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Trees and crops reclaim desert in Niger (because they adopted property rights)

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Trees and crops reclaim desert in Niger (because they adopted property rights)

Old 02-11-07, 05:51 PM
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Trees and crops reclaim desert in Niger (because they adopted property rights)

This is a great article about the good things that happen when a poor country adopts property rights.

Because they adopted property rights, they have more food, they have more trees, and the environment is better off.

This article is pretty long, so I bolded parts of it.


http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/11/news/niger.php

Trees and crops reclaim desert in Niger

February 11, 2007

By Lydia Polgreen

GUIDAN BAKOYE, Niger: In this dust-choked region, long seen as an increasingly barren wasteland decaying into desert, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks in part to poor farmers whose simple methods cost little or nothing at all.

Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 3 million newly tree-covered hectares, or 7.4 million acres, in Niger, researchers have found. And this has been 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.

Recent studies of vegetation patterns, based on detailed satellite images and on-the-ground inventories of trees, have found that Niger, a place of persistent hunger and deprivation, has recently added millions of new trees and is now far greener than it was 30 years ago.

These gains, moreover, have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded, confounding the conventional wisdom that population growth leads to the loss of trees and accelerates land degradation, scientists studying Niger say. The vegetation is densest, researchers have found, in some of the most densely populated regions of the country.

"The general picture of the Sahel is much less bleak than we tend to assume," said Chris Reij, a soil conservationist who has been working for more than 30 years in the Sahel, a semiarid belt that spans Africa just below the Sahara and is home to some of the poorest people on Earth.

Reij, who helped lead a study on Niger's vegetation patterns published last summer, said, "Niger was for us an enormous surprise."

About 20 years ago, farmers like Ibrahim Danjimo realized something terrible was happening to their fields.

"We look around, all the trees were far from the village," said Danjimo, a farmer in his 40s who has been working the rocky, sandy soil of this tiny village since he was a child. "Suddenly, the trees were all gone."

Fierce winds were carrying off the topsoil of their once productive land. Sand dunes threatened to swallow huts. Wells ran dry. Across the Sahel, a cataclysm was unfolding.

Severe drought in the 1970s and '80s, coupled with a population explosion and destructive farming and livestock practices, was denuding vast swaths of land. The desert seemed determined to swallow everything.

So Danjimo and other farmers in Guidan Bakoye took a small but radical step. No longer would they clear the saplings from their fields before planting, as they had for generations. Instead, they would protect and nurture them, carefully plowing around them when sowing millet, sorghum, peanuts and beans.

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.

Another change was the way trees were regarded by law. From colonial times, all trees in Niger had been regarded as the property of the state, which gave farmers little incentive to protect them. Trees were chopped for firewood or construction without regard to the environmental costs. Government foresters were supposed to make sure the trees were properly managed, but there were not enough of them to police a country nearly twice the size of Texas.

But over time, farmers began to regard the trees in their fields as their property, and in recent years the government has recognized the benefits of this by allowing individuals to own trees. Farmers make money off the trees by selling branches, pods, fruit and bark. Because these sales are more lucrative over time than simply chopping down the trees for firewood, the farmers preserve them.

The greening began in the mid-1980s, Reij said, "and every time we went back to Niger, the scale increased."

"The density is so spectacular," he said.

Mahamane Larwanou, a forestry expert at the University of Niamey in Niger's capital, said the revival of trees had transformed rural life in Niger.

"The benefits are so many it is really astonishing," Larwanou said. "The farmers can sell the branches for money. They can feed the pods as fodder to their animals. They can sell or eat the leaves. They can sell and eat the fruits. Trees are so valuable to farmers, so they protect them."

They also have extraordinary ecological benefits. Their roots fix the soil in place, preventing it from being carried off with the fierce Sahelian winds and preserving arable land. The roots also help hold water in the ground, rather than letting it run off across rocky, barren fields into gullies where it floods villages and destroys crops.


Wresting subsistence for 13 million people from Niger's fragile ecology is something akin to a puzzle. Less than 12 percent of the country's land can be cultivated, and much of that is densely populated. Yet 90 percent of Niger's people live off agriculture, cultivating a semiarid strip along the southern edge of the country.

Farmers here practice mostly rain- fed agriculture with few tools and no machinery, making survival precarious even in so-called normal times. But when the rains and harvest fall short, hunger returns with a particular vengeance, as it did in 2005 during the nation's worst food crisis in a generation.

Making matters worse, Niger's population has doubled in the last 20 years. Each woman bears about seven children, giving the country one of the highest growth rates in the world.

The return of trees increases the income of rural farmers, cushioning the boom-and-bust cycle of farming and herding.

Ibrahim Idy, a farmer in Dahirou, a village in the Zinder region, has 20 baobab trees in his fields. Selling the leaves and fruit brings him about $300 a year in additional income. He has used that money to buy a motorized pump that draws water from his well to irrigate his cabbage and lettuce fields.
His neighbors, who have fewer baobabs, use their children to draw water and dig and direct the mud channels that send water coursing to the beds. While their children work the fields, Idy's children attend school.

In some regions, swaths of land that had fallen out of use are being reclaimed, using labor-intensive but inexpensive techniques.

In the village of Koloma Baba, in the Tahoua region just south of the desert's edge, a group of widows has reclaimed fields once thought forever barren. The women dig small pits in plots of land as hard as asphalt. They place a shovelful of manure in each pit, then wait for rain. The pits help the water and manure stay in the soil and regenerate its fertility, said Larwanou. Over time, with careful tending, the land can regain its ability to produce crops. In this manner, more than 240,000 hectares of land have been reclaimed, according to researchers.

Still, Koloma Baba also demonstrates the limits of this fragile ecosystem, where disaster is always one missed rainfall away. Most able-bodied young men migrate to Nigeria and beyond in search of work, supporting their families with remittances. The women struggle to eke a modest crop from their fields.

"I produce enough to eat, but nothing more," said Hadijatou Moussa, a widow in Koloma Baba.

The women have managed to grow trees on their fields as well, but have not seen much profit from them. People come and chop their branches without permission, and a village committee that is supposed to enforce the rights of farmers to their trees does not take action against poachers.

Such problems raise the question of whether the success of some of Niger's farmers can be replicated on a larger scale across the Sahel.

While Niger's experience of greening on a vast scale is unique, scientists say, smaller tracts of land have been revived in other countries.

"It really requires the effort of the whole community," said Larwanou. "If farmers don't take action themselves and the community doesn't support it, farmer-managed regeneration cannot work."

Moussa Bara, the chief of Dansaga, a village in the Agui region of Niger, where the regeneration has been a huge success, said the village had benefited enormously from the revival of trees. He said not a single child had died of malnutrition in the hunger crisis that gripped Niger in 2005, largely because of extra income from selling firewood. Still, he said, the village has too many mouths to feed.

"We are many and the land is small," he explained, bouncing on his lap a little boy named Ibrahim, the youngest of his 17 children by his three wives.
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Old 02-14-07, 06:44 AM
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But I thought that capitalists just wanted to burn everything down! this article makes no sense!
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Old 02-14-07, 08:25 AM
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We should obviously disband the US Forest Service. Loggers know what's best for us.
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Old 02-14-07, 09:43 AM
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I'm not sure the U.S. is ready to allow trees and crops to have property rights like the rest of us, no matter the benefit!
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Old 02-14-07, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
We should obviously disband the US Forest Service. Loggers know what's best for us.

Privately owned forests, timberland, and tree farms tend to be much better managed than federally owned ones.
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Old 02-14-07, 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
We should obviously disband the US Forest Service. Loggers know what's best for us.
in the US we have enough money to buy stuff from anywhere in the world. not so in many parts of the world
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Old 02-14-07, 06:57 PM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
We should obviously disband the US Forest Service. Loggers know what's best for us.
I love socialists who base everything on presumption and not on any factual, real-world evidence.
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Old 02-15-07, 01:32 AM
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Exactly. Loggers and logging companies don't want to earn a huge profit one year and then go completely out of business the next year while losing all of their jobs.
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Old 02-15-07, 03:14 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
Exactly. Loggers and logging companies don't want to earn a huge profit one year and then go completely out of business the next year while losing all of their jobs.
The problem with massive and rampant deforestation for industry is either 1. The land is not owned by anyone hence there's no incentive to preserve it and/or 2. The land is owned by the government who makes no effort to limit what can be done by the land. Privately owned land is always the most well-kept.

Take for example, Whaling. Because international waters aren't owned by anyone there's nothing holding whalers and the fishing industry from totally pillaging the land. They don't have to face the consequences themselves of the devaluing of natural resources.

Last edited by Superboy; 02-15-07 at 03:18 AM.
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Old 02-15-07, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Superboy
The problem with massive and rampant deforestation for industry is either 1. The land is not owned by anyone hence there's no incentive to preserve it and/or 2. The land is owned by the government who makes no effort to limit what can be done by the land. Privately owned land is always the most well-kept.

Take for example, Whaling. Because international waters aren't owned by anyone there's nothing holding whalers and the fishing industry from totally pillaging the land. They don't have to face the consequences themselves of the devaluing of natural resources.
If they run out of whales, they sure as hell will have to face the consequences.
I'd rather have nice things made of wood than have hundreds of thousands of acres burn up due to forest fires.
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Old 02-15-07, 11:40 AM
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I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that in the U.S., the paper and lumber companies plant more trees in one day than the environmentalists plant in an entire year.
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Old 02-15-07, 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
I'd rather have nice things made of wood than have hundreds of thousands of acres burn up due to forest fires.

Those giant forest fires almost always happen on government owned land. Privately owned forests are much better managed. Private owners clear away the old dead trees, and they also creae buffer zones to prevent the spread of fires.
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Old 02-15-07, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Superboy
The problem with massive and rampant deforestation for industry is either 1. The land is not owned by anyone hence there's no incentive to preserve it and/or 2. The land is owned by the government who makes no effort to limit what can be done by the land. Privately owned land is always the most well-kept.

Take for example, Whaling. Because international waters aren't owned by anyone there's nothing holding whalers and the fishing industry from totally pillaging the land. They don't have to face the consequences themselves of the devaluing of natural resources.
Well, they do have to face the consequences of resource depletion. The problem is, when resources are unowned or "owned in common" the incentive is that if one doesn't get all the resources one can as soon as possible the other guy will.

It's the classic "tragedy of the commons" whose best known iteration was, ironically, not written by a right winger or libertarian, but by liberal ecologist Garrett Hardin.

The contrast between privately owned resources and unowned or "commonly owned" resources is evident from the different ways African countries are trying to preserve elephant populations. The countries that have allowed native tribes to have proprty rights in elephants sell hunting permits but keep the number of those down so that the population is not depleted and their business will continue indefinitely. Their elephant populations have actually increased. The countries that keep "ownership" nationalized and simply outlaw elephant hunting have seen their populations dwindle, even when they have instituted a death penalty for poachers.

Last edited by movielib; 02-15-07 at 06:47 PM.
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Old 02-15-07, 05:40 PM
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I'm sure you just overlooked the improved rainfall part of the article. Whats going to happen next drought?

Congrats to Niger, but for every success story in Africa I'm sure there are 5 sad stories such as places where they kicked white people off farms where they farmed for generations and gave the land to Africans who had little or no knowledge of farming and now there is even less food in the area.
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Old 02-15-07, 07:01 PM
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Originally Posted by movielib
Well, they do have to face the consequences of resource depletion. The problem is, when resources are unowned or "owned in common" the incentive is that if one doesn't get all the resources one can as soon as possible the other guy will.

It's the classic "tragedy of the commons" whose best known iteration was, ironically, not written by a right winger or libertarian, but by liberal ecologist Garrett Hardin.
I've read Hardin.

Think about it like this: who is likely to spend more money, the man who can go into a cave where he found a pot of gold, that isn't his, or the man with his own bank account?
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Old 02-16-07, 03:55 AM
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Wow, I'm suprised there are so many logging/forestry experts on this message board ...
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Old 02-16-07, 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by IMRICKJAMES
I'm sure you just overlooked the improved rainfall part of the article. Whats going to happen next drought?

Congrats to Niger, but for every success story in Africa I'm sure there are 5 sad stories such as places where they kicked white people off farms where they farmed for generations and gave the land to Africans who had little or no knowledge of farming and now there is even less food in the area.

Farmers who use good farming methods are able to deal with drought.
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Old 02-17-07, 10:01 AM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
We should obviously disband the US Forest Service. Loggers know what's best for us.
From what I read while writing a paper on forest handling/conservation, The US Forest Service really aught to be named the US Forest as a Resource Management Service. Because that's more of how it really functions. (Example: roads being built using federal money for private logging companies). They really seem to spend a lot of time, efforts and money on what is basically resource management - optimizing the logging of US-owned forests.


BTW: forest fires are considered part of the natural cycle of a forest and more and more they are being let happen. This article talks about it:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/...nagement_x.htm. Read also here about how years of preventing all forest fires just leads to massive out of control fires as underbrush accumulates to dangerous levels:

http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/46.html
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