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Success stories from Niger, China and Ethiopia have proven that it takes less than 20 years to turn deforested and depleted soil back to green and fertile land, giving its people a future again. Ensuring farmers ownership of trees and land is crucial. Cooperation, knowledge and a long-term vision on its development are effective ingredients in greening an area. 

Around 1980 Niger faced an enormous problem because the land in its over-populated southern regions, had become deforested and infertile. The revenues of the harvests of millet and sorghum had continuously decreased, leading to regular periods of famine. Funds to buy fertilizers were non-existent and the land had too few shrubs and trees and too little organic matter to keep the soil fertile. The unprotected fields were easy prey for the winds, and farmers had to sow at least three times per season as sand kept burying the emerging crops.

Twenty-five years later, in 2006, satellite images, analysed by the Free University Amsterdam and others, revealed decidedly greener fields. From the former 2 to 3 trees per hectare, they now showed 20, 60 and up to 100 trees. What had been the main key to success? The farmers in the southern region of Nigeria started to protect and cultivate the indigenous trees in an area of 5 million hectares, larger than the whole of the Netherlands.