From March to June, the hot season bakes the life out of the Sahel, the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert. For the RAIN partner community of Tirboye in Niger, a new drip-irrigated school market garden will bring the welcome surprise of new crop life during this traditionally barren period.
Drip irrigation decreases the amount of water used, reduces the labor demands of gardening, and allows for year round crop cultivation, even in one of the most arid places in the world. Tirboye is a village primarily made up of Gourmance people, an ethnic group known for their agricultural acumen, and men and women alike can be found breaking up the hard desert earth with traditional hand-crafted hoes. A RAIN school market garden is the perfect solution for Tirboye, bringing schoolchildren, teachers and mentors together to overcome formidable obstacles to education and food security through modern agricultural techniques. During this hot season, the clay soil in Tirboye becomes so baked, that after breaking it apart with pick-axes, the resulting chunks of earth are literally pulverized to create a texture suitable for planting.
In a community where the children have never seen, let alone tasted, a tomato, carrot, or melon, the photos featured on their seed packages act as a strong motivator for the arduous and intensive task of planting a garden in the scorching sun. Our five women mentors, who each sponsor five local at-risk girls, will be assisting the hired gardener and school staff in installing a year-round crop-producing plot from land traditionally used only three months during the year. A seed nursery is also being installed to ensure continuity of crops regardless of seed availability. After the first harvest of crops that include moringa tree saplings, a source of the most nutritional edible leaf in the world, fruit trees, a lucrative cash crop, will be planted along the outer edge of the garden, enclosing this future pocket of paradise. The community has also expressed interest in cultivating fruits such as mango, guava and papaya.
The Tirboye school community and mentoring support system are at the start of growing a miraculous mirage that will soon flourish, supplying undernourished students with vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits at the edge of the vast Sahel desert. With cash crops to support the school, the garden will foster the growth of the school, enlarging its capacity to provide the foundation for an academic education while serving as a living classroom for lessons in food security that will endure over generations for this subsistence farming community.
Sustainable agriculture is key to lifting rural families out of poverty and chronic malnutrition. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women grow as much as 90% of the region's food. However, custom and family demands often prevent women from spending the time needed to cultivate agriculture. An optimal solution is a large communal garden with drip irrigation.
The women in our partner communities become empowered by the process of the school market gardens - they head the committees that make planting and harvesting decisions, become literate in accounting, and learn how to harvest and prepare the crops for sale. It's only natural that the next step would be to empower them with greater food security by investing in their own garden cooperatives.
Building upon the successful School Market Garden model, RAIN has initiated our first women’s agricultural cooperative in the Tillaberi community of Mari. The Mari garden was installed with 99 women who are finding empowerment and food security, as well as receiving training in organic agriculture techniques and nutrition. The cooperative garden model ensures consistent watering through group effort. Profits are increased by each member’s participation in money-saving marketing and delivery methods. Each woman contributes to the monthly salary of a gardener to run the drip irrigation system, allowing her a flexible schedule. Using solar drying ovens provided by RAIN, they prepare, dry and preserve the produce for sale in local markets. They also sell seeds as well. As in our artisan cooperatives, the women keep 50% of the proceeds and donate the remainder to their children's schools.
The 5,000 square meter Mari community garden is one of the largest of its kind in Niger. From weekly classes taught by RAIN staff Brian Nowak and Halima Aboubacar, we've created a dedicated study guide focused on organic gardening techniques, health and nutrition, and crop selection for profitability. Designed for those who are unable to read, the study guides utilize illustrated flip charts for easy reference with an emphasis on oral instruction and hands-on experience. Already in Mari, encouraging the community with inexpensive ways to boost nutrition has taught the value of a healthy organic lifestyle. The introduction of three season crops and providing the foundation for a seed bank has brought increased crop yields.
Here in traditional hamlets and familial encampments in the middle of nowhere, the best of humanity is shining through in the face of continued hardships. We'll be continuing with the Mari agricultural co-op as the women learn how to better market their crops and earn more income for their families. In 2014, we hope to bring community gardens to women in more nomadic communities in Niger. During the next three months, GlobalGiving will be featuring a microproject page to help fund this goal. We know that helping our friends in West Africa achieve food security is important to you, so we thought we'd share this exciting addition to our sustainable agriculture programs. Why not give a gift donation to someone who shares your passion this year?
Thank you for all you do for rural and nomadic desert communities!
Wishing you Happy Holidays and great things in the year to come,
The RAIN team
2012-13 has seen RAIN School Market Gardens generating a positive impact in the partner communities of the northern Arlit region of Niger and has led to the increase in overall number of community residents.
AkokanIn January, RAIN Niger staff conducted a tour and met with the group of mentors of Akokan, who are into their 8th year of working together in small enterprise and guiding at-risk girls. Staff member Halima Aboubacar presented an evaluation of current agricultural activity in the community as well the performance thus far of the mentor 3 year goat herding activity and the impacts of the savings and loan program on the most recent year of enterprise. The goat herding and savings and loan programs are functioning well, allowing women more economic independence and the opportunity to plan financially for various needs throughout the year.
IferouaneJanuary 2013: RAIN staff conducted an interview with the Agricultural Director of Iférouane regarding the engagement of an agricultural specialist for the ongoing maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of Iférouane gardens. RAIN prefers to recruit local talent to ensure the continuity of access that comes with the greater level of availability along with a deeper relationship to the community. After the technician was identified, a meeting was held with staff in Agadez and Niamey to plan for activities for the year. February: Halima Aboubacar meets with mentors, orders for the season are placed and payments disbursed. The future school and garden site were surveyed, as well as the non-functioning well, which is determined to likely cause delays in the garden installation process.
Residents of Iferouane were introduced to monitoring and evaluation tools to use for their future School Market Gardens, including:
1) How to record crop performance: number of crops, level of diversity, harvests success and failures using a RAIN designed tracking sheet;
2) Evaluation of the condition of the materials and equipment at the start and end of each growing season;
3) Reviewing the use of organic pesticides – the types utilized and the number of applications needed per season;
4) Regular communication with the local garden specialist on the progress of crops.
GougaramGarden background: The school market garden in Gougaram was first installed in 1979 to support and teach students. In 2002, RAIN reinvigorated community interest in the garden and invested in a professional gardener. In 2007, the garden was damaged in conflict, and was rehabilitated with the help of RAIN in 2011 and again in 2012 due to floods.
January 2013: Niger staff visited Gougaram to gather information regarding the feasibility of the installation of a 5,000 sq. meter women’s agricultural cooperative garden for the community. February: Staff conducted measurements of the garden site, created a budget for well repairs, and determined the fencing requirements to ensure security from animals. March: Founder and Executive Director Bess Palmisciano, Board Chair John Ahlgren, Niger Program Director Brian Nowak and Agricultural Coordinator Koini Abdourahmane visited the Gougaram School Market Garden. A community meeting was held in the presence of the Gougaram COGES (PTA), mentors and artisans to discuss the monitoring of the established cereal bank, management of the school canteen, initiating mentoring and practical skills classes for the year, adding mentors to the current group, and the possible installation of the women’s cooperative garden. School market garden issues were discussed, including management strategies, garden maintenance costs, the percentage of crops consumed vs. sold in the past growing season, and the individual benefits of the garden for each individual.
On the agenda Fall 2013:
Spring 2013 Survey – Gougaram Agriculture Cooperative
The Gougaram Agriculture Cooperative is a project in the planning stages with the goal of organizing independent gardeners, providing small scale garden grants, and training in organic techniques, marketing, crop diversity, and improved techniques. We hope to initiate activities this year. On this round of community field visits, RAIN staff identified 16 potential future garden sites with at least one well. Current crop cultivation remains primarily subsistence level with very low production yield potential. Communities with access to a vehicle have the ability to generate income selling surplus crops in Arlit. Of the 16 communities surveyed, only 2% currently produce lemon trees. However, the potential for fruit tree cultivation is high, as the valley has a climate similar to the Timia region, which is an area producing high volumes of various citrus fruits. Fruit trees provide scarce shade, contribute to variety and nutritional diversity, and make for an excellent cash crop.
This January, RAIN Agricultural Coordinator Koini Abdourahamane and Niger Program Director Brian Nowak traveled to the northern region of Arlit to follow the progress of the School Market Garden installed last year in the remote nomadic community of Tadek. The garden is governed and monitored by a community-elected committee, most of whom are local women. The community also chose the school gardener, who is trained by RAIN. The short-term goal for School Market Gardens is to first generate sufficient funds to pay the gardener a small monthly salary. The long term purpose of the garden is to improve the quality of meals served at school, generate income through the sale of surplus crops to support the garden, and to serve as a living classroom where the students along with the entire community learns drip irrigation and organic farming techniques.
At the start of the 2013 school year, the school in Tadek supported 29 students, comprised of 6 girls and 23 boys, with 19 students in the primary class and 10 students in the secondary level. School Director and teacher Smaiel Foto Hohame told us about how enrollment has diminished from before the Tuareg rebellion, whose headquarters were located in the mountains near Tadek. The community was evacuated and the school suffered terrible damage. When people returned to their homes they found the school and its garden ruined. Crime in the area rose – former rebels had arms and no incomes.
Tadek is comprised of traditional nomadic families who live varying distances away in their moving encampments. The school must be well supplied and provide food to students in order for parents to feel it is safe enough for their children.
Planting of the garden commenced in February and March. Crops include:
RAIN gardens are organic and training in the making and use of natural pesticides such as pepper, tobacco and neem leaves is offered to gardeners and community members. Surplus crops eligible for sale will be determined at end of the garden season as a session is conducted to identify local markets on the part of the garden committee, PTA and RAIN staff.
It's our hope that re-installing the garden will instill confidence in the parents of Tadek to enroll their children in school to get back on track with their educations this first full year back from exile. With your help, we're committed to providing the support and follow through needed to hold on to this important community resource!
The Tagantassou primary school in the Tillaberi region of Niger is a typical small village school: a few cement classrooms with scrappy furniture, many grass mat classes built by the community with children sitting on the floor in some cases, and few educational materials. In part with your support, the RAIN drip-irrigation School Market Garden has provided vital nutritious vegetables for the students while acting as a sustainable source of revenue for school supplies. This year, the garden will increase in value as the site of a pilot program, wherein it is transformed into a living classroom providing hands-on learning experience for children. Using textbooks provided by RAIN, a 4-month curriculum of study has been created, focusing on environmental science, agriculture, nutrition and health. The curriculum combines classroom learning with agricultural activities, including weekly data collection in the garden. Through participation in the harvesting and sale of crops, students will learn important mathematics and logistical lessons in small business accounting and organization in addition to new techniques in irrigation, cultivation and organic pest control. The winter season is ideal to garden in Niger, and the drip irrigation system is close to being fully installed, ready for the new plantings. Seedlings will be ready for transplant in less than two weeks, at which time the students will begin their specialized studies. We are very enthusiastic about this project and the prospect of adopting this hands-on model in all our School Market Gardens in the coming year. The drip irrigated school market garden with cash crop sustainability enhanced by the agricultural curriculum exemplifies RAIN’s integrated approach to long lasting change for rural communities in one of the world’s poorest countries.
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