A global project in Senegal, co-constructed with farmers

Executive Director of Afrique Verte et Fertile (Green & Fertile Africa) and agroforestry expert, Mansour Ndiaye is behind the reintroduction of agroforestry in Senegal and the use of ‘fertility’ trees to halt the depletion of soils and the decline in farming populations. He has designed several agroforestry development plans in Senegal and has expertise in combining crops with fertility trees, fruit trees and medicinal plants. In this way, he is developing ecological and sustainable agriculture to restore natural ecosystems and ensure food security. As part of this, he is currently setting up two pilot Artemisia Houses, in Podor in northern Senegal and Kolda in the south, to protect farmers from malaria and improve their health. Read the interview below.

How did you get involved in agroforestry and, more generally, in this project with Green and Fertile Africa?

I’m a reformed conventional farmer. For twenty-five years, as a civil servant, I contributed to destroying the environment. When I realised this, I changed direction and wanted to repair what I had helped to destroy.

In the 60s and 70s, Senegal was still very green, with dense forests, rain for five months of the year and rich pastures. Farming households made a living from their activities. Then, as in the rest of West Africa, from the 70s and 80s onwards, our soils became considerably poorer, due to the use of inorganic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and industrial crops, even in wooded areas.

We are losing 123 hectares of forest every day, rainfall has fallen by 40% in 30 years, 66% of our agricultural land reserves have been degraded, water tables are at their lowest, the desert is gaining ground and temperatures are rising. Farmers’ incomes are collapsing, and the country is facing a rural exodus of its young farmers.

The removal of trees from the agricultural landscape is largely responsible for this tragedy. We had to react and change our practices. But we didn’t invent anything, we reintroduced agroforestry, an ancestral farming practice that had been forgotten.

What exactly does this practice involve?

In the past, farmers worked in spaces between the trees and had good agricultural yields. Agroforestry makes it possible to restore soil fertility by restoring natural woodland and also to lower temperatures. But it’s a race against time, we have to plant trees and we have to move fast. We use leguminous trees, which grow quickly and restore soil fertility in three years. We involve farmers in the whole process of transforming agriculture, and our approach is participatory. Our beneficiaries are family farms, because they are the driving force behind the development of agriculture in Senegal. 80% of the country’s food security depends on these family farms, so it’s essential to get them involved and give them a sense of responsibility if we are to achieve results. Our role is to support them.

Why are you launching these two pilot Artemisia Houses as part of this overall project?

In 2018, I received training in the cultivation and therapeutic use of Artemisia  at the Tivaouane Artemisia House (Senegal).

In the south of the country, rainfall is high, leading to a high incidence of mosquitoes and many cases of malaria and bilharzia. In the north too, malaria wreaks havoc, this time due to the presence of the Senegal River and its tributaries.

People working on these family farms are frequently ill, leading to high absenteeism. So it made sense to develop knowledge and cultivation of Artemisia in these areas, which have been badly damaged by chemical agriculture and where we are working to develop agroforestry. We wanted to set up a comprehensive project that would have an impact on all aspects of local people’s lives, from changing farming practices to improving their health. We therefore launched these two pilot projects in April 2023. The local people are very enthusiastic; they have understood that Artemisia will increase their workforce and that there will be fewer malaria sufferers.

How do you organise your work in these two Artemisia Houses?

I work with three colleagues. The first is dedicated to the Artemisia House in Podor, the second to the Artemisia House in Kolda, and the third is mobile with me. Since June, we’ve been raising awareness and training people in agroforestry and Artemisia cultivation. We go out into the villages to meet the farmers’ families and we co-construct the whole project with them. We buy the plants and supervise cultivation.

We aim to plant 30,000 trees in 2023 and 20,000 in 2024. We have already planted 22,000 and for the moment, things are going according to plan.

We have trained six farmers in the northern region and six in the southern region within the framework of the Relais association. So that’s twelve people in total, who in reality represent twelve families, who have then returned to their regions to raise awareness and train their communities.

We will soon be setting up two Artemisia nurseries.

For 2023-2024, we have planned 1 hectare of Artemisia/gombo market gardening in each structure, then we will add millet or sorghum in subsequent years. We plan to harvest 3 or 3.5 tonnes of Artemisia for each Artemisia House.

And our ambition is to develop this model throughout the network.

From 2025, we want to develop ten Artemisia nurseries in ten different villages. But that’s a decision we’ll all have to make together, as we continue to construct this project together with the farmers.

On this point, I would like to pay tribute to the considerable technical support provided by the Maison de l’Artemisia France through the visit to Senegal in early November of one of its members, Darling Guidigan. His visit helped to consolidate the knowledge acquired by the farmers of the two local Artemisia Houses and the members of the Green & Fertile Africa team, in particular on the cultivation of Artemisia and its use in the treatment and prevention of malaria and bilharzia.