In the article, In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert, we get a nice summary of the problems with desertification happening in Niger and what policies exasperated the problems. (Title link) Basically trees became an obstacle to farmers developing their lands and the assets of trees were owned by the state (or more loosely the people). Instead of caring for the trees on their lands, the trees were more or less an obstruction for planting nice even rows of cash crops. Thus the benefits of soil retention and reducing water runoff were lost when the majority of trees were either cut down or neglected in farming practices. All that was required was for reestablishment of property rights along with a long forgotten agricultural technology to stimulate the growth of productive trees for farmers.
Andrew Leonard provides a summary of these techniques in the article A tree grows in the Sahel. Basically it is simply digging a hole and filling it with organic matter of any kind and the most varied the better for retention of waters in the space created as well through the organic materials in the pit. Then the soil is covered back up and if need be plant a tree nearby that will draw upon the water retained in the hole as well access to the organic compounds. Bugs, worms and termites will make holes to the material to help aerate the soil and allow water absorption. In a short time, the farmer will be able to harvest various things from his crop of trees including firewood, fruits, and falling leaves for more pits. The holes are called “zai holes” or planting pits.
A more complete analysis is available in the paper entitled THE EMERGENCE AND SPREADING OF AN IMPROVED TRADITIONAL SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION PRACTICE IN BURKINA FASO. From the abstract:
This paper describes the emergence of improved traditional planting pits (zaï) in Burkina Faso in the early 1980s as well as their advantages, disadvantages and impact. The zaï emerged in a context of recurrent droughts and frequent harvest failures, which triggered farmers to start improving this local practice. Despair triggered experimentation and innovation by farmers. These processes were supported and complemented by external intervention. Between 1985 and 2000 substantial public investment has taken place in soil and water conservation (SWC). The socio-economic and environmental situation on the northern part of the Central Plateau is still precarious for many farming families, but the predicted environmental collapse has not occurred and in many villages indications can be found of both environmental recovery and poverty reduction. (Kabore, Reij, abstract)
The thing to note about this process, it is mostly traditional and requires no special technology to perform and no outside technology is basically needed. The one aspect that could benefit is dissemination of the technique and collection of data for improvement upon the application of this ancient technology. Cellular telephones again might be handy in disseminating as well as agricultural extension services through government entities or NGOs. Ultimately this will lead to production capability increases but it does not require increased labor force during peak times and can be spread out over the year when labor demand is lowest. (SG, Section 3.5.4) The pits can be done at any time and when the rainy season starts then the benefits can begin the process.
1. Vaitsos, C.V. (1973) ‘Bargaining and the Distribution of Returns in the Purchase of Technology by Developing Countries’, from Henry Bernstein [ed.] Underdevelopment and Development, Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, England, pp 315–22.
2. Paul Collier (2007). The Bottom Billion. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
3. Kabore, Daniel and Reij, Chris (2006), THE EMERGENCE AND SPREADING OF AN IMPROVED TRADITIONAL SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION PRACTICE IN
BURKINA FASO (PDF), EPTD Discussion Paper No. 114, International Food Policy Research Institute.
4. Bush Encroachment Report on Phase 1 of the Bush Encroachment Research, Monitoring and Management Project,
5. ET:Bush to Solve all African Problems!
6. In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert
7. Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert
8. Andrew Leonard (Oct. 4, 2006), Salon.com, A tree grows in the Sahel
Labels: Developing Countries