July 13, 2006: Khadidja Niakh sits on a woven
plastic mat on the floor of her home, cutting open bright red
habanero peppers with a knife. She spreads the seeds on a stainless
steel plate which her daughter then places on a brick outback
under the hot October sun.
The Tambacounda region is Senegal’s hottest—in
fact, the highest consistent temperatures in the world have
been recorded here and in the neighboring Kayes region of
Mali. Like most hot places, people here like hot pepper, or
kaani as it is known in Wolof. Some say that the
powerful bite causes you to sweat and keep cooler, others
say that it kills off the menagerie of parasites that frequent
local GI tracts and bellies. Most simply say it’s tasty.
Whatever the reason, Khadidja Niakh has capitalized on the
local taste here in the small town of Koumpentoum.
“People like the kaani fruits and people like
the kaani seeds,” she explains. “I sell
both.” While Niakh usually sells the seeds in the Koumpentoum
market, her husband recently sold about 80 pounds of her peppers
to a client in Thiès, four hours away. But her success
is not linked so much to her pepper crops alone, as it is
to the wide diversity of species in her garden out back. She
leads us out behind the small cement brick house with “Bisimilahi,”
in the name of God, scripted in Arabic on the wall. Several
more fiery orange peppers are spread out on the baked earth.
A lush waist-high canopy of plants spreads across the quarter-acre
garden to the mud-brick wall that separates her compound from
that of her neighbor’s house where a TV antenna pokes
up above a thatched roof. Khadidja wanders into the thicket
of pepper, tomato, and jaxatu, or bitter eggplant. She controls
insects by watering the plants with a solution made of household
ashes and neem leaves that she gathers from one of the many
neem trees planted on the compound’s periphery. “The
neem is very powerful,” she says.
She goes on to explain that she fertilizes all her crops
with an application of manure from the household manure pile,
adding proudly that she doesn’t use any chemicals in
her garden. In 1996, she spent six days at an organic production
seminar at organized by The Rodale Institute in Thiès.
“Look how good these are,” she says proudly as
her family looks on smiling. “They taste better because
of the manure.”
A stand of chest-high okra is in full bloom, and bees navigate
their way in and out of the voluptuous yellow blossoms. Khadidja
sells the okra fruit, but focuses her attention more on seed
production. “I sell the seeds at market. People can
grow it themselves, but they still buy the seeds,” she
Planted in rows throughout the garden are Moringa olifera
trees, called “nevah die” in Senegal, a name perhaps
borrowed from their English-speaking neighbors in The Gambia.
The tree is a nitrogen-fixing leguminous species that is widespread
in agroforestry systems throughout the tropics. While its
spicy roots have earned it the common name of “horseradish
tree” in some countries, Senegalese readily use Moringa
leaves in sauces. Additionally, many people add the seeds
to water as a sort of water purification treatment.
Khadidja harvests the Moringa leaves throughout the year,
and sells them both sun-dried and fresh. The leaves provide
the bulk of her sales revenue. Overall, in her tiny garden
she netted 300,000 CFA francs in 2004, around $600, a hefty
sum in rural Senegal.
By integrating trees into her production system and focusing
on value-added products such as seeds, dried peppers and niche
products such as Moringa leaves, Khadidja Niakh has succeeded
in securing a stable market for herself.
“People keep coming. They want to buy more,”
she says. Her dedication to the garden is humbling, and she
handles the plants gently as she would her grandchildren,
who dodge in and out of the canopy of vegetables. Her pride
in producing quality produce is evident, her wide smile mirrored
in the faces of family members who are pleased with her success.