Fourteen years ago, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I met my friend Omar in what is known as the peanut basin of Senegal. As we sat in the barren field he inherited from his father, he showed me his ID card. In French it read, Occupation: Fisherman. I laughed. We were 100 miles from the ocean. Omar didn’t even smile. “John,” he said, “there’s only death in farming."
I am the Executive Director of Trees for the Future where I dedicate my career to helping rural African farmers like Omar end hunger, make a living, and leave behind extreme poverty through the Forest Garden.
Thank you for your comments and excellent questions, Marco. Our work currently benefits 21,138 people across the five countries where we work (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal, and Cameroon). Those numbers are reflective of the size of the families for each of our Forest Garden program participants. There is generally one main farmer who is in the Forest Garden program, but the benefits cascade to the entire family, especially when considering food security and income gains over the course of a project.
We select participants who live along environmentally degraded trade corridors: those who have access to a daily, weekly, or bi-weekly market (markets are very important to sell crops!) within about a 5 kilometer radius of their villages but who live on degraded lands.
Throughout all of our projects, 30% of participants must be women, and we hold workshops at times that are convenient for them and allow them to bring their children. We make sure that we are eliciting their feedback about what times and places work best for them so that they can actively participate in every training and event. Currently, 44% of our farmer participants are women. Regarding this, each year when Forest Garden farmers begin their own on-farm planning processes, we make sure that they consult their spouses and children about their food, dietary, and income needs. This process helps make sure that all family members can gain benefits from the Forest Garden, which is especially important as women and men often have different needs or concerns in mind for the family regarding food/crop types and income-generating activities. For example, women in our Senegal program often desire to grow hibiscus because since women traditionally harvest and sell the crop, they are aware of how much cash the crop can bring in and what their time, labor, and resource considerations are for that crop. Through this process, we learn that each family member may have different considerations, and through discussion and planning with each of the family stakeholders, we help farmers plant what is best for their household and to sell in the local or regional market(s).
In addition, farmers must be able to supply their own land, labor, and water for each Forest Garden as their in-kind contribution to each project. We view this contribution as an important buy-in for farmers and it helps ensure the long-term sustainability of the project. Since farmers are gaining new skills and building their capacity around more technical, long-term farming practices, having an in-kind investment is crucial to the success of the program.