Arbor Day in Niger

August 3 is a special day in the West African nation of Niger.  It is Independence Day, when, in 1960, the country changed from being a French colony to a fully independent nation.  But it is also Arbor Day, the day of the year on which every Niger citizen is expected to plant a tree—to fight desertification.

The simultaneous celebration of independence and tree planting is no accident.  Niger is one of the poorest countries on earth, partly because of the invasion of desert into former crop and forestland.  Droughts have driven much desertification, but so have the practices of rural people.  Needing firewood, they often cut shrubs, trees and sprouts from stumps.  With each passing year, forests were farther away and desert was coming closer.  So, in 1975, the Niger government assigned Arbor Day—a day of national tree-planting—to the same day as their independence.  Trees, they reasoned, were an essential part of their future.  As the mayor of one community said, “We will not let the wind blow us away.”

Desertification is a severe environmental issue in Niger (photo by Brian Padden)

The results have been spectacular, partly due to the work of Tony Rinaudo, an Australian agriculturist working for the non-profit group World Vision.  Rinaudo was working in Niger in 1983, depressed by the worsening conditions and the lack of progress to improve food supply.  As he looked across a mostly barren field, he detected an occasional sprout.  “In every direction there were no trees.  But then these shrubs caught my eye, and I suddenly realized that this wasn’t a shrub but a tree trying to regrow.”  He calls this the “underground forest,” stumps with living roots that are able to re-sprout and grow.  He and his colleagues created a program called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) that taught and encouraged farmers to protect these sprouts as future trees.  Since then, more than 200 million trees have returned on more than 12 million acres.

Programs that allow stump-sprouts of trees to protected are reversing desertification (photo by Tony Rinaudo)

Aerial photographs from 1975 to today show an enormous expansion in the numbers and density of trees growing in Niger.  Chris Reij, from the World Resources Institute, who has worked in the region for decades, called this “probably the largest positive environmental transformation in the Sahel and perhaps in all of Africa.”  According to the FMNR website, along with the increase in trees and tree cover have come many benefits—ground-water levels are rising in wells; soil erosion is down and quality is up; more firewood is available, locally and sustainably; crop yields of grain are up by 500,000 tons; a hectare of farm land produces $56 more income per year; and 2.5 million people are living a higher quality of life.

References:

AnydayGuide.  Arbor Day in Niger.  Available at:  https://anydayguide.com/calendar/2073.  Accessed August 3, 2017.

DW Akademie.  2010.  Niger:  Fighting the battle against desertification.  Available at:  http://www.dw.com/en/niger-fighting-the-battle-against-desertification/a-4475725.  Accessed August 3, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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