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Tree-Growing Campaign Makes for a Greener Niger

How one nation's campaign has saved three million hectares from becoming desert in the Sahel. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The Sahel is the area of Africa that lies between the Sahara desert to the north and more fertile land to the south. The dry plains of the Sahel are mostly treeless.

Yet in Niger, one of the nations along the Sahel, millions of trees are now growing.

Researchers have been studying the progress of a re-greening campaign in Niger. Chris Reij is a scientist from the Netherlands. In a message at last February, he described how, in some places, "densities are so high that you almost look at a wall of trees."

A United Nations news service reported in October that Niger's government said the campaign had already reclaimed three million hectares. Teams of workers have used simple methods such as planting trees and protecting natural vegetation to save land from being lost to desert.

Ten to twenty times more trees were reported in parts of southern Niger in two thousand five than there were thirty years earlier.

Some reclaimed land can now be farmed again. The land became infertile during the nineteen seventies and early eighties. But about twenty years ago, local farmers recognized that their once-productive soil was being carried away by severe winds.

Trees were traditionally cut down for firewood or cleared for agriculture. Instead of clearing trees, farmers began to let them grow among their crops. At the same time, rainfall levels began to rise after a long dry period. Today, the rate of desert expansion in Niger is dropping and the amount of harvested crops is up.

All this was described earlier this month in the New York Times.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and its population is growing quickly. Being able to grow more food is important. The trees hold soil in place. They also help keep the ground from getting too dry. And they offer the possibility of extra money from selling branches, leaves and fruit.

Most of the trees are a kind of acacia that people in Niger call the gao tree. The trees are being grown mostly in densely populated areas. As the Times noted, this goes against the traditional thinking that population growth means a loss of trees and destruction of land.

The success of the effort also suggests that earlier damage to the Sahel may not have been permanent. And some say it could put Niger in a better position to deal with whatever effects climate change might bring.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. I’m _________.