Acacia Trees to Save Africa, and the World?

Acacia trees, excellent for Africa’s depleted soil and helpful in counteracting climate change, may be the trees of the future for Africa. A very unique tree, it may help Africa in many other ways as well.


Due to its nitrogen-fixing qualities, the Acacia tree doesn’t need fertilizers (which are damaging the environment and expensive). Its bark can also be used as a source of medicine, it can be used as food for animals, and it can provide windbreaks and help with erosion control on African farms.

The World Agroforestry Centre convened about 800 experts from around the globe to discuss the importance of growing trees on farms — for the survival of all humanity — this week. At the conference, the Acacia tree was referenced by about 700 published articles, and the Centre is now supporting this tree as a sort of miracle for African farmers and even across the world. Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, says: “Growing the right tree in the right place on farms in sub-Saharan Africa –and worldwide — has the potential to slow climate change, feed more people, and protect the environment. This tree, as a source of free, organic nitrogen, is an example of that.”

What is so special about the Acacia?

Acacias support agriculture in that their leaf cycle is a perfect match for crop cycles. It is a reverse of most trees and plants. The tree drops its leaves (which are rich in nitrogen) at the beginning of the rainy season. This is the same time when seeds are planted and the crops need nitrogen. It then grows leaves again in the dry season when the crops are sleeping. According to the World Agroforestry Centre, this makes it a perfect fit for African farmers. “This makes it highly compatible with food crops because it does not compete with them for light — only the bare branches of the tree’s canopy spread overhead while crops grow to maturity. Their leaves and pods provide a crucial source of fodder in the dry season for livestock when other plants have dried up.”

The knowledge of this tree’s benefits comes from scientific researchers and farmers alike. The benefits of the trees are clear and no additional benefit seems to be gained from artifical fertilizers in the areas where the trees’ leaves fall. “In Malawi, maize yields were increased up to 280 percent in the zone under the tree canopy compared with the zone outside the tree canopy. In Zambia, recent unpublished observations showed that unfertilized maize yields in the vicinity of the Faidherbia trees averaged 4.1 tonnes per hectare, compared to 1.3 tonnes nearby but beyond the tree canopy.”

Use It

The main recommendation: plant more Acacia trees!

“Currently, the Departments of Agriculture in both Malawi and Zambia are seeking to double maize production with the use of the tree. They recommend that farmers establish 100 Faidherbia trees on each hectare of maize that is planted.”

Dennis Garrity says, “There is sufficient research … to warrant dramatically scaling-up the planting of this tree on farms across Africa through extension programs. The risks to farmers are low; it requires very little labor, and delivers many benefits.”

Acacias may be the future of Africa, farms, and human survival in the face of climate changes.

Image Credit 1: Storm Crypt via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 2: Nick Lawes via flickr under a Creative Commons license