7. Dry-season gardening projects, Niger
In: The Greening of Aid; Ed. Czech Conroy and Miles Litvinoff; Earthscan Publ. Ltd. and IIED, London, 1988, pp. 69-73
The Lutheran World Relief (LWR) programme in Niger started in 1974 a project. This project was designed to truck seeds from Nigeria to the southern parts of Niger and Chad.
The villagers' immediate need was for vegetable seeds. While tomato and okra seeds could be dried and collected, and manioc cuttings could be replanted, other vegetables which would broaden the diet and nutritional base were generally not available. Composting was almost unheard of and difficult in dry areas, and with the loss of livestock and their manure these people were left to grow a few food items in low-quality soil.
These factors generated the first few modest project attempts. The larger amounts of food grown using chemical fertilizer gave encouragement to the men and women involved, but success was short-lived.
Insecticides in small amounts were imported to control the nematodes.
Villagers were encouraged to hand-exterminate external pests, while the Nigerian agriculture services demonstrated the safe use of insecticides and distributed them. It was rediscovered that nitrogen-fixing legumes (chickpeas) not only provided nutritional vegetables for additional food but were easy to dry, store and replant. If intercropped with other vegetables they provide nitrogen to the needy soil and cut down on nematode infestation.
Strong, hot wind caused erosion and sand dunes and sapped the life out of vegetables struggling to survive the intense heat. In response, a number of indigenous trees and bushes were planted on pond perimeters and around garden plots. These local varieties of hedges became a simple, effective way to keep out livestock and counter the relentless winds. The effect was to reduce water consumption, to add the new colour of green on vegetables and to strengthen wilting varieties of legumes; the shade given to the earth in the gardens greatly lowered ground temperatures.
Traditional well problems took longest to solve. Work was begun on designing a simple technology to meet the requirements of local replicability and durability.
This technology solved well cave-in and dirty water problems and had the advantages of low cost, simplicity and ease of maintenance.
The most easily measured economic impact is the increased availability of garden vegetables. People have increased food for themselves, which was the primary goal, but most gardeners have surplus vegetables to sell.
Less easily measurable economic benefits are increased production of animal feed from the use of windbreaks and live fencing.
Environmental effects are positive. Live fencing utilizing indigenous species is possible and within the capabilities of local people. Its use has reduced pressure for the use of live and dead thorn-tree branches.
Twelve years' experience in Niger has shown that these dry-season gardens are self-sustaining. People are aware that rain-fed agriculture may never be as it was in past years because of the decline in rainfall.
Dry season garden projects and wells have been replicated in more than 20 areas of Niger with the same success as in the original 8. Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Western Sudan were surveyed for areas with water tables that would allow replication of most of the components of these dry-season gardens.
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