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How one tough shrub could help fight hunger in Africa

The trick to boosting crops in drought-prone, food-insecure areas of West Africa could be a ubiquitous native shrub that persists in the toughest of growing conditions. Growing these shrubs side-by-side with the food crop millet increased millet production by more than 900 percent, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science

A couple of decades have passed since Richard Dick, a soil scientist now at Ohio State, was traveling through rural Senegal in West Africa and noticed low-lying shrubs that seemed to be doing fine despite arid conditions that had wiped out most other vegetation in farmers' fields.

A newly published study shows that those same shrubs - when planted adjacent to millet - can share the precious water they draw in and boost production of one of the primary grains that provide nutrition to West Africans.

"People in this part of Africa rely on locally grown crops to survive. Finding ways to increase food production, especially during times of severe drought, is critical," said Dick, a professor of soil microbial ecology at Ohio State.

"As things stand now, the population is continuing to climb, there's no more land and yields are staying flat."

The new study has found that certain woody shrubs - notably one called Guiera, after the Latin name Guiera senegalensis - can effectively share their water with millet plants below the surface of the soil. Millet, a grain crop, along with sorghum, is an essential food source in Senegal.

The newly published research details one of the ways in which the plants benefit their neighbors.

The shrubs' roots grow deep into the soil, searching for moisture 30 to 40 feet beneath the ground surface. That obviously better equips the shrubs themselves to survive tough, dry conditions.

read the full text article "Hydraulic Redistribution by Native Sahelian Shrubs: Bioirrigation to Resist In-Season Drought"

Citation: Bogie NA, Bayala R, Diedhiou I, Conklin MH, Fogel ML, Dick RP and Ghezzehei TA (2018) Hydraulic Redistribution by Native Sahelian Shrubs: Bioirrigation to Resist In-Season Drought. Front. Environ. Sci. 6:98. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2018.00098

Received: 17 May 2018; Accepted: 20 August 2018;
Published: 18 September 2018.