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« Ed Davey on Sunday Politics | Main | Green jobs figures are fiction »

The greening of the Sahel

Geoffrey Lean has a an interesting (seriously!) report on changes to land management practices in the Sahel, which is apparently having an extraordinarily beneficial effect on life in that difficult part of the world.

The bushes turned out to be clusters of shoots from the buried stumps of long-felled trees, whose root systems still drew water and nutrients from far beneath the arid soil. The shoots could never grow much before being cut or eaten by livestock, but when Rinaudo pruned them down to a single stem and kept the animals away, they shot up into substantial trees within four years.

As the trees grew, so did crops. And as local farmers began reaping good harvests, neighbours and visitors followed suit. Now, two decades later, some 200 million trees have been regenerated in this way, covering five million hectares of Maradi and the neighbouring region of Zinder, enabling the growing of enough extra grain to feed two-and-a-half million people.

The greening of the Sahel has been noted from time to time as a benefit of climate change, but perhaps there are other effects in play as well.

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    - Bishop Hill blog - The greening of the Sahel
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Reader Comments (38)

That's environmentalism at its best

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

It is nice to get some genuinely good news from a pro-green journalist. Originally, i.e. decades ago, greens tended to worry about real problems such as the enlargement of the Sahara and ways to combat desertification of the Sahel. Perhaps they will go back to such things when they realise that the global warming scare has been overblown.

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Surely the increase in atmospheric CO2 aids plant growth by reducing the water requirement and increasing growth? Or have I misunderstood how photosynthesis works?

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

He's been Daveyed:

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Time to read "Desertification: Exploding the Myth" by D.S.G. Thomas and N.J. Middleton (1994) IMO

Jul 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

"keep the animals away"

Yep. Goats should be shot on sight.

Jul 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterThon Brocket

Somebody with a better memory (or filing system) than mine will need to help me out here.
I blogged on similar lines (see here) as long ago as December 2011 but there have been more recent reports on the effect of proper management of dry places, one of which argued that it is not the case that there are no trees in deserts because they are deserts but that they are deserts because there are no trees.
Lean's article bears this out. With proper management (aided by a bit of technology) the most arid places on earth can be made to bear at least some fruit (or cereal crop!).
It was from an article in the Guardian from the previous December that I got the statement (which I have repeated since) that South Sudan alone could be the breadbasket for the whole of Africa given the right technological, agricultural, and political (aye, there's the rub!) circumstances.
I'll go hunting for the follow-up articles I was referring to; if anyone can help I'd be grateful.
My opinion (and my hobby horse for years) is that there is absolutely no reason why sub-Saharan Africans cannot be as healthy, wealthy, and long-lived as the people of other continents — provided we stop going out of our way to keep them in poverty which is exactly what we are doing by funding their dictators rather than using our aid and our political clout to make those changes that will provide clean water, proper health care, and adequate food.
And the biggest offenders are the NGOs who prefer to use pictures of starving babies to raise funds rather than do the work that would prevent those babies starving in the first place.
Drought is meteorological; famine (in the modern world) is almost always political.
On this subject at least, good for Lean!

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

It's hardly news that many types of trees regenerate if you protect them from grazing. (Though Green propaganda doesn't seem to admit to the fact.)

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

An interesting article and no mention of climate change.

I lived in Niger 30 years ago and people were then starting to realise that 'northern' solutions to 'southern' problems were not working. (Wells for watering livestock which increased numbers beyond sustainable levels, for example). It's good to hear that some things are changing for the better.

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterRon

Thon Brocket and Ron between them have jogged my memory.
Part of the solution was control of the livestock — goats especially, IIRC.

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:21 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I wonder if Harrabin-the-Harbinger-of-Doom would ever break the habit of a lifetime and report 'good' news?

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

I expect there are several effects at work, but it gives a good indication of what human ingenuity can achieve. Of course that doesn't occur in IPCC models, or in the minds of many of their proponents.

Human ingenuity isn't fostered by half-wits making laws about carbon dioxide to tell people what they can't do. It is fostered by increasing wealth and education, by scientific, engineering and organizational advances, and by not having to spend 25 hours a day grubbing in the filth to eke out enough food to stay alive.

The inspirational read is, of course, Dune by Frank Herbert, which he dedicated to "the dry land ecologists". I think the appendices should be read before the main body of the book.

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Sorry to be OT: Ed Davey is on Sunday Politics (11.28 am today - 14-07-2013). And he's trying to gloss over the discrepancies

Jul 14, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterMicky H Corbett

another piece relevant to this story from WUWT.

Jul 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Registered CommenterPhilip Richens

@ Mike Jackson:

I blogged on similar lines (see here) as long ago as December 2011 but there have been more recent reports on the effect of proper management of dry places, one of which argued that it is not the case that there are no trees in deserts because they are deserts but that they are deserts because there are no trees.
Mike, I think you are oversimplifying a bit. While it is theoretically possible to grow food anywhere if you are prepared to spend enough money, it simply doesn't make sense to do this in places like Australia's Great Sandy Desert or the Sturt Stony Desert. A true hot desert (the cold ones are probably even more hostile) is not a man-made phenomenon that can be fixed with a few changes to agricultural practices or piping in a bit of water from not too far away.

Just one of our deserts, the Great Victoria Desert, is considerably (134,600 square miles) larger than the entire UK, c94,000 square miles. There is no earthly reason to try to grow crops there, the produce would cost far more than anyone could afford, and not least for that reason, practically no-one lives there.

Perhaps we need to develop a better terminology for discussing deserts and human development. Distinguishing inhabited drylands which have been degraded by human activity into virtual deserts from the real thing would be a good start.

Jul 14, 2013 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohanna

An eyeblink ago in geological terms - The Green Sahara.... There is quite a lot of evidence that weather patterns have changed across N. Africa without much help from industrialisation.....

Goats ... a cull of goats in Saharan Africa? will "they" all dress up as goats and petition 10 Downing St. - will DfID get invovled?

Jul 14, 2013 at 12:40 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Coo, I might have some of that - I could do with a "jolly", and I won't have to dress up!

Jul 14, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterOld Goat

Holy Flying Spaghetti Trees!

Jul 14, 2013 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I am not pretending to be an expert on deserts.
Which is why, when somebody like Professor Juma tells me that the possibility exists of bringing arid parts of the world into agricultural production, I am inclined to listen to him.
I can believe that there a thousand reasons why trying to make Australian deserts bloom makes no practical sense but my main argument is, and has always been, that we are selling the poor of Africa short by our reluctance to improve agricultural output where it does make sense while preferring to encourage the food handouts that in fact do little even to solve the immediate problem and can be guaranteed to ensure that the same people will be back looking for the same handouts next "rainy" (joke!) season because they have no choice.
Instead of desalination plants in Oz to keep Flannery happy, perhaps building a few in places where their output could be put to good use (like the Horn of Africa where the beach extends inland for a few hundred miles rather than a couple of hundred feet) would be a more sane project in the long-term (or even the short-term!).

Jul 14, 2013 at 1:09 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

A Cereal Thriller!

Jul 14, 2013 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Thank you for altering us to this heartening news. The 'greening' of the Sahel has been written about for some years. but I'd not read of such encouraging results of enlightened management.

Jul 14, 2013 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartinW

Overgrazing has always been a killer for marginal soils.
Amazing how this fact keeps being "rediscovered".
Along with the fact that increased CO2 is good for life.

Jul 14, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Aah! Geoffery Lean! One of the main reasons I cancelled my subscription to the DT three years ago, and that after having taken the paper since 1957.

Jul 14, 2013 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterroger

Just FYI, Andrew Neil gives Ed Davey a battering here.

Sunday Politics

Jul 14, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson

"Ed Davey is on Sunday Politics"

Lol...Ed Davey all round thoroughly Brilloed...

Jul 14, 2013 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterJabba the Cat

CO2 The Fuel of Life.

Man was put on this planet to bring up Fossil Fuel burn it .Create CO2 and continue the cycle of life.

That tree you re worshiping originally perhaps came from someones car exhaust pipe.

Just a Theory .Something for the Hippies and the New Age Druids to think about .

Jul 14, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

True to form the Telegraph (or Lean anyway) is decades behind the times: the greening was first observed nearly thirty years ago!

Fred Pearce, "Africans go back to the land as plants reclaim the desert," New Scientist 175, 21 September 2002, pp. 4-5.
"Africa's deserts are in retreat ... Analysis of satellite images ... reveals that dunes are retreating right across the Sahel region ... Vegetation is ousting sand across a swathe of land stretching... 6000 kilometers ... Analysts say the gradual greening has been happening since the mid 1980s, though has gone largely unno­ticed."

Sandys is correct, the main impetus comes from more CO2 for plants which then need rather less water, so it's a virtuous circle.

Jul 14, 2013 at 8:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

Like almost all 'environmental' problems, it is amazing what a bit of local development can do. It is hard to keep your goats from munching on green shoots if they have nothing else to eat and to go cold at night (yes, deserts get very cold at night) when there is tree you can cut down and burn. As soon as people have alternatives, though, they will protect the trees and the environment improves.

Poverty is the biggest danger to the environment and alleviating poverty is the best thing we can do to protect the environment.

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

And the Liberal Democrat rejected figures that an annual £112 increase on UK fuel bills was down to climate change policies, saying the bulk of that was down to tackling fuel poverty and making homes warmer.

So Davey adds lying to his portfolio.

Jul 14, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

It is daft to invoke this small triumph of ACM- anthropogenic climate mitigation by restoring evapotranspiration -- as evidencing anything but the climate change that made it a necessity.

One recalls Presidentil science advisor Allen Bromley's resurection of a letter Christopher Columbus wrote , lamenting the loss of rainfall from the deforestation of the Jamaican shore at the turn of the 16th century.

Jul 15, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterRussell

The Sahara has not always been dry. During the current interglacial there have been periods when there was a regular Sahara monsoon.

Monsoons elsewhere tend to be associated with large temperature gradients between land and sea. I have seen at least one suggestion that the present dry Sahara is associated with a lower temperature gradient between NE Africa and the Indian Ocean than during the last climatic maximum.
If the gradient increases again with our current warming, it would be interesting to see if the Sahara Monsoon reappears.

Jul 15, 2013 at 12:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

Allan Savory has shared some techniques for converting desert lands through controlled grazing.

You'll find more on his website. There's hope out there if we can just keep our well-meaning governments and busy-bodies out of the way.

Dave T
California, USA

Jul 15, 2013 at 6:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavet916

Dave, there was a post on WUWT about this a while back and it generated considerable debate.

Can I just say again - dry places which have been changed into virtual deserts by poor land management practices are nothing like real deserts. No amount of nurturing of the odd shrub or tree is going to make a scrap of difference in a real desert.

I think that the conflation of terms causes a lot of muddying of the waters (if you'll pardon the term) in this discussion.

Jul 15, 2013 at 8:19 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

... an annual £112 increase on UK fuel bills was down to ... tackling fuel poverty and making homes warmer.
How does that work exactly, I wonder?
I'm not sure he's lying, Don. Liars can usually manage to avoid such patently contradictory concepts appearing in the same sentence.

Jul 15, 2013 at 9:14 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike. Simple-
1) Ed Davey is a politician
2) He is a green fanatic.

Jul 15, 2013 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Mike Jackson

"... an annual £112 increase on UK fuel bills was down to ... tackling fuel poverty and making homes warmer."

You can reduce fuel poverty by subsidising the price of fuel where necessary through benefits.

You can also achieve the same effect by insulationg the dwelling, reducing the amount of fuel needed to heat it.

The former is a continuing payment. The latter only has to be paid once.

Jul 15, 2013 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

You can reduce fuel poverty by subsidising the price of fuel where necessary through benefits.

OR by not adopting horrendously stupid fuel-type policies in the first instance.

Jul 16, 2013 at 12:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

Increased CO2 causes deeper rooting which enables more moist soil at depth to be reached.
Grazing by cattle produces manure which increases humic content of soil. However, do goats often cause over grazing- they eat the roots?

Where cattle are kept in one location they can degrade soil but where they are allowed to migrate there is not a problem.

Returning to traditional pastoral /farming techniques in semi-desert areas and increased in CO2 is probably increasing yields.

Jul 16, 2013 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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