Gao, the Miracle Tree

Farmers in Niger have, through their own efforts, planted millions of Gao trees and successfully made degraded land fertile again. According to scientists, the Gao revolution is the largest scale positive transformation of the environment ever done in Africa. The best part is that the farmers have not been funded or pushed to do this: they have been planting Gao trees because they have experienced the remarkable regenerative capabilities of the tree.

The Gao, known in English as the winter thorn or apple-ring acacia with the biological name of Faidherbia albida, has a root system as large as its branch canopy. Unusually, however, it draws nitrogen from the air and infuses it into the soil. Also, unlike other trees, it sheds leaves during the rainy season allowing crops underneath to be exposed to sunlight. Combined with mineral fertilizers, crop yields have doubled in the presence of Gao trees. The trees additionally capture about 15 tons of carbon per hectare in mature planted areas.

Over the past three decades, southern Niger has seen the planting of 200 million gao trees, transforming five million hectares of degraded land. The trees have now been taken up by farmers in neighbouring Burkina Faso, nearby Senegal and Mali, and even as far south as Malawi.

In parts of Niger, the Gao’s accomplishments have been known for centuries. Niger farmers say a “Gao is worth 10 cows” because of its many benefits.

 

 August 28, 2018

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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.