Chad, one of the poorest countries in the world, faces problems associated with an arid Sahelian environment and an economy based on subsistence farming and livestock grazing. Soils are poor and droughts occur. Reforestation using Acacia albida (syn. Faidherbia albida), a fast-growing leguminous savannah tree, has been proposed to combat desertification in the Sahel. The tree provides valuable livestock fodder, hardwood, and enhances soil fertility. Described here is an initial 3-year (1976-1979) rural development project focussed on the establishment of A.albida plantations in southwest Chad. The final goal is an ecologically-oriented integrated land management programme.
In June 1976, Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE) initiated the 3-year project to plant and rear A.albida seedlings. The aim was to plant 100 Acacia seedlings per ha (this high density considered necessary to ensure survival of the desired numbers of trees) on 3,500 ha of marginal farmland under cultivation. Cultivated areas (as opposed to fallow) were chosen as seedling survival had previously been shown to be much higher in cultivated fields due to greater protection farmers can provide against fire, grazing and weeds. The land was inhabited by various tribes of farmers and pastoralists, some with an understanding of the benefits of A.albida and a tradition of protection and respect for the tree.
An initial questionnaire survey was undertaken to obtain some understanding of local needs and perceptions. Nine tree nursery and extension centres were established in various locations (from 150 km north to 250 km south) centred on the capital city N'Djamena. Local villagers were hired and trained to run the nurseries.
About 2,500 farmers and their families participated in the programme. The target 3,500 ha was planted by the third growing season.
In the first year 54,000 seedlings were planted on 540 ha of cropland. After 12 months only 27% were still alive (i.e. about 14,500 saplings). In the second planting season 285,500 seedlings were planted with better (58%) survival, mainly due to an improved protection programme. Grazing caused the highest losses. Fencing of planted areas was not possible or desired as this would have disrupted traditional nomadic grazing patterns; also imported fencing materials rapidly disappeared. One-year-old plants survived much better than new seedlings. In the third season (1978) 292,000 seedlings were planted.
It was projected that combined mortality would be about 26%, i.e. 350,000 young trees surviving to the fourth year. The ultimate success of the project will only become apparent through long-term evaluation.
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