The Woman Who Plants

I just arrived in Senegal yesterday for a Farmer 2 Farmer consulting project for Winrock International. Already I’ve been briefed on my assignment and I’m on my way to Saint-Louis near the Mauritanian border. The five-hour drive is a good way to get to see the reality of agriculture in Senegal. I’m here to help two horticulture training centers improve their horticulture curricula. The goal is to transition from a theory-based educational system to a more practical, hands-on approach.

As we travel farther north we can see the desert encroaching on the agricultural land. How do they grow anything in what looks like pure sand? We are a long way from the deep mid-Western soils I’m used to. On the other hand, I’ve never felt so much like Matt Damon—it’s a little like trying to grow potatoes on Mars!

The conditions in the garden at the first training center we visit, the Center for Professional Training, are no better. The school was lucky enough to get a grant from the government of Luxembourg to expand its classroom space and buy some materials. Unfortunately, the teaching garden was pushed into the small courtyard between the classrooms—on the foundation of the old building! In some places the soil depth is no more than 4 inches! The gardening conditions are difficult, but the teachers seem excited about the suggestions that I gave them for better utilizing the space. I suggested some vertical gardening along the back wall using recycled materials like water bottles and collaborating with the handicrafts classes to build some raised beds.

I also brought along a book for the teachers. It’s called Wangari Maathai, La Femme Qui Plante des Millions d’Arbres (Wangari Maathai, The Woman Who Plants Millions of Trees). It is a beautifully illustrated book about Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan Nobel-Laureate who started the Green Belt Movement. I’m hoping that, along with some videos and lesson plans that I gave them, the school will start a tree planting project. It would be a great opportunity to get the community involved and build some social capital in the school.