Improvements to an Ailing Community Garden Give One Village a Second Chance at Food Security
Welcome to my site: a small Pulaar-speaking village of just over 300 people situated north of the regional capital in the Kolda region. This hard-working community depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Due to the low profit margins of market gardening in Senegal, it is difficult for farmers to make substantial, durable improvements to their garden spaces. So when the men and women of the community garden approached me about renovating the well and installing a chain-link fence, I was thrilled to help. Driven by their motivation, planning, and hard work, we executed the vision of a long-lasting garden space that will improve food security and increase income for the entire community.
A little background on the community garden: over 15 years ago a development NGO came into town and built a sturdy well with a mechanical hand-pump and basin along the fertile, low-lying rice growing area just outside the village proper. Some years later, as the village tells it, a critical pump component was stolen and the basin fell into disrepair. For some time, the well and surrounding garden space fell out of active use, with most gardeners favoring work in their own personal gardens. With my arrival in 2013, I encouraged the community to take advantage of the space. I began holding trainings and established a group tree nursery, then later a demonstration garden for improved techniques.
In late 2014, a group of men and women from the village took up my call to use the garden and re-established a fence. After a very successful gardening season, the village began talking about making more improvements to the garden. The fence had been constructed by cutting down posts from the forest and spacing them closely around the entire garden (just over half a hectare). This is the most common fencing practice in my village, but it isn't durable or sustainable–it requires constant maintenance and heavily taxes local forest resources. We decided to focus renovation efforts on the fence. As for the well, the concrete was beginning to crumble at its lower depths. The basin and its pipe were in need of repair, and the village also wanted to add a second basin to expand watering capacity. My counterpart, Baylo Diao, and I called a series of meetings to talk about the garden renovation and the role of the village in the project, namely a 25% contribution to the overall cost through in-kind labor. They would meet this requirement by transporting materials and assisting in the well/basin construction and fence installation.
I submitted a USAID Feed the Future grant for just under 1 million CFA ($1,700) and received the funds in July of this year. We went straight to work purchasing the materials, some of which–the fence posts and gate–would be processed by a local metalworker. Over the next two months, the work was carried out. A local mason was hired to repair the well and basin along with constructing a second, new basin. For the fence, we decided in the planning stage that, despite no one having experience in chain-link fence installation, we'd save money by eschewing professionals and doing it ourselves with the guidance of my Peace Corps Master Farmer, Toumani Diamanka. It was a valuable learning experience for everyone!
On August 19 we finished a marathon session to hang the chain-link, marking the completion of the renovation project: a very proud day for the gardeners in my site. Even before the fence was finished, one enthusiastic woman and her family had already begun plowing a plot in the garden to squeeze in a rice crop before the end of this rainy season. In October, my counterpart and I will host a combination grand opening and gardening training to kick off the cool season gardening campaign of 2015-2016. Here's to a long and productive future for this community garden!