Maybe it was a mirage in the desert. It did look enchantingly perfect: dozens of young, strong women filing through the gate soon after the other Léona fellows and I had arrived at the community garden plot. They were there to water onions and eggplants.
The field belongs to the Federation de Jeune Filles, a women’s group which Madeleine Balchan works with. Located two kilometers away, in the village of Gabane, the trip there makes a perfect walk or jog in the pleasant late afternoon sun. We GCY fellows often lend a hand in watering the plants, which we find relaxing, surrounded by uncommon greenery.
Senegal has a tropical climate with a four month rainy season from about mid-May to mid-September. That means lots of rain for a few months, followed by nada. Although there is plenty of sunshine year-round, a lack of water limits rain-dependent farmers to one yield per annum. In our region, the fields lie dormant for around six months per year. Furthermore, crop selection is generally limited to groundnut, cowpea, millet, hibiscus, and watermelon.
For the community garden, things are different: although Gabane is off the electrical grid, about ten square meters of solar panel powers an electric well. It is now possible to grow onions, cabbages, eggplants, okra, and sweet peppers, producing up to three harvests per year. A portion of the women’s crops are consumed by the producers and their families and the rest is sold at market. First, this increases micronutrient consumption (the lack thereof is major component of malnutrition1). Second, it creates incomes for the women. Along with horticulture training and commercialization of the garden-to-market process, women’s livelihoods and opportunities are expanded. The irrigation system was made possible by a capital investment by Millennium Villages Project.
As I walked back to my home in Leona that first day, I did not care to think about practical questions such as the financial sustainability of the well or the ecological capacity of the soil; I just saw everything as beautiful: the hopeful women, the well and solar panels, the verdant green. For this moment, everything looked enchantingly perfect, and I did not want it to look like anything else to me.
Within the MVP, the malnutrition rate among children under five is approximately 30%.