The West African forest-island phenomenon

This consortium of researchers is based in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and the UK, working on understanding the man-made “forest island” phenomenon with a view to use the results to help inform general agronomic practice in West Africa.

Lay summary

In some areas of Africa which are dominated by savannah, one can sometimes find 'forest islands'. Usually surrounding local villages, such islands do not reflect earlier ‘natural’ vegetation types. Rather, they seem to have arisen through human activity such as natural fertiliser inputs (including household waste and animal faecal matter) and tillage practices by the local villagers. 

Through measurements of changes in soil properties associated with their creation, this project seeks to understand the mechanisms behind this forest-island phenomenon.

Proposed benefits to researchers and institutions

  • Modernisation of laboratory techniques, achieved through the acquisition of cutting-edge equipment and training
  • New analysis techniques will foster new collaborations for the scientists associated with these laboratories both within Africa and elsewhere
  • Enhanced levels of productivity and extended ambitions for a future career in science, achieved through extended training of students and staff

Proposed benefits of research to society

  • A new understanding of how the artificial manipulation of the physical and chemical properties of soil can modulate the nature of vegetation capable of existing under limited precipitation
  • New insights into the interplay between cultivation, soil and nutrients, soil structure and soil hydraulic properties
  • Informing crop and agro-forest husbandry practices in West Africa
  • Knowledge to devise mechanisms to expand forested areas in the regions studied
  • Improved production rates of market garden crops
  • Improvement of the livelihood of the occupants of the study regions through effective knowledge transfer
  • Tangible benefits for local residents through carbon sequestration credits from the maintenance and expansion of the forest island areas
  • Increased appreciation of the way in which villagers of the study regions work to enhance their living environment