Lakes of Grass

The following, taken from a 1990 report from the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO), shows how a farsighted project is restoring one of the formerly important West African wild grasses. Although it emphasizes animal feed, it gives a glimpse of what could be done by developing wild grasses for food*

To farmers and pastoralists in the Inner Delta of Mali, the bourgou floodplains supply a crucial source of fodder. Without these bourgoutières, the livestock would die during the dry season. Only bourgou can survive in these bottomlands that go underwater each year for months at a time.

Bourgou is unique in its adaptation to these amazing conditions. As the waters rise around it, the grass grows taller and taller until (after about 3 months) its stems can reach lengths of more than 3 m. At this point bourgou is like an aquatic plant with only its flowers and seedheads sticking above the surface. Once the water level drops, cattle are given access, and as they walk through the shallows, they trample the seeds and runners into the soft ground. This ensures that the crop will survive and grow again. However, when everything has dried out, there remains on the surface a dense mat of grass, half-a-meter thick.

This mat is what is used for fodder. If well managed, bourgou produces nearly 30 tons of dry matter per hectare—a sizable yield even for much more productive locations. When cut and

Bourgou harvest. (UN Sudano-Sahelian Office)

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