Talking Agroforestry with APAF-Senegal during the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Rachel Nisbet | 29 May 2020

Image Talking Agroforestry with APAF-Senegal during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Rachel Hosein Nisbet (RHN): How did you come to work with APAF Senegal?

Mansour Ndiaye (MN): I am a farmer’s son. After studying agronomy, I spent 23 years working in industrial agriculture. Since 1945, Senegal has grown peanuts as a monoculture crop, to supply France. I saw forests felled and chemical fertilizers and pesticides added to newly ploughed fields. But farmers’ yields still dropped. After witnessing the harm done to farmers and topsoil by industrial agriculture, I became an agroecology consultant for 10 years, before founding APAF-Senegal in 2013.

Marine Protte-Rieg (MPR): I joined APAF-Senegal during my Masters in Geography, because I wanted to learn about agroforestry first-hand. Leading APAF-Senegal’s participatory mapping, I collaborated with Diokhar village’s farming community to produce maps representing geographic limits and natural resources in this area. To create a collective, visual representation of people’s embodied knowledge of their village, they were invited to draw 'mental maps’. Consequently, an intergenerational discussion arose in the process of mapping village boundaries, local water courses and other natural resources.

RHN: How do our joint IRHA, APAF-Senegal projects safeguard and improve livelihoods?

MN: The leguminous trees planted in our agroforestry projects create zones of local evapotranspiration, favouring rainfall in this arid region, while providing fodder for animals, wood for domestic use, and shade to prevent crops from being scorched by the sun as they grow. Because these trees are planted throughout arable fields, their roots enrich the soil horizon in nutrients essential for crop growth. Replenishing forest cover is vital in Senegal, as wood is used widely, to make charcoal cooking fuel and in the construction of houses. But developing sustainable forest usage remains a huge challenge. Around Dakhar 1000 km of forest have been felled and sand blasts the city, carried on the wind.

RHN: What is your vision of agricultural sovereignty?

MPR: The concept of food security defines how people are nourished by the provision of a sufficient food. Food quality is of secondary consideration, and people’s ability to ensure their own food supply is overlooked. Reframing the issue of physical nourishment through an agricultural sovereignty lens allows links to be made between ecosystems’ health and public health. The term 'sovereignty’ empowers people, asserting their agency in deciding how they grow food. It also invites accountability for their actions.

RHN: How will farmers in the Thiès and Kaolack regions manage to care for themselves, their crops and livestock, while practicing the necessary hygiene measures to protect themselves during the the COVID-19 pandemic?

MPR: The domestic rainwater harvesting tanks called 'calabash’ built for the households of all farmers participating in our joint IRHA- APAF-Senegal projects have considerably increased their drinking water supply. Madame Ndoug of Boyard village, related how her household’s 5,000 litre tank supplied water for her family’s 15 members between August and December in 2019.

MN: As a drinking water resource, this water is of better quality than tap water in the Thiès region.

MPR: Moreover, when tanks have been emptied of rainwater, families use them to store tap water. As water cuts can last for months on end, having a domestic water reservoir is invaluable now hand washing is vital in preventing the spread of COVID-19. In households that typically number twenty members and are located far from health care provision, having a decentralised water supply is vital in ensuring appropriate hygiene protocols are implemented as the pandemic continues.

RHN: The UN has warned of famine following in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. How vulnerable are the farmers involved in our projects?

MN: The 'Rain, Forests and People’ project is designed to counter local soil degradation, by planting leguminous trees. In total, APAF-Senegal has planted 1,500,000 trees in 100 villages, assisting 1,3000 farmers. After just three years, these trees reach a stage of maturity where they can begin to restore soil fertility. But the first three years are hard. In 2019, the rainy season lasted less than two months, watering saplings in these conditions is difficult. Also, in first year that saplings are planted in the agroforestry islands, roaming livestock can grazed on them if the fields are not guarded. We plant thorny hedges around each plot’s perimeter. But it takes two years growth for these living barriers to be effective. Farmers need to be out in their fields to care for their crops and these young trees.

Patience is a great virtue and farmers in Thiès region possess great fortitude, replanting their fields if a seed-crop does not germinate, for example. But these farmers are fatigued. For ten years, rainfall has diminished locally. The phreatic nappe has dropped in level. Wells are running dry. Farmers manage to grow fewer cereal crops and experience poor harvests. They have little money. The nutrient-poor soil they cultivate dries in the sun, and the wind blows it away. Throughout Senegal, communities have a great sense of sharing meals and resources. But with harvests diminishing, there is little left for them to share.

The virus adds yet another pressure. Because of the confinement restrictions, we can’t pot up new saplings trees in our nurseries or monitor more mature plants to prevent pest-damage. Fortunately, we have completed the information sessions to explain our 'Rain, Forests and People’ project to a second volley of farmers, and to those associated with the new project in Kaolack. I hope we can get back to the nurseries before the rains.

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