Tom, TREE AID's Director of Operations visits our tree nursery and enterprise project in Samine, South Mali
We woke early to begin our trip from Segou in south-central Mali to Samine, a small village in Mali’s dryland region which is playing its own part in battling desertification and land degradation.
As we began our journey we passed the river Niger as fishermen began preparations for another day's work. A long distance from the banks of the Niger, however, Samine and the surrounding area is an arid landscape – water is scarce and difficult to access, scant vegetation and trees are surrounded by fields of dry ochre earth on all sides. Our drive from Segou showed that Samine is fairing better than many of its neighbouring communities. As we drove, one after another village appeared out of the dusty horizon, farmers working their land, cattle and goats grazing on what vegetation they could find, children taking shelter under the shade of shea trees.
Like much of the developing world, Mali has made large progress against many of the Millennium Development Goals. Health, education and poverty indicators have steadily improved across much of the nation. That laudable progress for Mali however starkly contrasts with its more drastic and consistent deforestation, land degradation and a decline in the sustainable management of natural resources. Between 1990 and 2005 Mali lost 10% of its forest. Mali’s population alone consumes 6 million tonnes of wood per year for timber and fuel. This, combined with land clearance for agriculture and international demand for timber, results in 4,000 square kilometres of tree cover being lost every year. This alarmingly high rate of deforestation is harming agriculture and speeding up the process of desertification, as soil fertility declines and erosion accelerates.
We are visiting Samine to talk to one community that TREE AID has been supporting to fight back against this trend. TREE AID has been working with a women’s group in Samine to develop a tree nursery. The nursery is to both a much-needed source of seedlings for planting trees in the village but also as a source of income through selling the seedlings to neighbouring villages. At the nursery, I met with Korotimi Coulibaly , the chairwoman of the women’s group managing the facility.
“We’ve already got over 5,000 trees growing in our nursery. We have Baobab, Moringa, Cashew, Eucalyptus and many more varieties which will each provide important resources for our village” Korotimi explained to me. “We hope to soon expand the nursery. We’ve built a well to help maintain the seedlings and we’ve got a small area for vegetables to help us access food. Some of the trees are now almost ready to plant, some of them we’ll plant here in the nursery to provide shade while we work.”
Korotimi and her fellow group members are working tirelessly to build this nursery into a successful enterprise. She has already made contacts with other villages and has made agreements to sell some of the seedlings, when ready, to local farmers who are keen to use trees to improve their agricultural land. TREE AID has been supporting farmers in the region to increase their skills and knowledge in agroforestry and how best to use trees as a means of improving soil fertility and limiting soil erosion.
As we say goodbye to Korotimi and drive through more villages, the challenges faced in Mali’s south central region become all too apparent. Vast piles of freshly cut young wood, harvested from surrounding areas, are placed on the sides of the road, ready to be burnt for fuel. Currently, the pace of replanting trees cannot keep up with the rate of deforestation. The work of Korotimi and her fellow group members is doing is vitally important but to fully stem the tide of deforestation and desertification and begin to reverse the impacts in Mali, many more projects like the one TREE AID supports in Samine are required urgently.