Tip of the hat to the NYT from Feb 11th, 2007 – want to read the article?
Farmers in Niger are reported to have noticed a few decades ago that all of the trees had disappeared as more and more ground around villages was tilled. The increased tilling happened as the population increased dramatically.
With no encouragement or scientific assistance from the agencies who are “helping” poor countries with development issues, the farmers decided among themselves that the loss of trees might have something to do with the loss of fertility of the soil and the risk of desertification, so these poor subsistence farmers agreed among themselves to protect and nurture saplings in the middle of their crops. This meant extra work, plowing around the saplings, giving up some crop for the trees.
And it worked. The article in the Times reports:
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 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.
Pretty encouraging. I think generally speaking, trees are good for the planet. Bipeds need oxygen and produce a lot of CO2, trees breathe in CO2, lock it up as timber and breathe out oxygen. Sweet deal and we get charged nothing by the trees for this essential service. It’s time that we look at trees and stop seeing timber and start seeing the lungs of the planet. Don’t be fooled by misleading presentation of issues like reflectivity of trees versus barren landscape, we bipeds live better in a treed landscape than a barren landscape. Just ask the agrarian scientists in Niger.