Trees in the Desert

One of the many places where the current climate crisis is increasingly visible is the Sahel, a broad region across the waist of Africa dividing the lush forests of the south from the sand and desert of the Sahara to the north. As the population increases, the climate shifts, and water resources become scarce, crops and livestock suffer, as do the human inhabitants that depend on them. The demographic and ecologic pressures resort not only in continued poverty or starvation but have led to some of the conflicts in Darfur, Chad, and Niger as well as mass migration either south to the already overwhelmed cities of coastal West Africa or even further, on death-defying trips through the desert or sea to Europe.

There’s also hope in the desert. mammoth blog pointed out an interesting development that farmers in the Sahel are using to combat desertification: trees. Instead of planting them, they are digging tiny pits and cultivating them. One of the growers says:

“The temperature here is very different than in town, Sawadogo says. The forest acts like a pump. The air comes in hot. The shade cools it. So when the air leaves, it’s cooler. That shade provides relief from the brutal heat. The trees’ roots also help the earth retain rainfall and their fallen leaves boost soil fertility, so crop yields have gone up. Branches provide vital firewood.”

This could be a start to slowing the progress of the Sahara south. In the midst of this, there are also other African nations discussing a plan to ask developed countries to pay $67 billion a year to help the least well-off cope with rising temperatures. I’m not sure if that will ever come to pass but some think it’s not truly necessary to seek external help. As Chris Reiji, a Dutch geographer working in the region, says:

“In the end, what will happen in Africa depends on what farmers will be able to achieve, and they should be the owners of the process, and not outsiders.”

Further Reading:

Fighting Drought With Trees
Building on Current Green Revolution in the Sahel
Lost in the Sahel (Nat Geo)

One Comment

  1. Chris

    Interesting that planting trees in the desert even works at all. Very cool that it actually helps with the climate.

    One thing folks like Yglesias stress is that poor people are the ones most likely to feel the brunt of our rapidly shifting climate. Which of course is unfortunate because they aren’t the ones contributing to the change itself.