Increasing soil fertility by fighting erosion: a win-win for Senegalese farmers

At the beginning of each training, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Josephine Hegarty asked the farmers of Senegal’s G.I.E. Millet producers group: “What have you done to solve the erosion problem?” The answer was usually silence. At the individual level, most farmers had not done anything.

Natural Resource Management can be as encompassing and far reaching as national forest and industry policies, and as personal as planting shrubs to manage erosion and promote soil fertility on local farms. But beyond the large scale positive effects of environmental sustainability and efficient use of resources, incorporating small natural resource management techniques such as using trees as wind shields or leaving weeds and crop stalks in the field not only helps stem erosion, but can also increase the soil’s ability to absorb water, in turn increasing fertility, and ultimately, increasing yields.

“The message that they need to help themselves was an important idea that was conveyed,” Hegarty said. The trainings were not just about erosion, but also about the positive effect combating erosion could have on their crops and their earnings. Hegarty gave examples of small changes each individual farmer could make to combat erosion and then also how they could work together as a group helped to create a sense of control over a widespread problem.

Working to plant trees and shrubs, ripping furrows perpendicular to the hillside and mulching all help to combat soil erosion but also improve yields through better soil fertility and irrigation control, allowing crops to grow to their full potential.

“We worked with Josephine for two days in the field. She explained to us why we should practice mulching during cropping time. The reasons given by the volunteer are so convincing that we will practice the recommendations for the next crop year,” said Rane Seck, chief of Safadi village, who attended one of the erosion prevention trainings. Getting village leaders on board helps to convince others to implement these techniques for the upcoming season.

Because the next planting season will not come until next fall, convincing farmers to do whatever they can right now to combat soil erosion became a theme. “I was pleased when a younger farmer said he had planned on cutting down a tree in his field, but after our talk he decided to leave it,” Hegarty said. Trees, like the local Salene variety in Senegal, can act as wind barriers, protecting crops from storms, and their roots help the soil to absorb water.

Through NCBA CLUSA’s Farmer-to-Farmer program in Senegal, implemented in partnership with ACDI/VOCA and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Hegarty trained 89 farmers in six village meetings to observe, identify and evaluate water erosion and discussed techniques to control it in order to make sure they were culturally acceptable, sustainable and purposeful.

Hegarty’s background in Peace Corps Senegal years ago and use of the local Wolof language also helped to put the recommendations into cultural and useful terms—more applicable than broad natural resource management policies. Understanding how important combating soil erosion was for their yields and their farms, some farmers have already started gathering materials even before planting season.

“We have already received stones and a wire fence from a partner and we will put a cord stone wall up as soon as possible,” said Ibrahima Dramé, a farmer from Koky Saloum Village.

Small, easy-to-implement interventions can have big effects in combating soil erosion, such as mulching or leaving space at the end of the rip row to keep irrigation from running off. The more prepared these farmers are for planting season with natural wind and water breaks like shrubs and trees and stones will make erosion that much easier to combat when planting and ripping next season.

Interested in volunteering with Farmer-to-Farmer? Check out our current open volunteer positions here.


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