A recent study shows that the West African Sahel has been steadily “regreening” since the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s which killed more than 100,000 people.
Among the reasons for the “regreening” are rising greenhouse gases which have caused rains to return to the region south of the Sahara, boosting crop yields. This has, in turn, helped the population to stop relying on foreign donations to survive. Rather, they are now able to feed themselves.
The study points out that the continued rise in emissions is “favourable for sustaining, and potentially amplifying, the recovery of Sahel rainfall”. If the increasing rainfalls are sustained, the previously drought-ravaged regions could be revivified making farming possible again.
“The increase in rainfall has allowed more plants to grow, which in turn increases precipitation even more. Plants transfer moisture from the soil into the air by evaporation from their leaves and hold water in the soil close to the surface, where it can also evaporate. The darker surface of plants compared with sand also absorb more solar radiation, which can create convection and turbulence in the atmosphere which might create rainfall. Vegetation effects account for around 30 percent of annual rainfall variation in the Sahel.”
There has also been increased atmospheric CO2 which has boosted plant growth in the region. The more the CO2 in the air, the better the growth of plants in the area.
“Rising atmospheric CO2 levels also have an antitranspiration effect, which enhances the water-use efficiency of plants and enables them to grow in areas that were once too dry for them.”
Another key reason for the “regreening” has been the inventiveness of farmers in the region. There have been community-led conservation efforts that have gone a long in making regreening possible.
With key factors that brought about regreening looking sustainable with each passing day, it looks like the West African Sahel – in the region south of the Sahara, from Senegal to Sudan – can look forward to happier, more productive times.