Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Baban Rafi Forest

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Along the southern border of Niger in the Department of Maradi, population has increased by roughly 400 per cent over the past 40 years. The area under agriculture in the department as a whole grew by 26 per cent between 1975 and 1996. In the south of the district, this expansion of population and agriculture has meant the loss of a large portion of the Baban Rafi Forest to agriculture. The remaining woodlands are being degraded by overexploitation for fuelwood and non-wood forest products.

Baban Rafi Forest is the most significant area of woodland in the Maradi Department. Located at the southern extreme of the Sahel, it has areas of both savannah and Sahelian vegetation. In the savannah areas, the balance of trees, grasses, and shrubs varies. The wooded areas are dominated by just four species of trees—Guiera senegalensis, Combretum micranthum, Combretum nigricans, and Acacia macrostachya—likely as a result of selective exploitation and some combination of drought and disease.

These satellite images show the loss of a significant fraction of the natural landscape (darker green areas) of Baban Rafi Forest to agriculture between 1976 and 2007. The intensity of demand for agricultural land has also led to near continuous use of farmland in the area, with shortened or no fallow period for it to recover fertility. The high resolution image below shows in more detail the area within the yellow box of the 2007 image. The lighter areas are where the woodland savannah vegetation has been cleared for farming. Continuing population growth will put further demands on this already dramatically changed landscape.

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