Editor’s note: With the heated debate over Ruga settlements and its associated fears of possible’Fulanisation’ in Nigeria, could this tree provide a lasting solution to the age long farmers-herders conflict?
Anne Nzouankeu and Moki Edwin Kindzeka
While deforestation has devastated many African countries, in the west African nation of Niger more than 200 million new trees have sprung up in recent decades. The trees, mainly a variety known locally as Gao, weren’t planted. Instead, they were protected by Nigerien farmers who realized the trees were assets to agriculture and animal feed.
Ibrahim Omar said Nigerien farmers like himself began noticing some decades ago that they got good yields from crops planted under the winterthorn tree, known locally as the Gao.
Omar said he no longer cuts the Gao because the Gao is a very important tree for the farmers. People like it in their fields and gardens, because with this tree in their garden, what they sow produces well.
Cattle ranchers like Ismaïla Modou also discovered their animals could eat the tree’s leaves and fruits.
Modou said for animal feed, what the animals like the most are the bean leaves, secondly the peanut leaves. Breeders also now give them thirdly the Gao leaves and they like it.
So instead of chopping down the Gao trees for firewood, farmers and cattle ranchers began protecting them.
The result is over 200 million more trees in Niger today than three decades ago, say experts.
Abasse Tougiani, an agroforestry expert at the National Institute of Agronomic Research of Niger, said Niger’s re-greening efforts of more than five million hectares have inspired neighboring countries like Burkina Faso, which has brought poor farmers here to Niger to learn, Mali which has also brought farmers, and also the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Gao tree is the only tree that produces throughout Niger’s eight-month dry season.
By protecting the Gao tree, Niger’s farmers and cattle ranchers have not only increased their production, they’ve dramatically expanded the country’s green areas and pushed back the encroaching desert.