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Letter from Senegal, land of the Baobabs

A visit to Senegal reaffirms hope that we can build healthy,
more fertile soils there

 
Editor's NOTE:
We'll keep you informed about our progress in Senegal. In the village of Taiba Ndao, there's another small story worth telling: With The Institute's help, women in the village started a cooperative dry season garden with thicket fencing to keep animals out and a cistern for water. The garden has had a profound impact on nutrition and quality of life. During the dry season, which lasts eight months, most of the men in the village are working in the capital, Dakar. Before the garden, women and children at mostly millet, peanuts and cowpeas grown during the wet season. The nearest market town was a 30-minute walk away, and individual families had no access to water for gardens—or the time and energy to do it. Now, with the garden worked collectively, children have fresh vegetables to eat, and the garden actually generates cash income for the villagers, who sell excess produce to neighboring villages. We'll tell you more about this dry season venture at a later date.

Have you done any traveling yourself? Share your agricultural observations with us.
 

 

My name is Dale Rachmeler and I am the new international programs manager for the Rodale Institute. I have spent my entire professional life living in French speaking African countries working as an agricultural specialist for the US Agency for International Development. I have lived in the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Madagascar and Morocco beginning in 1973. My new post in Kutztown, Pa is my first professional position in the US and I am still adjusting.

In June 2002, I visited Senegal to look at Rodale’s work there that began 13 years ago and is ongoing. Stepping off the plane in Dakar, the heat from the tarmac flew up at me in such a manner as if to say welcome back to West Africa. I was instantly back at home and the sense of familiarity made me feel like this is turf I know and love.

Rodale’s activities in Senegal directly touch rural farm families in a way that provides hope that the future will be brighter than the past. In the rural setting of West Africa, there are few technologies that can directly improve the quality of life for farm families that do not cost an arm and a leg and that are easily implemented given the resources that farmers have. But where technology is not available, knowledge can perform miracles. I'm talking about the knowledge that will allow farm families to improve soil fertility in a country where the lack of fertile soils is a considerable constraint to sustainable development.

The most important gift a parent can give his children is land that is more fertile for them than it was for his parents. This is easy to say but harder to do. In Senegal, Rodale has begun to provide the knowledge that will make it possible for farmers to build soil health—simple techniques such as composting and rotations. When you see huge productivity increases as a result of using these regenerative agricultural techniques, an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment rushes over you.

Senegal is a land of the Baobab trees, those gigantic living entities that stud the landscape. The Baobab tree looks like someone up-rooted a giant tree, turned it upside down and reinserted it back into the ground with its roots in the air. Now imagine that the diameter of the trunk is 30 feet! What a marvel to see. With their massive trunks, crooked branches and furry fruit, baobabs have learned how to adapt to a dry and hostile environment. They have no branches on the lower part of their smooth, silvery trunks, making them difficult to climb. Instead a spray of twisted boughs sprouts from the top of the trunk, looking like the unkempt hair of a cartoon character.

The secret of the baobab's success in surviving in harsh environments and the reason for its massive trunk is that it has little wood fiber but a large water storage capacity. Each tree can hold up to 300 liters of water, enabling it to live through long periods without rain. Their life cycle is as impressive as their bulk - most live over 500 years and some specimens in Africa are believed to be up to 5000 years old.

The Rodale Institute has the opportunity to create the first regenerative agriculture learning center in West Africa in Notto, Senegal in the west central portion of the traditional peanut growing region. As you look upon the five hectares of land that has been reserved for us by the villages surrounding the site you see those sentinels of nature protruding from the dry hard baked ground. It is if they are beckoning us to be their neighbors and invest in the land. Some day in the near future we will combine their presence with that of smiling men and women armed with a new hope and a new understanding of how to regenerate their land.

Regards,
Dale Rachmeler

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