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"Watershed Concept" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists have developed a crop system that takes advantage of Guiera, a plant native to West Africa, to help sustain food supply for a growing population. A new study shows that the shrub, abundant in the Sahel region, can share the precious water they draw in and boost production of one of the primary grains, called millet, that provides nutrition to West Africans. The process can provide crop yields nine times greater than normal.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Rooting for the other team.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: desert wind) The Sahel (suh-HELL), West Africa. A semi-arid region where it only rains part of the year. During times of severe drought food is scarce. The population is growing, but crop yields are not. Look across this parched landscape and you'll see odd swatches of green. (Sound effect: cartoon popping up sound) A hardy survivor, a shrub called the Guiera (GAIR-uh) thrives. Defying the odds by sending its roots 30 to 40 feet down (Sound effect: water sounds) to find and tap supplies of water deep in the Earth.

A research team led by Ohio State University has found another amazing trait of this plucky shrub: At night when the plant is no longer busy using light for photosynthesis, (Sound effect: water sounds) water drawn from deep underground leaks out through its surface roots. That means it can actually provide water to crops around it such as millet -- an essential food source in the region. Yep. A plant that waters other plants. Millet planted next to the Guiera can provide yields 9 times greater than normal.

(Sound effect: village sounds in) The scientists have developed a crop management system that takes advantage of the abundant, native Guiera often cut down or burned as a nuisance plant!

A game changer in a place that really needs help to sustain the food supply for a growing population.

(Sound effect: water drips) A real water-shed concept.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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