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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
Niger is located in the Sahel area south of the Sahara. The west African country is largely hot, dry desert. But since the nineteen eighties Niger has gotten a lot greener.
Around the world, trees are often cut down to clear land for bigger farms or more homes for growing populations. But in Niger many farmers plant trees to protect their crops. They might cut some down, but often to sell the wood so they can buy food during a drought.
Over the years, an agricultural adviser named Tony Rinaudo has helped people in the Sahel learn about the value and care of trees. Mr. Rinaudo says much of the response has come from farmers themselves, instead of nongovernmental organizations or government officials. He says the idea of planting trees has spread from farmer to farmer as they shared the idea with their neighbors.
Trees can provide a wind barrier. They improve the soil when their leaves fall. And they protect against soil erosion by holding moisture in the ground.
Niger often has severe dry periods. Researchers say villages where farmers planted trees did better than others during a drought and food shortage in two thousand five.
Mahamane Larwanou works for the group African Forest Forum. Mr. Larwanou says the villagers who had trees grew more food and could also survive on fruit and leaves from the trees. And they could cut wood and take it to the city to sell and get some money to buy food.
In the past, the French colonists who ruled Niger had a policy of government ownership of trees. Not surprisingly, this policy did nothing to make farmers want to take care of a valuable resource that was not their own.
In Burkina Faso, a farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo became internationally known for growing a forest. His neighbors resisted his new farming methods at first -- they even burned his land. But later they saw how trees could protect the soil against the spreading desert.
His story is documented in a film called "The Man Who Stopped the Desert." But Mr. Sawadogo says in much of Africa, "Nobody is looking after our forests."