These micro-gardens have been established by following a protocol which list 11 specific conditions to be fulfilled prior to their creation.
- 1. Micro-savings group
- Soil preparation
- Drip irrigation
- Domestic Organic Compost
- Animal Organic compost
A precondition of the program is that it is only operable based upon micro-savings groups that have been in existence at least 2 years. This ensures that the group is mature and has had experience self-managing its members and its funds. An internal structure exists which emphases responsibility and mutual support. (Women meet weekly, save weekly, make loans to each other, pay interest to each other. No money enters or leaves the group to or from any other source.) In this way the group has prepared itself for expansion into other entrepreneurial fields. (grain banks, communal milling machines, communal gardens.) Vital edge has been responsible for the creation of over 200 such groups in Senegal and Mali with over 5000 women members. Many other similar groups exist created by partner organizations (Oxfam, Freedom From Hunger.)
The fundamental problem of farming in the Sahel belt of Africa is the shortage of available water. There are a multitude of options. Wells, Rainwater collection, bore-holes (Forages) , dams (Barrages) , metered water systems. Each location requires its own solution. But a secure and economic water supply must be assured before anything can be accomplished. Vital Edge demonstrates a unique way of solving this problem ,with the establishment of THE MARKET GARDEN TECHNICAL SERVICE TEAM,(see below.) The solution of this problem is the key to success.
This has to be negotiated on behalf of the micro-savings groups. It s usually a straight forward process , since the entire enterprise is usually greeted with enthusiasm by the village chief and elders. They have already seen the benefits of the women’s groups with their own eyes, and are only too happy to see the women’s group make further progress that benefits everybody. Land is under-utilized and therefore readily available. Nutrition is poor, and opportunities for commerce are rare. So it is a win-win proposition to sanction the establishment of the micro-gardens . The land requirement is 1 hectare for 7 micro-savings groups. (2 football fields.) This serves 168 woman. and represents the optimal size to enable a cost effect supply of water, fencing, training and other resources.
A crucial element in the program is the construction of the perimeter fence. Traditional solutions did not provide adequate protection against burrowing animals. Later versions with wire netting still proved vulnerable. A modified version with a concrete base extending 12 inches above and below the ground and surmounted with a 5 foot wire netting enclosure has proven to be the minimum requirement for real protection of plants.
Once the land has been cleared and fenced it is fully exposed to the full force of the sun. This causes the surface soil to become baked dry and hard and un-tillable by hand. To make the soil workable requires a tractor to turn the soil in preparation for irrigation. This is beyond village resources. Vital Edge provides the required ploughing service. (see part 2).
The only long-term viable irrigation system for this area is “drip-irrigation” (gout-a-gout). This is expensive on installation, but economic on water use. Vital Edge can supply this more economically negotiating bulk purchases through its Technical Team. (see part 2)
The best long term way to preserve the moisture in the soil is to provide shade. And the cheapest and most organic way to provide shade is to provide tree cover. Not only do trees protect the soil from the evaporation of water content and the plants from the overheating effects of the sun, they still allow an adequate supply of light to penetrate for photosynthesis . Beyond that there are additional benefits to be added by a sophisticated choice of multiple varieties planted in pre-planned sequences. Some trees fix nitrogen (Miranda) , some provide forage for animals (never-say-die), some (baobab) provide vitamins and proteins in high demand, some provide fruits (mango) . A well planned , multi-species tree canopy is part of a well planned organic sahel market garden. The micro-savings group’s first task to to prepare a tree nursery (pepinaire) to provide 500-1000 tress per hectaire. This nursery can also grow trees to sell in the market or for the next market garden.
8.Domestic Organic compost
The gardens are run according to organic principles. This is for both economic, health and ethical reasons. Chemical fertilizers are expensive , and bind the farmer to the agricultural industrial complex. The cost of chemical fertilizer is thus externally imposed by world supply and demand, the price of oil, and monopolistic pricing systems. Organic farming avoids these issues with the obvious added health benefits . Organic compost is most obviously obtained by collecting domestic compost. This is “turned” and matured until it is suitable for use in the fields. But the supply is finite and insufficient. Vital edge has developed an additional program to enhance the supply of compost.
9.Animal Organic compost
To increase the available supply of compost, Vital Edge has pioneered a novel new form of micro-savings group. A men’s group for animal husbandry. (elevage). It has to be men because the main problem with raising animals is theft from rival tribal groups. (The puels-fulani). It works like this: A men’s group is formed. (12 men). They save for 9 months. These savings will eventually pay for winter forage. After 9 months they receive 4 cows and a bull from Vital Edge. The cattle graze open land in the day. At night they stay in an enclosure in the womens’ market garden with a man sleeping in the enclosure with the animals. The compost belongs to the market garden. The adult cows and the bull belong to the men. The first five calves belong to Vital Edge to start a new men’s group for another micro-garden. So the men’s group and the women’s group work side by side in a symbiotic relationship.
Organic farming is a sophisticated discipline. It requires training and experience. But it is efficiently taught by example and experience is automatically obtained by practice. The most important personal contribution towards the success of a micro-garden project is a charismatic educated instructor. Fortunately agricultural institutions in Senegal are producing graduates who are happy to be gainfully employed in the field of their expertise. The requirement to successfully create a micro-garden project is to reside in the village for one year. In the second year the micro-garden receives follow up monitoring and assistance from a non resident instructor. Vital Edge provides the employment contract and pays for the residency.
For the micro-garden to be income producing requires an efficient distribution system to local markets. In the early days local demand is adequate to consume the new supply of product. When there are enough micro-gardens operating there will come a point at which it will become economic to consolidate a co-operative collection and marketing system amongst neighboring gardens to connect them efficiently to more populated and lucrative markets.