Sustainable in Senegal: Profiles in Senegalese Regenerative Agriculture
Livestock fattening,Thiawène, Diourbel

Village women’s group pioneers and teaches how “kept” sheep and goats can improve soil, boost yields and provide much-needed income in dry Diourbel region.

By Nathan C. McClintock

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Learn Wolof Vocabulary relating to Vegetables and Food

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A rich slice of sustainability in Senegal:
The Rodale Institute® showed this American agriculture student the critical need for soil innovative soil saving practices in West Africa.



Posted May 11, 2006: In the long dry season, which lasts from October to June, the scrubland savanna of Senegal’s Peanut Basin appears brown and parched. It is a postcard image of the Sahel, with its dusty daguerreotype haze, its sandy horizon marked by silhouettes of gargantuan baobab trees and thorny acacias, the bristly halos of sump and jujube shrubs. It’s difficult to imagine that this desertscape could feed a nation, or can even feed the countless goats and short-haired sheep that somehow manage to sustain themselves on the stubble.

Then, following the first rains in June, the new growth of grass gives the landscape a greenish patina; leaves begin to gild the scraggly, skeletal trees. In a few months, after the frenzy of farmers’ activity in the fields—from the application of manure, to the sowing of peanuts, millet, and cowpeas—the landscape transforms completely from a wasteland into a three-meter deep sea of green millet backlit by a cerulean sky framed with towering cumulus thunderheads. Only three months later, after the entire year’s rain—12 to 24 inches—has fallen, all the millet and peanuts harvested and the residues grazed down, the land returns to its barren state.

Nestled into this geography are thousands of tiny rural villages, home to more than half of Senegal’s population. These sites are woven together by a network of sandy tracks, extensive kinship ties, and weekly markets in the larger villages. Thiawène is one such village, located in the Diourbel region, a good 17 miles from the nearest paved road.

The main “square” of Thiawène is home to a small mosque, a 295-foot deep well shared by 12 surrounding villages, and the penc, or Conversation Tree, an ancient baobab under which meetings and idle chit-chat alike take place, scarred from years of being girdled for its fibrous bark. Young boys play soccer with acrobatic agility. Household compounds lie behind fences of millet stalk or rusty, recycled corrugated roofing tin.

Inside Fatou Kane’s compound, three generations of women and girls chat as the younger ones pound millet in a giant wooden mortar. Walking behind one of the houses walled with millet stalks and covered with a tin roof, she leads us to a small wooden corral out back, where small white lambs nurse a ewe. “Everybody practices embouche here now. People from other villages come here to learn about it,” she says.

Embouche is the French word for the technique of fattening livestock, practiced here by confining it for several months before selling it for meat. In addition to providing the farmer with additional revenue, livestock serve as a form of interest-accruing equity for Thiawène farmers, as elsewhere in the agrarian world. Animals are left to reproduce, thus increasing the herd size, or they can be sold for cash in times of need. Additionally, animal manure is a valuable—and often the only—means of maintaining soil fertility in the Sahel. Annual applications of manure to the sandy soil provide much-needed organic matter to fields. In addition to preventing theft, corralling of animals at night allows for the easy collection of manure for composting or field application.

While Fatou Kane and other women in Thiawène have always tended livestock, they have managed them more carefully in the last four years thanks to a program carried out by The Rodale Institute and funded by the Vanderbilt Foundation. “They taught me to take care of the animal’s health, and feed it correctly. I also now know what to look for when buying an animal to make sure it’s healthy,” she says.

Traditionally, farmers sent their livestock out to graze fallow fields during the day, either under the watch of children or a contracted herder. As fallowing has become more and more rare due to population increases and a subsequent intensification of farming, livestock husbandry has decreased in Thiawène and other Peanut Basin villages. The recent interest in livestock fattening has helped to revitalize the symbiotic relationship between livestock and field crops. Rather than letting the animals roam free throughout the day in the traditional manner, Fatou keeps the animal in the corral behind the house, feeding it high-protein peanut and cowpea stover along with food scraps and crops residues. She rakes the manure daily into a compost pile or directly to the family fields.

When asked if stabling livestock was more labor intensive than traditional livestock management, she replies, “Dina yokku tutti rekk. / It’s only a little bit of trouble,” she says smiling. “It’s worth it. We have had the best millet yields ever this year.” Additionally, the sale of one of her lambs this year netted her about $44. “I was able to pay for my son’s driver’s license with that money.”

Ndeye Diop, president of the Thiawène women’s group, has also been practicing embouche for the last three years. In addition to being able to sell an animal in times of need, she looks forward to having sheep to sell at Tabaski, or Eid-al-Kibr, Muslim West Africa’s biggest feast day when most families slaughter a ram to celebrate Abraham’s sacrificial offering to God. This is the most profitable time to sell animals in Senegal, when the demand is high. Ndeye has made up to $100 selling fattened animals.

Like Fatou Kane, Ndeye Diop finds herself mentoring others. “Now all the young people return from working in Dakar and Thiès. They want a sheep in time for Tabaski, so they buy young animals and fatten them. I go around and help them, let them know if the stable roof is too low, if the house will get too hot.”

For most farmers in Thiawène, finding nutritious feed throughout the year is a challenge. Ndeye says, “If there is enough rain we don’t have a problem, but if there is a drought, we have to buy additional feed.” The village women’s group helps subsidize supplemental concentrated feed for members. Ibra Diop, one of the few men in Thiawène who practices animal fattening, adds that veterinary care is one of the greatest limitations to animal production in the village. “If the animal gets sick, I have to put it on a cart, get to the road, then I have to get transportation to Bambey or Toubatou.”

For most farmers, however, the benefits outweigh the costs. Awa Mbaye, who has raised several goats since the embouche program began, proudly shows off the section of her millet field that she fertilized with goat compost. “The millet here is taller, darker, healthier.” She also says that since she has been applying manure collected from the corrals to the fields, her peanuts have developed more fully. “They are fatter.” While Awa’s primary reason for raising livestock is the manure, she adds that embouche has allowed her to better take care of her financial needs. “I never have to borrow money now.”

By integrating livestock more intensively into their crop production systems, farmers in Thiawène have created an economic safety net for themselves, while improving food production and food security. “Baax na dè! / It’s great!” says Ndeye. “We’re increasing our income and our knowledge.”