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Mr. Stoffregen and the Neem Tree

How an ordinary North Carolinian is planting hope in West Africa.

In recent years the Sahara Desert has nibbled away at the edges of Mauritania, a small country on the West Coast of Africa. With their land lost to the encroaching desert, thousands of Mauritanian farmers are moving to the outskirts of the cities where they live in hopeless squalor. Concerned, the Mauritanian government asked Impact Teams International for help. And so Bill Stoffregen, a Christian nurseryman from North Carolina, found himself in Mauritania, trying to determine what cash crop would grow in a refugee village.

Appalled at the intense heat and lack of water in the poverty–stricken village, Bill questioned if anything would grow there until he spied a row of trees, lush and green.

"What is that tree?" he asked.

"Neem trees," said his interpreter.

Bill knew that neem is an ingredient used in insecticides. He wondered whether the neem tree could produce other marketable products. Through a computer search, he discovered neem products have been used to cure malaria, periodontal disease, ulcers, and dozens of other ailments. The root grows three feet underground for every one foot in height. It might even hold desert sands in place.

Armed with this information, Bill contacted Mauritanian officials. Excited by Bill's report, they developed a proposal for researching the neem tree's commercial potential. From his own savings, Bill wrote a check to fund the estimated $15,000 in research costs.

It was discovered that neem trees could grow well in Mauritania, providing jobs and products for the people. Bill knew without a doubt that God had used him to get this project off the ground.

Still, there's a long way to go. It will cost about $1 million to plant trees and build a processing plant. The investment will bring jobs and increasing prosperity to the Mauritanian people and, possibly, begin to hold back the desert. And most important, it will be a practical demonstration of God's love, as Christians reach out to help.

"One hundred people giving $15,000 each might not save a country," says Bill, "but it would be a good start."

For more info or to help, contact Ric Olson at rcraric@aol.com.

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