Farmers in Niger are nurturing gao trees to drive Africa’s biggest environmental change

Rain had come to nearby villages, but not yet to Droum in south-east Niger. The sand under its stately trees looked completely barren, but Souley Cheibou, a farmer in his 60s, was not worried. He crooked a finger, fished in the sand, and brought out a millet seed. In a week or two, this seed would germinate and sprout, and soon the whole field would be green.

Cheibou’s peace of mind stemmed from the trees encircling him, which had been standing long before he was born. Despite appearances, these were not any old acacias. They were gao trees – known as winterthorns in English – with unique, seemingly magical powers.

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