By Olivier Allongue, Training Manager, United States
Trees for the Future (TREES) manages Forest Garden demonstration sites across sub-Saharan Africa. TREES serves farmers on their own land, but in 2019, TREES began establishing demonstration sites to reach more people with land- and life-changing agroforestry techniques.
In April 2020, TREES opened a demonstration site in Kaffrine, Senegal in partnership with the Water and Forest Ministry. Today, the site is home to dozens of species and agroforestry techniques and the TREES team hosts a variety of training events for the community, farmers, TREES staff, and partners.
The site is located at the Water and Forestry Ministry on a parcel of land measuring ¾ of a hectare. The farm is managed by the TREES Farm Manager, El Hadj Moustapha Sy, who takes care of the day-to-day maintenance. His responsibilities include checking on the seedlings, weeding, cleaning the area, thinning, watering, and transplanting. Sy is joined by TREES Site Trainer Babou Ndao, who is responsible for facilitating all trainings hosted on the site. The types of training held at the site include multi-day Training of Trainers for partners and staff, refresher trainings for staff, and day-long trainings in agroforestry techniques.
In addition to an on-site model Forest Garden, the training center also has classrooms with internet access to further support the training curriculum. This allows participants to access FGTC resources and the Forest Garden Approach manuals directly during their training.
Beyond the classroom, there are currently over 1,000 trees composed of nine different species growing around the training site’s Forest Garden. This includes both agroforestry species and fruit tree species. Additionally, staff grow vegetables in a permagarden plot within the Forest Garden, where they cultivate crops like okra, eggplant, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions, and peppers throughout the year.
Many agroforestry principles are on display at the site. For example, visitors will find a green wall that combines the elements of a living fence and windbreak. The field is segmented by alleys of fruit trees and fast-growing nitrogen-fixing trees. The fruit trees are all mulched and equipped with cuvettes to optimize water use, and depending on the season, there will also be various vegetables growing as companions around the fruit trees.
The application of all these techniques under one parcel has led to many successes, such as the central nursery being overseen on the site. It produces so many seedlings for the Kaffrine region that the Senegalese government has recognized the role this site plays in making Kaffrine the largest tree-planting region of Senegal. According to Ndao, “the Minister of Environment of Senegal visited the training center last year and welcomed the initiative.”
The training site proves the power of agroforestry for the surrounding community. Before its establishment, it was believed that lemon trees could not grow in Kaffrine, but Ndao and his team have disproved this notion. They have also shown how well thorny agroforestry species can grow in Kaffrine and how critical they can be in protecting land thanks to their ability to keep roaming livestock out.
The training site also supports the most vulnerable members of the community. The team regularly receives requests for seedlings and has been able to fulfil these demands. At first, they could only supply those in need with 50 seedlings, but their capacity has grown to 100. As the raining season ramps up in Senegal this July, Babou and his training site team will establish and distribute 600,000 seedlings across projects in Senegal. Ndao believes that the training site “strengthens the community dynamism around the environment.”
While there have been many successes in the establishment of this training site, the site also demonstrates the challenges that farmers in the area face. The most notable of them: soil salinity. In Kaffrine, the groundwater used to water crops can often increase the salinity of the soil. This negatively impacts plant growth and vigor, particularly during the dry season. It can even cause some species to fail to yield. Babou and his team are seeing this challenge at the demonstration site and are using the opportunity to experiment with potential solutions for farmers in the region. They’ve used peanut shells, charcoal, and millet hulls to balance soil Ph.
While there was some initial success, these have not proven to be effective in the long term. Babou says they are continuing their experiments and are looking into saline-resistant crop varieties too. Determined to find a sustainable, cost-effective solution, the team will of course share their findings with the many other farmers dealing with the same issues.
As the Forest Garden Approach spreads throughout the Kaffrine region, the training site at the Ministry for Water and Forests will serve as an educational hub for farmers. From training agroforestry experts and providing seedlings for the surrounding community to finding solutions to pressing challenges like soil salinity, Babou and his team are leading the charge.