February 11, 2007

In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert - New York Times

In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert - New York Times:

This is an intriguing good news story about an area of sub-Sahara Africa that had been declared a basket case, but, as often is the case for me with the Times, I'm skeptical of the claims of huge success, even tempered as they are with opinions that Niger's success may be fragile and short lived. What's missing is content relating to how/if this reversal may be linked positively to global warming. Could it be that climate change is causing rainfall patterns to benefit Niger? If the claims of climate disruption by atmospheric warming have validity, then some regions of our planet will surely benefit. Is Niger one of them? Perhaps global warming is not a doomsday scenario for all the earth's people. Hey, ya gotta read this!! (http://www.cei.org/gencon/019,05650.cfm) Catastophe mongers, beware. Global warming is not bad for everone.

The story's emphasis is about the multiplier effect of small changes in human behavior, but I suspect climatic factors are also at work.

"Today, the success in growing new trees suggests that the harm to much of the Sahel may not have been permanent, but a temporary loss of fertility. The evidence, scientists say, demonstrates how relatively small changes in human behavior can transform the regional ecology, restoring its biodiversity and productivity.

In Niger’s case, farmers began protecting trees just as rainfall levels began to rise again after the droughts in the 1970s and ’80s."

The article's claim that:

"Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility."

is astounding. Consider that Vermont's size is 6,156,800 acres. This means that an area 23% larger than Vermont has been reclaimed in 20 years. My intuition tells me that rainfall is the reason far more than changed agricultural practices. But...Hooray for Niger!
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