed pods which are used as fodder for livestock.
The result of the initiative is growing hectares of parkland – agro-forests – which some researchers see as vital in providing a barrier against desertification in the semi-arid Sahel region which runs south of the Sahara desert.
The usefulness of trees in agriculture has caught on with African governments as well. Eleven countries in the Sahel are creating a Great Green Wall of bushes and trees, 15 kilometres (9 miles) wide and 8,000 kilometres (4,800 miles) long – a monumental effort toward environmental and development transformation in the region.
CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTION
With more than 7 million hectares of regenerated agro-forests in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, scientists say such initiatives are also vital as a way of mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change which may bring about a drier Sahel region.
“In all of the Sahel, we can use the techniques they (farmers) have used here (at Khatre Sy) to regenerate agro-forests,” said Dennis Garrity, director general of the Nairobi-based World Agro-forestry Centre. “That is what we really mean by the great green wall.”
Garrity said the vision now is to create a ‘green belt’ to combat desertification but also enable locals to have food security and sustainable livelihoods.
Drylands – consistently arid land – comprise 43 percent of the continent where some 325 million people live, and where people depend increasingly on degraded and unproductive soils. Climate change is now aggravating these challenges.
“The best possible way of defending against the climate change is to regenerate as many trees as possible to protect the land, raise the yields of the crop, maintain yields and provide other sources of income such as the pods of the Faidherbia tree that they (communities) can sell,” Garrity told AlertNet, on a visit to Khatre Sy.
If implemented over the next fifty years, agroforestry could result in 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere, or about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge, Garrity said.
Several development agencies and governments in West Africa have been running pilot projects aimed at reversing the process of desertification through agro-forestry initiatives involving the planting of acacia trees.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has run an Acacia project which has benefited 44 villages in Senegal so far.
The agency says it is seeking funding to expand the project which it hopes will keep the desert sands at bay and help provide protection for the millions of vulnerable people living within Africa's drylands.
“It will help fight desertification, will contribute to food security and poverty alleviation, will build some system of resilience and areas where people can adapt and mitigate climate change,” Nora Berrahmouni, an FAO forestry officer, told AlertNet in Senegal.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)