A little girl climbing the tree of life: Luis Tato’s best photograph

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‘She climbed to the top unaided, to collect leaves for her family’s dinner. The tastiest ones are usually higher up’

The vast Zinder region in Niger, west Africa, is the most populated part of the country. Its people live mostly in traditional villages, their lives relatively unchanged for decades. Yet they are now being profoundly affected by climate change. I was there in 2019, working on stories about the crisis, reforestation and resilience projects. Most of the region’s inhabitants make their living through cattle. Global warming isn’t just causing droughts that affect crops and cause food shortages – it also means the cattle can’t graze. So people are being forced to travel ever further to find water and food for themselves and their livestock. This creates conflicts over land and access to water.

This girl, who was 10 or 11, lived in the village of Malawama. She is at the top of a massive baobab tree, collecting leaves for the family dinner – the tastiest are usually higher up. Baobab leaves are a popular meal in the region. They’re similar to spinach and eaten as a side dish or added to soups and stews. I saw her from a distance and the image quickly caught my eye. I was surprised to see her climbing this huge tree unaided, but she moved so confidently that I soon stopped worrying. She was completely used to it – as most local people are.

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