Action-research on palm tree regeneration

Prospective study on the causes of the disappearance of date palm-trees in the Western Sahel in order to find appropriate strategies for saving this very useful species which undoubtedly contributes to the reinforcement of household food security.

In the Sahelian area, unpredictable rainfall exerts not only considerable effects on the productivity of farming systems but it also contributes to degradation of the plant cover with systematic disappearance of certain plant species such as the date palm tree.  

The date palm tree is the tree which most characterizes the Sahel plant landscape. It is mostly cultivated in regions with a hot and dry climate.  

The Sahelan date palm tree is distinguished by its straight and 10 to 20 m high trunk and by the penaceous leaf clum which crowns it. Its large leaves which are beautifully green are set on a central vein and fan-shaped nearly 3 m long ; some highly prized wax is drawn from it sometimes. The spurs of female plants would bear 200 to 1000 dates each, clustered in bunches weighing a few grams to 12 kg. A single date tree can produce up to 270 kg of fruits in a year.  

The Sahel date-palm begins giving fruits in its eighth year and reaches maturity towards the thirtieth year and starts declining only at the end of about one hundred years. Inflorescence in spikes or in panicles of the male flowers is traditionally cut shortly before the stamens reach a mature state and suspended among the flowers of the female plant so as to help with pollination. This tree was considered as a salvation of Sahelian populations (farmers and herders) and contributed largely to the reinforcement of food security through generation of definite incomes stemming from the sale of its fruits and the different uses of its leaves. These fruits are very sweet drupes with a high nutritional value (52% sugar, 2% lipids, proteins, and mineral salts) which constitute significant extra food. The leaf stems enter the manufacture of baskets and the art work of the wicker; the leaves are woven in the manufacture of beds and bags; stem fibers and leaves in the manufacture of ropes.  

This tree which is rarely used nowadays is endangered in the Sahel to the extent that all the palm-dates in the Western Sahel region have dried up one after another and only a few surviving ones can be seen here and there in certain villages. Such disappearance is not without impacts on the livelihoods of people in the Sahel in general and pastoral households in particular.  

It should be noted that a large literature on date-palm is available in the North African countries but also in Mauritania where date palm farming is booming. In Mali, our research work has shown us that our researchers have not focused on this tree very much, and it is only at a recent date that this work is being done in the region of Timbuktu in collaboration with specialists from Libya.  

In light of this situation, OMADEZA and the YiribaSuma Network propose to conduct a prospective study in Nioro du Sahel district  on the causes of the disappearance of date palms and to ask Mauritanian date palm tree specialists (who are geographically close to the research area) to propose to populations new appropriate strategies for the regeneration of this endangered species which had been considered as drought resistant.

Purpose: Conduct a prospective study of the causes of the disappearance of date palm trees in the Western Sahel and find appropriate strategies to save this highly useful species which undoubtedly contributes to the reinforcement of household food security.

For its harvest period coincides with the hungry stop-gap period. The resources generated by the date palm would help communities cover this stop-gap period.

Specific objectives:

  • Have at our disposal quality data on the causes which have led to the disappearance of date palm trees in the Sahel;
  • Identify and disseminate in the study area those appropriate techniques for regenerating date palm trees;
  • Make available to DCG member NGOs and to the Sahelian community who had been  powerless witnesses to the gradual disappearance of date palm trees in the Sahel a reference document.
  • Organization of local communities around regeneration activities and development of a tree year date palm regeneration plan.
  • Organization of a study tour on the date palm in neighboring Mauritania.
  • Training of village team members on the establishment of a date-palm nursery and on the techniques of planting date palm trees ;
  • Establishment of control nurseries at Nioro, Youri, and Trougoumbé.
  • Identification of planting sites and planting drive of date-palm seedlings  « One household - one date palm »  
  • Monitoring and maintenance of young date palm plants
  • Village assessment workshop of activities conducted
  • Annual review of activities conducted in all villages.
  • Formation of post project management structures for sustainability purposes
  • Site and management structure monitoring
  • Village results review session
  • National workshop for assessing project results in Bamako.

The immediate effects of the project include:

  • Revival of date palm trees in villages as a result of mastery of date palm regeneration techniques ;
  • Commitment and ownership by the Sahel community (populations and authorities) of the date palm regeneration and the conduct of this action research.
  • All actors intervening or wishing to intervene in the creation of date palm tree plantations are adequately informed about the reforestation techniques and procedures for  this tree.
  • The populations in the Sahel would have solid knowledge of the techniques for regenerating date palm trees.
  • In all villages targeted by the study, date palm trees are planted, monitored and maintained.
  • New rapid varieties of date palm trees are grown and help improve farmers’ incomes.
  • The number of date palm trees planted in each village, the area of reforested palm groves are, among others, the indicators needed for assessing the expected and obtained results ;
  • Establishment of a partnership between Sahel farmers and Mauritanian ones.