Every night, Moussa Kamara works in his bakery, preparing hundreds of breads. But at sunrise, instead of going home to sleep, he started the second hard work-hoeing and caring for the newly planted seeds in a specially designed circular garden.
Kamara, 47, believes that the garden will prove to be more important than the bakery in the future to feed his extended family (including 25 children) and other residents of Boki Dawe, a small Senegalese town bordering Mauritania.
He is involved in a project that aims to create hundreds of such gardens-called “Tolou Keur” in Wolof in Senegal-and the organizers hope that these gardens will promote food security, reduce regional desertification, and attract data. Thousands of community workers participated.
“This project is very important,” said Camara. After spending the night in the bakery, he finally returned home and planted edible and medicinal plants in the garden for 10 hours.
“When you plant a tree, people and animals will benefit from it for more than 20 years,” said Camara, whose commitment and hard work earned him the role of garden administrator.
This project marks a new, more localized approach to the so-called “Green Wall” initiative launched in 2007, which aims to plant 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) of tree lines from Senegal to Djibouti.
According to United Nations estimates, the broader plan has successfully planted only 4% of the 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of trees promised. It will be completed as planned by 2030 and may cost up to 43 billion US dollars.
According to Senegal’s afforestation agency, Tolou Keur Garden has flourished in the seven months since the start of the project, and now there are about two dozen.
Three months after the garden was built, its agents began a series of monthly visits over two years to assess progress.
Plants and trees that can withstand hot and dry climates are planted in the garden, including papaya, mango, moringa and sage. The round bed allows roots to grow inward, trap liquids and bacteria, and improve water retention and composting.
Project manager Karine Fakhoury said it’s important for local people to fully participate: “This is not an external project. Someone comes from outside and tells people what to do. This is entirely local.”
The garden is partly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senegal closed its borders early last year in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, reduce imports and expose rural communities’ dependence on foreign food and medicine.
This has prompted reforestation agencies to seek ways to help villages become more self-sufficient.
Aly Ndiaye, an agricultural engineer from Senegal in Brazil who was trapped in Senegal when the border was closed, emphasized the importance of “permanent smaller operations.”
“A thousand Tolou Keur is already 1.5 million trees,” said Ndiaye, the mastermind behind the round bed design. “So if we start, we can do a lot of things.”
Not all gardens have succeeded. In the remote village of Wald, where the desert has begun to reclaim the land, the solar pump has a problem.
But in the eastern town of Carnell, the garden is thriving. Its administrators solved the pump problem by digging traditional irrigation channels. The concrete walls and guard dogs help prevent the entry of rodents, which will eat the lush mint and hibiscus plants inside.
Baker Kamala believes that gardens can provide further benefits-preventing sub-Saharan Africans from embarking on a long and dangerous journey to find a better life elsewhere.
“Once people realize the full potential of the Great Green Wall, they will stop these dangerous migration routes, where you may die at sea,” he said. “It’s better to stay, cultivate the land, cultivate, and see what you can earn.”