Remarkable reforestation in Burkina Faso

In 1988, I was invited by the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou to carry out a reforestation project with my team of the University of Ghent (Belgium) in the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso). I will describe the success of that project later. Today, attention is paid to a similar reforestation project, set up in 1988 together with the Canadian Cooperation in Arbolle (Passoré Province, Burkina Faso).

It was decided to plant seedlings of a number of tree species with different dosages of TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) on a clayey soil, completely barren in 1988 due to heavy deforestation by the local villagers during the preceeding years.

Start project
Hard clayey field completely denuded, due to firewood collection

First, plant pits were created and the excavated soil was mixed with different dosages of TC to study the optimal dosage under these local conditions. Some plant pits functioned as control plots (no TC was added to the local soil).

1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation
1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation

At the start of the project in July 1988, the young saplings were 40-50 cm high on average. Thanks to some good rains during the rainy season (June-October), the hydrogels of the TC soil conditioner could stock a large quantity of water and they delivered this water gradually to the growing young trees during the 8 months long dry season. Thereby, the saplings continued their growth without any need for irrigation.

In December 1988, six months after planting, the growth of the individual trees was measured to compare growth differences due to a difference in TC-dosage.

Measuring growth
1988-12 Measuring growth of individual trees

Very soon, it became quite clear that TC had an interesting positive effect on tree growth. A dosage of 100 g of TC per plant pit showed to be close to optimal in these conditions. Due to our activities on the field, the soil was scarified by trampling and seeds of grasses and other weeds germinated and developed into a sparse vegetation cover.

Young acacias
1988-12 Young trees already show differences in outgrowth

Acacia nilotica saplings developed remarkably well, in particular with the optimal dosage of 100 g TC per plant pit.

Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica saplings continued to grow in the dry season without any irrigation

In April 1989, we returned to the project to carry out new measurements. What a splendid view it was ! Almost all trees, except the control ones (without TC in the soil), were still brightly green with developing young leaves, a very exceptional situation during the dry season. Some saplings had disappeared, not because of the drought, but destroyed by locusts and termites.

tree growth
1989-04 Green saplings in the dry season

In July 1990, two years after the start of the project, the original barren field was already transformed into a green area. Young trees were developing, accordingly to the dosage of TC in the plant pit. Another interesting aspect was the development of different species of weeds around the individual trees. Indeed, seeds of these weeds were blown in by the wind and those falling on the plant pit surface found relatively humid conditions in which they could germinate and grow (see green disks around the trees).

Young wood
1990-07 Two years after plantation, the young trees were developing splendidly without any supplementary irrigation or fertilization

Some of the Acacia nilotica trees already had exceptional dimensions. It was almost unbelievable that these trees had grown to a height of more than 2 meters without any additional treatment. The only thing we did, was to plant the seedlings in July 1988 with a certain dosage of TC and let the rain make the TC functioning as a reservoir of water and nutrients. Such a growth was never seen before in these circumstances.

Acacia nilotica
1990-07 I was so happy seeing these fantastic two years old trees

The general aspect of the plantation was changing gradually. Not only the young trees were continuously growing all year long, but the originally barren soil became slowly covered with grasses and other weeds. This “nature restoration” was an important secondary effect of the soil conditioning with TC.

Acacias growing
1990-07 Quickly changing general outlook of the plantation

In July 1994, six years after the start of the project, a splendid young wood was formed. Tree canopies were closing and the vegetation cover on the surface was also closing more and more. Of course, the flowering plants started to attrack numerous animal species : insects, birds, mice, squirrels etc. Biodiversity enhanced significantly.

Wood 01
1994-07 Splendid young wood in 6 years time

In 1998, 10 years after plantation, nothing can be seen anymore of the original barren area : a remarkable success was booked with this reforestation project. Trees were already several meters high and the vegetation on the surface became very dense.

Wood 10 years
1998-12 Remarkable success of the reforestation project

It is nice to know that since 1998 the same successes were booked with TC-reforestation projects in many other countries.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

4 thoughts on “Remarkable reforestation in Burkina Faso”

  1. Stumbled across this page entirely by chance this evening (20.03.2007) while searching for something else – what a brilliant project! What has the response of the local people and the authorities been? Have there been no problems with people foraging for firewood, or with grazing goats etc.?
    Success stories like this deserve to be made much more well-known.

  2. Well done,

    Thank you for the inspiring story.

    Much of South Africa has been de-forested with farming and grazing. My wife and I are trying to rehabilitate our small farm land by planting as many trees as possible. Where can one get thousands of trees? Are there organisations who would sponsor such projects?

    Do you have any new vetures that you are busy with.

    Regards

    John

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