Circular gardens of Senegalese plants in the defense of green wall against the desert
By Christophe Van Der Perre and Cooper Inveen
BOKIDIAWE, Senegal – Every night, Moussa Kamara works in his bakery to bake hundreds of breads, but at sunrise, instead of going home to sleep, he now begins a second backbreaking job – hoeing the earth and tending to the newly sown seeds in a specially designed circular garden.
Kamara, 47, believes the garden will prove to be even more important than the bakery in the future for feeding her extended family, including 25 children, and other residents of Boki Dawe, a Senegalese town near the border with Morocco. Mauritania.
It is part of a project that aims to create hundreds of such gardens – known as “Tolou Keur” in the Senegalese Wolof language – which organizers hope will strengthen food security, reduce regional desertification and will hire thousands of community workers.
“This project is incredibly important,” Kamara said, finally home after a night at the bakery followed by 10 hours of growing edible and medicinal plants in the garden.
“When you grow a tree, over 20 years, people and animals will benefit,” said Kamara, whose commitment and hard work has earned him the role of garden keeper.
The project marks a new, more local approach to the so-called Green Wall initiative, launched in 2007, which aims to slow desertification in Africa’s Sahel region, the arid belt south of the Sahara Desert, by planting a line of 8,000 km of trees from Senegal to Djibouti.
The larger initiative only managed to plant 4% of the 100 million hectares of trees pledged, and completing it by 2030, as planned, could cost up to $ 43 billion, according to estimates. United Nations.
In contrast, the ‘Tolou Keur’ gardens flourished in the seven months since the start of the project and now number about two dozen, the Senegalese reforestation agency said.
Three months after a garden is completed, its officers begin a series of monthly visits over two years to assess progress.
The gardens are home to plants and trees resistant to hot, dry climates, including papaya, mango, moringa, and sage. Circular beds allow roots to grow inward, trapping liquids and bacteria and improving water retention and composting.
Project manager Karine Fakhoury said it was important that the local population feel fully engaged: “This is not an external project, where someone comes from outside and tells people what to do. It is something entirely indigenous.
The gardens are in part a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senegal closed its borders early last year in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, reducing imports and exposing the dependence of rural communities on foreign food and medicines.
This prompted the reforestation agency to look for ways to help villages become more self-sufficient.
Aly Ndiaye, a Senegalese agricultural engineer based in Brazil who got stuck in Senegal when the borders were closed, stressed the importance of “small actions that are permanent”.
“A thousand Tolou Keur is already 1.5 million trees,” said Ndiaye, the mastermind behind the design of the circular bed. “So if we start, there is a lot we can do.”
Not all gardens have succeeded. In the remote village of Walalde, the desert has already started to reclaim the land set aside and there have been problems with the solar-powered pump.
But in the eastern town of Kanel, the garden thrives. His keepers solved a water pump problem by digging traditional irrigation canals. A concrete wall and guard dogs help keep rodents away that would eat the lush mint and hibiscus plants inside.
Kamara the baker thinks the gardens could offer another benefit: discouraging sub-Saharan Africans from embarking on long and perilous journeys as illegal migrants in search of a better life in Europe and America.
“The day people realize the full potential of the Great Green Wall, they will stop these dangerous migratory routes where you can lose your life at sea,” he said. “It is better to stay, work the land, cultivate and see what we can earn.