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
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 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
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.