September 15, 2006: Because seeing is believing,
the Regenerative Agriculture Resource Center (RARC) model
developed by The Rodale Institute has inspired many people
in Africa. Its featured idea is to concentrate locally adapted
examples of sustainable farming techniques in a single place
for demonstration and research.
In 2004, Peter Hudson, executive director of Rainbow Development
in Africa (RDA), a UK-registered charitable organization,
approached the Institute to send three staff members to its
project being implemented in Mauritania, West Africa–
a nation located immediately above Senegal on northern Africa’s
Atlantic Coast. (Click
here for a map.)
RDA has an interest in farmer training; regenerative farming
research, experimentation and dissemination; resource provision
and service delivery; food processing; small-scale solar powered
irrigation; pastoral water sources; seed banks; fruit tree
nurseries; and organizational capacity building.
Early this year, I led a five-day workshop and assessment
as a foundation for establishing a RARC in the Mid-Gorgol
region of Mauritania. This agricultural region is centered
on the town of Leqceiba, 30 kilometers east of the regional
town of Kaedi.
The area has experienced extreme poverty as a result of poor
national governance and continuing conflict and discrimination
between the dominant Moor ethnic caste and the Bantu Africans.
Further, the area has suffered from adverse climatic conditions
including desertification, drought and locust invasions; dramatic
socioeconomic shifts among the agro-pastoral peoples; and
marginal agricultural profitability stemming from poor markets
and the ever-rising costs of agricultural inputs.
The latest survey of living conditions (1996) showed that
poverty, as measured by the percentage of individuals living
below the poverty threshold, affected 50 percent of the population.
The most affected regions have a rate of poverty of around
80 percent or higher. Statistics show poor social infrastructure,
poor health care, poor education, and little or no agricultural
extension. Political and economic marginalization of this
region has led to a massive exodus of people to the cities
and a break down of local community cohesion.
Founded in 2001, RDA focuses exclusively on working with
local communities in the Senegal River Valley regions of southern
Mauritania and northern Senegal. The organization developed
as a result of Peter Hudson’s personal experience in
the south of Mauritania where he had been involved in privately
funded agricultural projects for 10 years. During that time
he developed a strong relationship with local people and agreed
to partner with them to build economic opportunities suited
to local situations.
My workshop was part of this effort. It took place in the
village of Leqceiba, in the southern part of the country close
to the border with Senegal. Participating were farmers from
the region and members of RDA’s local partner organization,
ADMAPE (Assistance pour le Développement et la Modernisation
de l’Agriculture et la Protection de l’Environnement).
The RDA project also includes a village in Senegal, on the
other side of the Senegal River.
I helped to explain the principles of regenerative agriculture
and discussed them on the first day of the workshop. At the
end of one session, a farmer raised his hand and said, “I
will never use chemicals in this life again.” Practical
descriptions of combining organic matter from manure and fodder
through composting methods to achieve soil health, livestock
integration with crops, vegetable production and soil conservation
gave the farmers new confidence that they could develop more
productive and sustainable farms.
To initiate farmer-to-farmer exchange between the communities
represented, we formed three working groups to conduct participatory
diagnostic sessions. To allow an active participation from
women, they formed their own disuccsion group. Each group
reported to the plenary session on the topics discussed: a)
The need for a RARC; b) Exisiting experiences and best practices;
c) Management of natural resources. Few farmers use compost
to stabilize nutrients and build soil, while others have just
used animal manure. The 74 participants (including 29 women)
represented 13 civil society groups such as farmer unions,
cooperatives and village organizations. There was lots of
opportunity for learning because many people contributed their
best ideas from many communities.
RDA is working this year with:
- A large land area project, where it has helped to rehabilitate
7,050 acres of land to benefit 21 villages and constructed
water harvesting barrages for four communities (Futa).
- A small beginning project with 18 acres, designed to
involve 329 women who will develop market gardening, agroforestry
and small businesses using regenerative agriculture methods.
At the end of the workshop, we agreed on the elements of
a concept note to be developed by RDA and TRI. It calls for
a community project, building on the existing resource center,
to add applied research, training and demonstration of regenerative
agriculture concepts. RDA worked with The Rodale Institute
to develop a five-year plan for this RARC effort, and the
two groups are now jointly seeking funding to bring new opportunities
to the Mid-Gorgol Valley.