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The sites

We work in three focal sites, two in sub-Saharan Africa and the third in western Nicaragua. The two African sites are Tiby, Mali and Potou, Senegal. We have paired these two sites with a third site, Rivas, Nicaragua in order to test the universality of functional traits of promising tree species in semi-arid agro-forestry systems. All three sites are characterized by their arid to semi-arid environment, with a distinct dry season of three months of more between the months of October and April. Climate models predict that the severity and length of this dry season will increase with the impact of climate change. This dry season is also one of the primary barriers to sustainable production and food security in the three study areas. Agro-forestry systems of the three sites include a strong livestock production component. The two African sites are designated Millennium Villages (www.unmillenniumproject.org).

The Potou Senegal MV cluster includes a population of 30,000 residents and is located at the northern west of Senegal. The Potou cluster consists of two zones: the Niayes zone, bordering the maritime fringe and the continental Diéri zone. Among the MVPs, the Potou cluster represents the coastal-traditional fishing farming system, where the majority of the inhabitants practice agriculture (96%), including a strong dependence on livestock production (60%). The Niayes zone is characterized by a succession of dunes and depressions where market gardening is undertaken. The vegetation of Potou is Sahelian steppe dominated by thorny species. Deforestation, overexploitation and natural disasters including drought events and desertification have all contributed to shaping the vegetation regionally. 

Photo: G.M. Rusch

Photo: G.M. Rusch

 

The Tiby Mali MV cluster encompasses 55,000 residents, and is located in the southern region of Segou, one of the poorest areas in all of Mali.The combined effects of high human and animal population, exploitation of natural resources (foods, fuel, fodder, shelter, etc), and unfavourable climatic conditions, have put the soils under unprecedented pressure. The naturally poor soils have been further impoverished through nutrient extraction. The vegetative cover has seriously declined since the early 1970s, resulting in a loss of soil fertility and agricultural productivity. More than 75 percent of the villagers are subsistence farmers, growing mostly rain-fed sorghum and millet cereals with very low yields—between 500 and 700 kg/ha. 

Photo: G.M. Rusch

 

Rivas Nicaragua is located in western Nicaragua but faces many challenges similar to the African sites. The local population is dedicated to agricultural production and livestock production with pastures occupying more than 60% of the landscape. Though the landscape was historically comprised of continuous forest, less than 10% of the landscape remains in forest cover. The elevation oscillates between 100 to 200 m.a.s.l. The main economic activities are agriculture (sugar rice, beans, maize, wheat, cane and bananas) as well as dual purpose cattle ranching (beef and dairy). The pastures of Rivas are largely degraded as a result of over-exploitation and unsustainable land use. 

Photo: G.M. Rusch

 

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