Since 1987, Rodale Institute's Regenerative Agriculture Resource Center (RARC) has worked closely with farmers, researchers, and technicians to improve the quality of agricultural soils in Senegal. This year, 1995, marks the eigth full year of applied research, education, and communication activities for that purpose.
The long-term goal of the Senegal RARC project is increased food sufficiency for rural communities and decreased dependence on purchased inputs for food production. The project works to build institutional and community capacity to use and manage human and natural resources for people's well-being. The short-term goal is the development of partnerships with farm associations and government and non-government institutions, all of which work together in networking, education and training, and applied research activities to promote and advance regenerative agriculture.
Four objectives serve these goals:
To assess regenerative agriculture technologies, collaboration with Senegal's Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA) remains a priority. Collaborative research activities include: on-going long-term studies to improve soil moisture retention on croplands; screening soil-improving leguminous plants intercropped with millet and sorghum crops; assessing the response of millet and peanuts to improved manure and compost management systems; integrating livestock more closely into soil management systems; and evaluating biological plant protection methods in women's vegetable gardens in three communities.
An illustrative example of applied research in regenerative gardening is incorporation of the leguminous plant, Dolichos biflorus, into the soil of experimental plots as green manure for onions and tomatoes. This experiment was set up in three communities in early 1994.
Another example is the case of Ndiamsil, where farmers are fattening cattle, goats, sheep, and horses to increase manure availability and household income. In this community, five out of six farmers who fattened livestock sold them, and four of six reimbursed the community fund and bought a second round of cattle to fatten. All of these farmers have already stocked their farms with enough hay for the second round of fattening. One technique in particular used at Ndiamsil which works well is to mix water with 500 grams of millet and feed this mixture to the stabled cattle twice a day, morning and night. This has resulted in an average daily gain of 935 grams (outstanding). In another community (Baback), the average daily gain was 840 grams (very good as well). At Baback, the feed mix consisted primarily of leaves of wild plants, peanut hulls, and dried cowpea residues. According to one farmer, Moussa Diagne from Ndiamsil, to stable one head of cattle for four months provides sufficient manure for one hectare of cropland.
Results from three years of applied study on a forage feed bank harvest in the commmunity of Samba Dia suggest that planting rather than direct seeding legume tree species will result in better biomass production (at least three times greater). Gliricidia sp. outperformed Leucaena sp. by at least 300% no matter what the cultural technique. Planting, rather than direct seeding Gliricidia appears to be the cultural practice of choice. Similar results are obtained from direct seeding Gliricidia as compared to planting Leaucaena. Thus, when labor is a constraint, direct seeding Gliricidia to establish the forage feed garden could be recommended.
A spectacular increase of compost use in the Casamance region of Senegal following several training sessions on compost use by the RARC staff was seen in 1994. A total of 129 farmers in the region initiated compost production, including twenty pits by women. The total number of farmers composting as a result of RARC training rose to 232 in 1994.
In the northern part of Senegal, in and around the Thies region, it is becoming more evident that compost production is most beneficial when used in combination with natural rock phosphate (at an application rate of 30 kg/hectare, roughly equivalent to 30 lbs/acre). This is true for millet crops as well as millet/cowpea associations. Nevertheless, there is an issue in some farm communities of purchasing the rock phosphate, which is mined and processed near Thies. The principal constraint is primarily cost, but is sometimes a question of availability.
Farmers are reporting as well that the repopularization of millet/cowpeas associations in helping them to economize on the time needed to cultivate their crops. The crops are located in the same field, making better use of limited land resources as well as contributing to weed suppression.
In addition to applied, on-farm research, the RARC project provides training in regenerative agriculture techniques. In 1994, farmers and agricultural technicians received training in composting, soil conservation, vegetable gardening, animal fattening, the integration of leguminous plants in cropping systems, agroforestry, natural resource management, and project administration. Women's participation in RARC activities continues to grow.
The Fourth Annual Farmers Conference, conducted in the Wolof language, is now a traditional event offering farmer representatives a forum at which to voice their opinion on a national scale as to the future direction of Senegalese agriculture. Thirty farmer leaders attended the 1994 Conference, including 11 women.
In 1994, the Senegal RARC produced another six editions of the French-language regenerative agriculture bulletin, Entre Nous. Readership of Entre Nous, primarily a West African audience, exceeded 700 in 1994.
Finally, the project's participatory monitoring and evaluation system is the focus of RARC leadership in building the capacity of NGOs to assess the impact of research and education on the well-being of Senegalese farmers. Moreover, the impact of the RARC has been such that the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture has begun to use the term "regenerative agriculture" openly as an expression of national alternatives to food production.
Entre Nous newsletter (French)