Only a few years ago, Cheikh Babou thought it was impossible to grow mango trees in his area. His village, Keur Ndiogou Ndiaye, is in the drought-plagued Thiès Region of Senegal, 100 kilometres inland from the coastal capital of Dakar.
Mr. Babou explains, “We were stressed by the lack of water in our area. We really wanted to grow fruit trees. But people said that mango trees could not survive in our region.”
There is a desperate lack of water in the village. But Mr. Babou has managed to raise mango seedlings and saplings, and produce mature trees. In fact, he sells about 1,000 mango trees every year for 500 to 600 Central African francs each [US$0.85-1.00].
To increase their chances of surviving, Mr. Babou plants his mango seedlings in the shade of a wild shrub known locally as nguiguiss. The shrubs protect the seedlings from sun, the dry winds known locally as the harmattan, and untethered browsing animals.
There is another bonus: the mango seedlings benefit from the moisture and nutrients in the soil around the shrubs. Mr. Babou explains: “Mangos planted near nguiguiss benefit from the organic matter left when the shrubs’ leaves fall to the ground and decay. The clumps of nguiguiss draw water to the surface so we don’t have to use extra water to irrigate the seedlings.”
Djibril Thiam is the coordinator of Promouvoir l’Expérimentation et l’Innovation Paysannes au Sahel, an organization that brings farmers, researchers, and NGOs together for mutual learning. Mr. Thiam says: “In 2007, this organization established that there is a beneficial relationship between mango trees and the nguiguiss bushes. We set up controlled experiments, and we are sure that [planting mango seedlings with nguiguiss] is a practical response to the changing climate.”
In May 2015, Mr. Babou presented his findings at a conference in Ouagadougou, designed to highlight innovations from West African farmers. At the conference, he challenged every farmer to plant trees in their fields. He focused on fruit trees in particular, because of their double benefit. Fruit trees help restore and maintain soil fertility and prevent erosion, and farmers benefit from eating and selling the fruit.