As Africa Loses Forest, Its Small Farmers Are Bringing Back Trees


For decades, there have been reports of the deforestation of Africa.

For decades, there have been reports of the deforestation of Africa. And they are true — the continent’s forests are disappearing, lost mainly to expanding agriculture, logging, and charcoal-making. But the trees? Maybe not, according to new satellite data analyzed by artificial intelligence and a growing body of on-the-ground studies. This new research is finding ever more trees outside forests, many of them nurtured by farmers and sprouting on their previously treeless fields.

Across the continent — from Senegal and Niger in the west, to Ethiopia in the east, and Malawi in the south — smallholder farmers are rejecting government advice that trees should be expunged from fields because they get in the way of growing crops. Instead, they are allowing previously suppressed trees to regenerate on their land — to improve soils and crop yields; to provide harvests of fruit, fuelwood, and fodder for their livestock; and ultimately to achieve a better life for their families.

As large areas of farmland across Africa turn from brown to green, the results are also good for local economies, offering an easy and cheap way to intensify their farming and increase output, as well as benefiting biodiversity and the global climate. An acre of growing trees on farmland captures and stores up to 4 tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, researchers say.

Read more at: Yale Environment 360

Dooki (Combretum glutinosum) trees grow on a millet field in Niger. (Photo Credit: P. SAVADOGO / ICRAF)