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Senegal Permaculture Project in Sare Suma
Senegal Permaculture Project in Sare Suma
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Sare Souma, Kolda, , SN
Climate zone:
Wet/Dry Tropical

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Report on first visit to Sare Souma in Senegal

Project: Senegal Permaculture Project in Sare Suma

Posted by Jacqueline van Heerden about 9 years ago

When I arrived in the village of Sare Souma in 40 degree heat, I realised that many of what I had planned would not be able to happen. The challenges I faced were pretty daunting - the reality check happened pertty quickly and my ideals of establishing s

Overview of trip


I spent just under two weeks in Senegal, leaving Melbourne on Thursday 21st March and arriving in Dakar Friday 22nd March at midnight.  I spent two days looking around Dakar, before leaving on Monday 25th at 6 am to head to the village.


Upon arriving in Dakar I could see the lack of planned development.  Dakar as a city is growing with many people moving into the city with limited work. 


Most of the water supplied to the dwellings in the city is not clean; you have to buy bottled drinking water.  Power is unreliable.


There are many buildings been constructed and some half finished due to lack of money by owners, A lot of the debris from these building sites is not cleared up but just left, making it very difficult for revegetation.  So without greening of these parts, there is a harsh glare reflecting from the cement buildings and sand.


There are a number of plants sold along the highways, mainly for aesthetics, I visited a couple and could not find any productive trees/plants


I visited a reserve in the city where you could experience the city, as it was before development, marshy with a diverse range of tree/plants.  In this reserve there were some locals growing seedlings and had some thriving veggie patches – it seemed they were using some permaculture principles but I could not converse with them so it was hard to confirm this or for me to secure them as a source for products.  The temperature in this reserve was significantly lower.  From this I was able to see how drastically the city had changed. 


I met Nathanial and Ellie Coulhan, American Consultants in the region.  Nathanial saw the project listed on the Permaculture research Institute site and made contact.  They work for Code Innovation and facilitate projects aimed at increasing resilience to climate change in third world countries.  They had recently moved to ile de ngor to continue their education and innovation projects.  They were currently forming a network of like minded people in the area


They provided some insights and as to what was going on in the city of Dakar and provided some contacts for nurseries in Kolda.


Sare Souma

 It took a day to get to the village, as the road was very bad, many  potholes.  On driving out I could see the land had been severely cleared of trees, (except the Boab tree, due to its spiritual place amongst the Senegalese) as there is no or limited power accessible to city inhabitants, wood/charcoal is still been used to cook food and keep warm.  There was little farming on a large scale, mainly small subsistence farming.  I could see orchards of Cashews the further we travelled out of Dakar.  Mango trees were growing randomly, I saw Acacia trees and Baobabs.  Many goats and cattle roamed freely along the roads and land.  Some farmers had built fences to stop animals but these were few and far between.


In arriving at Kolda, the town closest to Sare Souma, the temperature had risen by 10 degrees.  We stayed in a hotel in Kolda, due to the heat being too much in the village.


Days were spent in travelling to the village, meeting with the villagers, sourcing trees, plants and materials, meeting with the farmers, visiting the croplands, the river, a local veggie garden and surrounding areas. 


I met with some local nurserymen in Kolda who were growing trees, to get an understanding of local vegetation and supply.  They told me a bit about the trees they were growing and why.  Their knowledge seemed limited as they had planted big trees in small containers and had not repotted them so many of the trees roots had grown into the ground close to each other.



Assessment of Sare Souma


My assessment was made as a result of

-       Visiting the land where the villagers grew their crops, about 1 – 2km from the village

-       Visiting a veggie patch by the river, looked after by women from the neighbouring village

-       Visiting the river

-       Talking to the farmers



-       Many palm trees and local species trees have been removed

-       Loss of species, some trees were not growing back

-       River was silted up, possibly due to erosion and tree removal

-       Chemicals were being used on food crops, farmers could not provide me with a name

-       No intercropping was done

-       No rotational cropping was done – croplands were left bare in dry season

-       Monoculture cropping i.e. same species grown together in large amounts

-       Lack of diversity in food being produced resulting in lack of nutrients for villagers

-       Plants in veggie beds in the village and near the river were diseased

-       Plants were being planted in same location – no rotation

-       No mulch was being used – soil was exposed to sun, destroying soil life

-       Fears re termites (termite get into cashew and other trees so the villagers think that they are bad, but in tropics they play an important part in breaking down organic matter and creating humus)

-       Lack of education

-       Loss of knowledge, due to elder farmers dying and young men going to the cities so not staying on land to learn

-       Stock allowed to roam freely, so they destroy and eat anything in site – which makes it difficult for saplings of trees to regrow and for veggie plants

-       Chickens are allowed to forage uncontained – lack of barriers against chickens

-       Fires occur often in dry season, sometimes deliberately lit, I expect them to get worst due to clearing and soil degradation

-       Toilets are often just a cement slab covering a large hole in the ground, and have no drainage, which means that systems often overflow into the surrounding area. Sewage can leak into the drinking water supply and into water sources that are used to irrigate gardens, which in turn can contaminate vegetables that come into contact with the soil.

-       Wells are using up precious groundwater and are not a long term solution

-       No water harvesting methods have been implemented for the wet season, so lots of run-off

-       In the veggie patch by the river, women were watering the vegetables by throwing buckets of water on the plants  - this has the effect of washing away the top soil and exposing the soil life to the harsh sun, damaging or destroying it, so increasing soil infertility

-       Language barrier, relied on Mamadou to translate and his time was limited, so not much teaching could occur

-       Heat was a limiting factor, 44 – 46 degrees on average each day spent in the village

-       Sun is direct overhead so no shade arc

-       Soil was too hard to do digging by hand for swales

-       No machines for earthworks

-       No veggie seedlings available in Kolda

-       Limited tree/plant species available to purchase in local area, would need to bring in from other regions

-       No water available in fields, no irrigation

-       The well would not be built in the time I was there so did not want to build the school veggie garden as plants would not survive, also children were on school holidays

-       Uncertainty about level of commitment of villagers

-       Limited time available




Based on this assessment I altered the plan and decided on the following course of action.

1. Organise for a local to take on the responsibility of building the well and negotiate the price and timeframe and oversee the work.  We have organised for a well with a pump to be built as this is safer and stops the potential of people falling into the well, as the job of collecting water is mainly the children’s.  Also if the pump fails, it can be removed and still used.  It is very hard to get engineers or mechanics to come and fix pumps.

Formed a relationship with a development association:

-       The Senegalese Government has appointed a number of regional organisations/associations to streamline investment development in the Senegalese regions as a way of co-ordinating efforts.  As a result we met with Sheik Omar from Komba Kandi association, he is also Mamadou’s bother.  Through associating with him, he was able to negotiate the well to be built for us for $2000 as well he will be overseeing the construction, manage the labour and purchasing the materials.

-       Negotiated for the well to be built for $2000

-       Currently the well is being built

2. Presentation

A gathering was organised for local villagers to come to Mamadous house to hear me share some knowledge about some of the things I had seen and how they could address them.  We needed to provide lunch for these guests as they would have travelled to be there, so could not prepare lunch, and it was custom.  In total there were about 60 villagers present, not including children, but including women.  The local religious leader, the local chief and some of the elders of the area attended.


Topics covered (in two sessions)

Session one

-       Food security – why it was important to grow their own food

-       Health reasons (food quality), environmental reasons (protect future generations, prevent soil erosion, protect water quality, save energy, promote diversity)

Session Two

-       How to increase soil fertility – biodiversity of plants, trees

-       Mulching, compost

-       Polyculture versus monoculture

-       Companion planting, rotational cropping, guilds

-       The importance of trees

-       Planting by the moon



There were not many questions afterwards mainly acknowledgement of what had been said.  Leaders such as Sheikh Omar and Abdulaye Balde, were able to relay local specifics to highlight some of my points re species lost, soil degradation etc. 


There were many thanks given to all of us who had shown concern and interest in their village’s wellbeing.


Mamadou received 15 phone calls from other villagers asking if we could present to them.  Unfortunately this was unable to happen as we were leaving the next day.


2. Focussed on Mamadous garden surrounding his house, as there was some protection from cattle and goats, also there was a well so trees and plants could be watered in the establishment time which is critical.

Swales could not be built due to the soil being hard and the heat would make it impossible for villagers to do this heavy work.  The heat also restricted the gathering of materials to make a compost pile.

3. Planted a variety of trees.  The trees were selected to provide:  biodiversity, food, nutritional diversity, nitrogen fixing, shade, Pioneer plants with rapid growth to provide shade for other plants/species, fodder for cattle, some wood.


Other factors considered; Carrying capacity of land in Mamadous garden, what could survive in harsh sun with no shade and thermal mass radiating from cement house, would survive in tropics, care required by villagers.


Once I laid out where the trees would be planted the remaining ones were distributed to other families in the village who had come to the presentation, approx 50 to 60 were distributed


Bought 125 trees, mulch and compost

  • 3 citrus (evergreen, shallow roots, nutrient value)
  •  4 flowers (attracts pollinators, beauty)
  • 4 bananas (food)
  • 1 bamboo (for fences, harvesting for poles)
  • 15 cashew trees (food, shade)
  • 40 hedgerow legume plant, grows after fire
  • 6 Mango (food, shade)
  • 10 Tamanalia trees (grow quick and tall, provides lots of leaves for mulch)
  • 2 Filow (medicinal, good wood or beds, doors)
  • 5 acacia, legume (nitrogen fixing)
  • 6 Guava (food, companion to citrus)
  • Gronade 4
  • Sip Sop 6
  • Date 3 (food)
  • Palm 10 (shade, food, fonds)
  • Sabbyen 3


4. Planted a hedgerow inside the bamboo fence of Mamadous house, eventually this would replace the bamboo fence and become a permanent living fence.  Currently the bamboo fence has to be replaced regularly. 


This hedgerow fence would be a more affective barrier against the cattle and goats, to protect the veggie patch.  I only planted this hedgerow along the bamboo fence closest to the well – so watering them did not become an obstacle to the villagers and this bamboo fence provides some relief from the harsh afternoon sun.


5. Demonstrated how and where to plant trees, with drainage, mulch, compost 


Villagers participated

-       Villagers dug all holes, filled with stones, compost, planted in, then covered with mulch


6. Bought tools

-       Bought wheelbarrow to collect mulch

-       Spades x 5

-       Watering cans x 5


By providing some tools for the villagers it would aid them in looking after the trees and their veggie patches, so we donated a watering can and spade to the neighbouring villagers veggie patch as well.




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