Tree of Life
(This piece was originally published in Manas, March 14, 1979. I read it in The Next Whole Earth Catalog, published in the following year. This article was originally posted several years ago on this site, and since that time I have received further information on desert reclamation which is included below. Many thanks to the people who have contacted me re this.)
Twenty years ago (1959) an Englishwoman, Wendy Campbell-Purdie, having heard Richard St. Barbe Baker say that the spread of deserts could be stopped by a green wall of trees, bought a one-way ticket to North Africa and set to work planting trees. On forty-five acres of desert in Morocco (Tiznit), she planted 2,000 trees, and four years later they were twelve feet high. She proved that this manmade strip of oasis would change the climate (increase the surface humidity) by growing wheat and barley in the shelter the trees provided. Then she went to Algeria, where a reluctant government, gave her a 260-acre dump. The seedlings she set out there did so well that the astonished Algerian officials promised her help. She went home to England to raise some money, and eventually she formed the Bou Saada Trust to wage biological warfare against the Sahara. A few years later the 130,000 trees she had planted at Bou Saada (in Algeria) were flourishing and the fertile area they created was growing vegetables, citrus, and grain. Plans were then made to invade the great desert with the green things growing.
How urgent is this campaign against deserts? In 1977 a UN conference on Desertification reported that the world's desert areas are rapidly spreading. One third of the land surface of the Earth's surface is now desert, and every year the Sahara gains 250,000 acres of once-productive land. The lives of some 630 million people are threatened in the regions of the world now turning into desert wasteland.
Wendy Campbell-Purdie has recently formed a registered trust called Tree of Life to continue this project and undertake similar ones. The idea is to save the "the vulnerable communities on the fringe of the Sahara and other world deserts by working with them to stop the deadly process of desertification, restore the life of the land and protect the livelihood of the people." An explanatory booklet Tree of Life (London address is given, by now certainly invalid), describes the program:
The Tree of Life evolved directly from the work of the Bou Saada Trust in Algeria. This successful pilot reforestation scheme has now been incorporated in one of the world's most ambitious tree-planting programs--the thousand-mile protective "green wall" right across Algeria. The first task of the Tree of Life is to set up similar pilot projects, in cooperation with the Governments concerned, to continue the green wall along the entire northern edge of the Sahara Desert.
(Thanks to Stephanie for this additional information from the FAO Document Repository )
Two recent books published in
England have called attention to the idea of reclaiming the Sahara
desert. One is A woman against the desert by Wendy Campbell-Purdie and
the other Sahara conquest by Richard St. Barbe Baker, founder of the
movement known as Men of the Trees.
Since the beginning of 1966 the
United Nations/FAO World Food Program has also been assisting the
Government of Algeria in large-scale reforestation and land reclamation
operations through the Chantiers populaires de reboisement. Begun in
1962 under the Christian Committee for Service in Algeria, this work is
directed at the eventual economic development not only of northeast
Algeria but of other regions. Forestry operations in this desperately
poor area provide work for thousands of workers and their families, who
are paid in the form of food provided by the World Food Program.
A brief overview of the life and work of Richard St. Barbe Baker can be found here He is the author of a number of books, none of which are in print at this time but many can still be found used at Amazon and Abebooks.com