ALBAIDA, Sudan, Dec 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The
women of Sudan's North Kordofan state used to be famed for their
war songs urging men to defend their meagre desert assets of
cattle, bush and watering holes.
Now, in villages like Albaida, surrounded by deep orange
sand dunes, women chant odes to protect their environment from a
new enemy: climate change.
"Oh lemon tree, I plant you because you are good for
climbing, so that I can get enough phone signal to send my love
messages," sing a group of a dozen women sitting under a lalop
tree, tapping upturned buckets as percussion.
Over the past year, people in this village of 300 families
have planted around 9,000 trees to try and stop the advance of
the "gezan" (sand dunes) aided by disappearing tree barriers and
desert storms blasting through the grass-thatched houses.
"Now it's getting better - we don't wake up and find sand
covering everything," said farmer Maryam Mohammed Quoreshi.
Quoreshi remembers when people did not have to walk far to
find clusters of trees to provide fodder for animals.
Farmers were wealthy because "there was enough rain for
every living thing", and they tapped plentiful, thorny acacia
trees for gum arabic.
But a series of intense droughts, which started in 1984 and
lasted several years, killed most of the desert-hardy acacias
and turned farms to dust.
This caused men to migrate north to search the desert for
gold, harvest dates, or scour the capital Khartoum for odd jobs,
as families waited for them to send money home.
"We never had any plans - you'd just wake up in the morning
and deal with that day," Quoreshi said. "You'd live in a
constant state of anxiety."
Villagers said the area never recovered from those years of
ruin, and that temperatures have been rising and rainfall
fluctuating since, causing further desertification.
North Kordofan state suffers from extreme fluctuations in
rainfall, which varies from 150 mm (5.91 inches) to 450 mm per
year, leaving incomes vulnerable to frequent drought cycles,
according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Eltigani Khalifa Mukhtar, director of administration at
North Kordofan's Ministry of Agriculture, said rain patterns
started changing around 15 years ago, causing widespread crop
failures every three years that led to mass hunger.
"Some people migrated, some people died - especially
children," he said.
In some of the villages he has visited in recent months,
"there are one or two men left - that means in some villages,
more than 90 percent migrate", he explained, adding that an
estimated 2 km (1.24 miles) of arable land is lost to desert
To stop desertification, the government has embarked on
reforestation projects, planting 2 million trees - mainly acacia
- over the past two years, and aiming for 30 million within five
Mukhtar hopes this will rehabilitate the gum arabic belt and
"create a barrier to shifting sands covering all our state".
Since November 2014, UNDP has launched pilot climate change
adaptation projects in seven villages across North Kordofan to
further the national reforestation programme and build community
resilience more widely.
In Albaida, UNDP has established tree nurseries and planting
programmes, and installed solar water pumps to feed vegetable
gardens run by women.
The two-year project has educated people about the role of
trees in protecting fertile top soils from heat, erosion and
"We were told we shouldn't cut trees to make the environment
better, and we have been noticing that the weather has improved
and the sand is not moving like before," said Quoreshi.
A cooperative of 60 women, divided into groups of ten, now
grows potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, okra and greens
year round, most of which they sell to trucks from the nearby
town of Bara and state capital El Obeid.
Sudan is applying to the Green Climate Fund for financial
support to scale up similar climate change adaptation projects
across all nine states.
In addition to the songs penned by women to celebrate each
type of tree, the community has come up with strict rules and
punishments to protect them.
"It is forbidden to cut trees," said villager Omer Nourin,
clasping his wrists together to show what happens if you can't
pay the fine handed down by a committee tree-fellers are brought
before. "You have to go Bara prison."
The community has allowed some villagers to languish in jail
for weeks, while their relatives try to raise the money to pay
the fine - anywhere between 500 to 1,000 Sudanese pounds (about
$77-$155) - to get them out.
Government official Mukhtar and other climate change experts
take a similar line towards developed countries, whose higher
greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the warming of
desert areas where summers can now surpass 50 degrees Celsius.
"The rich countries made the problem, so they have to help
us solve this," he said. "Whoever pollutes the environment has
(Reporting by Hannah McNeish, editing by Zoe Tabary and Megan
Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate
change. Visit news.trust.org)