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Gorom garden's adventure
In 2013, we ,Therese and Yannick, travelled to Northern Europe for 3 months to discover new ecological and modern farming methods. We were wondering about the ability of the current agriculture to feed Mankind and to preserve the earth.
During this trip we observed the revolutionary approach that permaculture offered and this was the beginning of a great adventure. After this trip we decided to work for permaculture and sustainable agriculture, convinced that it offers a plausible and intelligent alternative to a tired intensive agriculture
This brought us to JEM Sangalkam (christian NGO) in gorom 1, approximativelly 40 km from Dakar in Senegal. We knew the team there was dreaming about greening their land (3 hectares of semi-arid landscape)
The challenge was hard : the land being in the Sahel region is situated in a semi-arid landscape and the consequences of this situation are huge :
- low and unevenly distributed rainfall
- high evaporation
- hot dry winds
- extremely sandy soil
- shining sun nearly all through the year :
A dream land to use as an exemple.
With the right approach, we can prove that is possible to create abundance even in a very hard climate zone.
In february 2014, we decided to move in the little community with our 3 months old boy with the will to green the place. African adventure wasn’t new for us : therese lived 6 months in Kenya before that and Yannick 2 years in senegal.
During this year (2014) we followed a training course in permaculture design certificate with Geoff lawton* and we spent a lot of time observing nature and searching for accurate solutions that would be adapted to this very specific environment. During the year we planted 400 pioneer trees : the beginnings of a forest garden. see the blog
The goals for 2014 being achieved (400 trees planted) we decided to persevere and to enlarge the community around this project
We have 3 main goals :
- Growing a forest garden
- Enrich the poor dry sandy soil
- Improve available water management
These three needs are closely linked to one another.
The strength of a permaculture system is in it’s holistic management. To find and favor the relationships between elements is to strengthen the all system.
For example : rebuild the poor sandy soil isn’t an end in itself, but an enriched of the soil is the base for a good tree/root growth : the forest garden
It is absolutely crucial to understand the relationship between the elements in order to avoid big and expensive mistakes.
In 2015 We want to develop 3 essentials points :
- Plant 1500 specific pioneer trees which will rebuild the soil as well as provide shade and freshness. This will favor life for a futur forest garden
-Improve the soil quality using technics like :
- Build water tanks to Store rain water under the roofs of the main buildings
Déroulement des prochaines étapes
A forest garden is a designed place where fruit trees and perennial coexist and produce food, wood, aromatic and medicinal plants, eatable roots, mushrooms etc…the goal is to mimic nature’s principles and to upgrade its food production so that humans can benefit from it. forest garden
We can turn it to our advantage by
- selection of species
- favoring beneficial interaction between species
- creating micro-climat
- encourage the "edge effect"
Here is the reason why we should encourage the edge effect :
Forest gardening isn't a new trend, there are exemples of abundant forest garden all around the world. Some of them are few hundred years old and some are more than 1000 years.
The advantages of a forest garden are important :
- Perennial plants require little care, for:a tree once well rooted is much more independant than any vegetable garden
- The forest generates shadow, humidity and stabilizes temperature.
- Biodiversity helps to rebuild the soil in depth
- The many interactions between species reinforce the stability of the all system.
- The forest garden is an ideal place for chicken or pig breeding: they will easily find fruits, nuts and seeds which will favor a healthy diet and will eventually provide healthy animals and healthy meet.
- Diversity of flora brings diversity of wildlife (micro and macrofauna, insects,birds etc.)
Implantation in several steps :
We first plant pionner trees,for example in gorom 1: acacias, leucaena, filao, moringa (neverdie), cassias which are nearly all from the fabacea family. this family has the unique feature to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and makes it available to plants, thanks to a symbiosis with a rhizobium (bacteria).
Nitrogen is a key element for good growth.
After some years, we will start planting fruit trees (mango, corrossol, acerola,ditakh, pitanga etc...).
These fruit trees will grow under the shade of the older pioneer trees and they will have acces to nitrogen as well as the humidity that is kept under the older pioneers.
The pioneers will gradually be replaced by fruit trees and then the forest will provide food for breeding (chicken, pigs). The animals will feed on fallen fruits and on insects living in the forest. By doing so, they will eat what would otherwise be lost (rotten fruit) and act as pest control by eating a fare amount of larvae under the trees and in the fruits. The animals will be the one looking after the forest as they will be naturally be doing most of the work required for the forest to grow well.
It is possible to diversify the production of the food forest by working on different level :
Although it produces less per unit, the forest garden, compared to a conventional agriculture system, produces much more diversity and requires very little care for.
When will we be planting ?
To plant trees we need to wait for the rain to come and that will be from july to september. We grow our trees from seedlings in april for most trees. We provide a daily care for the first two months. Trees are very young when we plant them (4 months). In 2014 we only had around 10 % loss using this technic which is great !
Several benefits :
- The seeds are all picked up from surroundings, which means that not only they are use to this specific climate but that teyr are use to the specific andy soil as well.
- This allows the production of many trees for very little money
- Young roots don’t smother in the pots as we plant them very quickly which favors a good growth.
The Senegalese ministry of forest and water management generously gave us trees in 2014, some were planted and some are still waiting for the rain to be planted in 2015.
Most of the finances for the food forest will be used for watering the plants. To waist as little water as possible we will use a dripline system that only spray water at the tree trunk. This allows to save tenth of thousands of litres of water in one year. Given the little availability of water on the site, the dripline system is essential.
To keep cool temperature and high humidity we use mulch that we put around the trees. This technique slows evaporation and helps saving tenth of thousands of liters a year.it provides shelters for microfauna and insects which are very important in breaking down organic matter and making it available for plants. We cut mulch on our own land and in the neighbourhood with the help of our dear worker the donkey !
Here is a short video (french) about a forest garden in Mouscron (Belgium) on 1800 m2 :
Biochar is charcoal that we mix in the soil to increase it’s water retention capacity as well as improve it’s structure. Biochar is the key to restructure poor acid soils.
We will only use the tree branches in the biochar making process. No tree will be cut down !
A countless number of experiments are conducted around the world to deepen our understanding of the mechanism at work and the interactions between soil and biochar.
It would take to long to explain all the benefits of biochar. Here is a little video of biochar making that we made on the land of JEM Senegal (in french, sorry) :
We think there is no need to explain what is compost and how it works. Here is a link in french if you want to deepen your knowldege about compost and copost making.: know more about it
Compost making requires 3 elements :
- Carbon matter (dry grass, cardboard, little branches)
- Nitrogen matter (animal excreta, young leafs)
- Humidity (water, green matter, leafs,green grass)
All of this, is available on site and in the neighborhood. In order to make more compost we need to buy tools to cut the grass in small pieces which will enhance the breaking down of organic matter (straw chopper, scythe, saw and so on)
Compost tea is a liquid rich in micro-organisms that can be used to water plants. It is the result of a small amount of compost mixed with highly oxygenated water. It greatly improves microbial and bacterial life which is beneficial in the interactions between plants and soil.
To make compost tea, we need to oxygenate water in which we mixed compost during a certain time. In our case, the sandy soil does not retain micro-organisms which is why it is important to inoculate regularly with compost tea.
There is two wells on the site. Where we are, the water table is very high, it is therefore easy to dig a well and get easy water. So why should we work on collecting rain water ? :
We will store a little amount of this water and use it for a targeted spray when we’ll sow in the kitchen garden and the remaining amount will be use for the community consumption and laundry (clean water cleans a lot better et requires less washing powder.)
We are hoping to store between 15 and 20 m3 (15 to 20 000 liters), which is only a small amount, but this will serve as an exemple of what can be achieved with rain water and little investment and we hope local people will start to develop water storage.
There is a water tower on the site which stores high water and distributes it to the houses. When we’ll plant the trees for the forest garden we’ll have to water them for few months after the rainy seasons. We’ll need for 1500 trees around 15 000 liters/week. The water tower retention capacity is too small to provide such big needs.we have to put up a second tank that will be used exclusively for watering trees and the garden and eventually the animals
The Niayes area where we live is the heart of vegetable production in Senegal. It is fragile and overexploited.
Here is what Safietou T. Fall working in the research institute CRDI says in his book :
« cités horticoles en sursis, l’agriculture urbaine dans les grandes Niayes au Sénégal » :
« The Niayes undergoes various attacks emanating from the illegal occupation of housing in urban and peri-urban areas, especially around Dakar, and some form of doping of crops by chemical inputs, especially pesticides and mineral fertilizers. This last aspect - resulting from a share of the smallness of the environment favors intensification and, on the other hand, the pressing need to meet the demands of local and foreign market growing - causes a problem in for the use of these products and their impact on the various components of the environment, such as pollution of groundwater, soils, plant biomass and above all, the risks to the health of humans and animals.»
We think that this project is a glimmer of hope for the Niayes as it will prove that it is possible to have good harvest and good food as well as build good quality soil and fight against desertification.
We think that it is a hope for local population as it is an exemple that a strong agricultural system can be obtained using local resources encouraging farmers to rely more on local resources and less on imported one (seeds, chemicals) that keeps them indebted.