Photo essay: Climate-smart permagardening in The Gambia

By Overseas Programming and Training Support
Aug. 6, 2015

Families in The Gambia, like so many across the rest of Africa, struggle with maintaining stable access to nutritious food. 

An unpredictable climate, rain that comes too hard or not at all, hard and infertile soil, and limited access to land and modern tools have led many to believe they simply can’t possibly grow their own fresh produce without heavy capital investments. The “permagarden approach” turns that paradigm on its head by bringing water control, soil health, and year-round, rotating vegetable production close to the home of even the most vulnerable families using only locally accessible tools and resources.

In May, over the course of two three-day trainings, I worked with Peace Corps Volunteers, staff and Master Farmers to help them learn how to create climate-smart, nutrition-focused permanent gardens (permagardens) in The Gambia.

After just three days, training participants created a fully protective and productive permagarden using materials they would already have access to at site. Here are some photos that show them in action.

Climate-smart permagardening in The Gambia
Peace Corps Volunteers and staff learn the value of local waste amendments such as charcoal, wood ash, egg shell, and manure in order to build soil health cheaply and sustainably. Spreading it evenly over the surface and within the top 15 cm of double-dug beds will ensure healthy soils and even healthier plants.
Climate-smart permagardening
Deeply digging and amending the garden beds allows for greater water capture and storage. This recharged subsoil moisture will return to the root zone from below during extended periods of dry weather, which allows for nearly year-round growing even in water-stressed areas.
Climate-smart permagardening in The Gambia
Education and community health Peace Corps volunteers stand proudly in front of their garden area before any work has begun. The site chosen is compacted clay, typical of most households in the area.
Climate-smart permagardening
That same garden area with water-controlling berms and double-dug beds is ready for planting. Each garden bed is amended to a depth of 50 cm. With each successive planting season, compost is added and mixed into the surface. No further double digging is required.
Climate-smart permagardening in The Gambia
After the first day, compost is made and the berms are created and amended. Annual rainfall in this area is well over one meter, but falls within just two to three months. The berms stop the water so that it can slowly sink and spread where it is saved within the subsoil below the garden beds. As soil surfaces dry, this deep moisture is drawn back up into the root zone allowing continuing growth with limited supplemental watering needed.
Climate-smart permagardening
By the end of the third training day, the garden beds are planted with nutrient-dense, colored vegetables ready for minimal but essential ongoing management.

Post contributed by Peter Jensen, Peace Corps Permagarden Training Specialist