Ngaraf Community Garden
The Ngaraf #!Community Garden# Project was initiated by the village of Ngaraf and funded through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. The project was motivated by the community's desire to expand their agricultural endeavors and by the introduction of running water, which enabled dry season gardening. The project began in May 2009 and included the construction of the necessary #garden infrastructure and a 5-day training on improved gardening techniques. After the first rainy/dry season cycle, the garden is thriving. Individuals produce various types of vegetables and provide improved nutrition and income for the village. While a bowl of plentiful vegetables at lunch and fresh salad at dinner was once a rarity in Ngaraf, it is now a frequent occurrence. Having seen the tangible rewards of their labor, the community is enthusiastic and optimistic about the garden's continued improvement and success.
The village of Ngaraf is a small rural community in north-central Senegal. Like many people in the area, the villagers depend on agriculture for subsistence and income. Until recently, a lack of access to water restricted agricultural production to the rainy season. Previously, the only water source for Ngaraf was a 96-meter deep well. However, in February 2009, two government-installed faucets were connected to the nearest water tower, six kilometers away.
Many years ago the women's group maintained a vegetable garden near the well. Over the years the well had to be progressively deepened and the strain of pulling enough water for daily existence prevented the continued maintenance of this garden. Thus, when easier access to water became available, the village began to talk about gardening again. Since my installment in Ngaraf in May 2008 I had maintained a small garden at the school. The village had watched me produce fresh vegetables and were eager to do so themselves. When running water came to Ngaraf, many women immediately began planting vegetable seeds in their compounds; however, they lacked the necessary resources, namely fencing, to adequately protect their gardens from roaming livestock.
The confluence of an energized and motivated village, improved access to water, and the need for protection for their gardens, gave rise to the idea of creating a community garden. There was much discussion among the community about how and where to create a garden. Given the prohibitive cost of adequate, long-lasting fencing, there was no easy solution among the community itself. Therefore, I proposed that we submit a #!Peace Corps Partnership Proposal# to cover the necessary infrastructure. I also suggested that the proposal include a formal training on gardening techniques so that the community could expand their gardening knowledge and truly fulfill the garden's potential. With a little assistance from a PCPP grant, the village of Ngaraf could have the resources and knowledge to produce food, income and sustainability for the village.
Gardening being traditionally a women's activity, the main project participants turned out to be the women of the village. At an initial planning meeting following the grant approval, the community elected a garden committee consisting of a female president, a female treasurer and a male secretary, who, having worked at Eaux et Forets, had significant gardening experience.
The initial stage of the project was the garden construction and training. For the construction of the garden, a chain-link fence was purchased and installed by the village. The water pipe was extended to the garden and a robinet was installed. Various tools and supplies, such as watering cans, rakes, shovels, and seeds, were purchased. Any individual interested in attending the training and participating in the garden was required to pay a one-time entry fee of 1,000CFA. This money demonstrated a commitment to the project and would be used for subsequent garden costs. Approximately 25 women and 3 or 4 men attended the entire training, although nearly double that number wanted to participate in the garden. Two agricultural agents from Linguere, UAG PCV Cruger Dunn-Flanagan and myself led the 5-day training. The training included both classroom sessions and hands-on sessions in the garden and covered topics such as bed preparation, pepinieres, out-planting, proper spacing, pesticide usage, water saving techniques, companion planting and fertilization options.
After the completion of the garden training, the garden participants, nearly 50 women and a few men, decided to collectively farm the garden during the rainy season, put the profits into improving the garden infrastructure and after the rainy season divide the garden up into individual plots. This plan was suggested by the agricultural agents who led the training, and unanimously agreed upon by the participants. During the rainy season the participants farmed: watermelon, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and lettuce. The participants were assigned days of the week they were responsible to water the garden and the garden committee would periodically call everyone to the garden to weed, transplant or fertilize as needed. Despite good intentions, this arrangement was not successful. A lack of individual ownership, accountability and leadership meant that the plants were not well taken care of and the harvest was very poor.
After the rainy season harvest, the participants recognized the difficulties of gardening collectively and decided to divide up the garden so that each individual was responsible for his or her own plot. The garden committee and I measured the garden and, using a lottery, assigned each participant a 6 meter by 10-meter plot. The garden secretary was assigned the task of selling water from the robinet every day in the morning and afternoon. The participants decided to pool the proceeds from their rainy season gardening and buy eggplant, tomato and lettuce seeds. Every participant was given some of each of these seeds and Moringa Oleifera seeds. From this point forward the participants were on their own to garden and manage their plots as they choose. Every month they are required to contribute 250CFA to be kept in a fund for future garden infrastructure maintenance. I maintain a demonstration plot in the garden to serve as an example for participants. I am always on hand to advise participants and teach them skills and techniques; however, I have made it explicitly clear that I will not do anyone's work for them. From this point forward the garden management, organization and maintenance is in the hands of the community.
After the initial speed bump of collective gardening, the Ngaraf community garden is producing impressive results. Upon entering the first cool gardening season, the participants individually made pepinieres, prepared beds and take care of their plots daily. Participants come to the garden morning and afternoon to water their beds and see what their neighbors are up to. Participants have taken it upon themselves to procure resources and solve problems in the garden. After one cool gardening season, the participants have successfully produced: lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, squash, bissap, eggplant, navet, cucumber, hot pepper and carrots. Most people consume what they produce, but several women have successfully sold produce both in the village and in the region's weekly markets.
This project has had and will have significant positive outcomes. The garden infrastructure developed is a valuable community resource. It has increased local capacities and will be long-lasting. The knowledge extended to the project participants has facilitated their gardening and will improve their outputs. This knowledge is already being passed to other members of the community and to future generations. The afternoon watering time is a community event; children come to help their mothers, husbands come to see what is growing and everyone is actively interested in what is being produced. The failure of the collective gardening effort taught the community a valuable lesson. By experiencing themselves the disadvantage of collective gardening, they fully understand and support the division of the garden into individual plots.
The Ngaraf Community Garden will sustain and empower the village of Ngaraf for years to come. The outputs of the garden have provided food security, income and improved nutrition for the community. The skills and knowledge acquired will empower community members to provide for themselves and teach others what they have learned so that the benefits of the project continue.
In the next year there are several priorities for the garden. During the next rainy season the participants are planning on out-planting live fencing to enclose the garden and protect it from the strong winds and dust storms common in the dry season. They will also plant beans and continue adding manure to replenish the soil. The participants would like to save money and eventually install a water storage basin for when the robinet cuts out. Future Peace Corps volunteers should continue to introduce improved techniques such as mulching, manure and natural pesticides.
Since I am the first Peace Corps volunteer in Ngaraf, there will be two more volunteers over the next four years working in Ngaraf. These volunteers will continue to work with the garden and help the participants acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to continue the project long after Peace Corps has left the village.