They are found across Africa, but in Niger, they have become the trees that can transform the once-dry landscape into a green one. They are known as the gao or winterthorns trees. Many believed that the tree originated from the Sahara before it became a desert, but there are also claims that it is originally a riverine tree of eastern and southern Africa that was later introduced to the Sahara region by pastoralists.
These trees are considered magical by many Africans, especially Nigeriens of today because of the benefits they bestow on them, not only in terms of protecting the environment but also by helping the crops grow.
A report by the Guardian showed that farmers are working hard to reclaim their land in one of Africa’s poorest countries. The secret is making the trees part of their agricultural system.
Before that, these farmers wouldn’t touch such a tree for fear of punishment by the government.
“If you touched a branch, you would go to jail,” Abasse Tougiani of Niger’s National Institute of Agricultural Research said to the Guardian.
This, however, has changed as more farmers are interested in making their farming and agricultural lives better.
Here are some of the benefits of the gao trees.
Better crop yields
The trees, with their huge, roots draw nitrogen from the air, fertilising the soil and improving water retention, thus improving crop growth. Since the gao leaves drop in the rainy season, it allows the sun to reach the crops at crucial moments.
The bark and roots of the gao tree can be used on their own or mixed with other ingredients to create traditional medicines used for external or internal ailments. Ailments such as respiratory infections, sterility, digestive problems, dysentery, backache, malaria, and fever can be alleviated with these medicines.
Wood that drops off from the gao trees is used as fuel for many households, saving women and girls from walking long distances. The trees can also be used for making handicraft and implements as well as for constructing houses and fences. When burnt, the wood can produce potash when making soap.
The pods from the tree are a nutritious feed for the animals. The leaves and pods are an excellent fodder in the dry season.