Bringing Land Back to Life in Niger
“Never does a Muslim a plant a tree or sow a crop and a bird, human being, or beast eats from it without earning the reward of charity.” (hadith of the Prophet ﷺ, narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)
In West Africa, a worrying phenomenon is making life increasingly difficult for the people of Niger, Chad, Mali and other countries of the Sahel region. Every year, areas of land which were once fertile are becoming dry and arid – a process called desertification.
As the desert spreads, thousands of families once dependent on farming traditional crops, like millet and sorghum, to feed themselves and earn a living are left unable to support themselves. It was always hard when the rainy season came and little rain fell, causing drought – but now even the wet years are difficult, as the hard, dry land simply doesn’t absorb the water and the crops just don’t grow.
It’s a vicious cycle: land which already has vegetation absorbs water well, as the leaves help stop the water running off the surface of the land and the plants keep the soil moist and permeable – but in order to grow vegetation, the land needs to absorb water in the first place. What’s the solution?
In countries like Niger, Islamic Relief is working to restore this dry land by teaching the community to plant trees and use an ingenious water-catchment technique.
“We dig a demi-lune (half-moon) in the ground, and in the middle we dig a small hole and plant a seed,” the women in the Nigerien village of Kanda, Ouallam told us, demonstrating in the hard ground with one of the spades Islamic Relief provided. “Now, when the rain falls and runs away over the hard ground, the demi-lunes catch it and keep the soil around the tree moist so it can grow.”
The deep semi-circular demi-lunes are positioned according to the slope of the land and the direction in which rainwater usually runs off the surface, ensuring the maximum amount is caught. In this way, we work to fulfil what Allah tells us in the Qur’an: “We send down pure water from the sky, so that We can revive a dead land with it.” (25:48-9)
It’s a technique which has been used for years by local environmental NGOs in Niger, and near to Kanda village is a large swathe of land where demi-lunes were dug many years ago – now covered in trees. The women of Kanda who earn a weekly wage from Islamic Relief for their work, told us, “when the land is restored, we can grow crops again to eat – we’re very grateful to Islamic Relief for showing us how to do this.”
There are other techniques to revive the land – one technique we use in Mali is to plant a crop called sisal. It’s extremely drought-resistant and can grow in very dry conditions; once it has been used to successfully restore the land, other crops can be planted too. In 2009, Imam Zaid Shakir visited this ‘Greening the Desert’ project in Mali and spoke to Emel magazine on return about how moving his visit had been.
To help us restore desert land and give families a way to feed themselves, donate to our Food projects and reap the reward.