Sustainable in Senegal: Profiles in Senegalese Regenerative Agriculture
Thriving with peppers, seeds and leaves in Koumpentoum, Tambacounda region

Training in organic agriculture helps woman develop family enterprise that features income streams from integrated and biodiverse micro-agroforestry kitchen garden.

By Nathan C. McClintock

Where we are:

Best site for finding detailed maps of Senegal: Multimap.com

Learn Wolof Vocabulary relating to Vegetables and Food


Where we've been:

A rich slice of sustainability in Senegal:
The Rodale Institute® showed this American agriculture student the critical need for soil innovative soil saving practices in West Africa.

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 laughs.

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.