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Senegal: Micro-gardens improve food security in Dakar

Wearing a cap, green blouse, and transparent goggles, Coumba Diop has the air of a scientific expert preoccupied with work in a laboratory. But the 55-year-old doesn’t work in a lab. In fact, she manages a micro-garden in Dakar, which is designed to improve her family’s food security.

Mrs. Diop is one of the first women to benefit from a 2004 training in micro-gardening conducted by the city of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Since 2011, she has managed a micro-garden, just the twelfth of its kind in the city.

Micro-gardens are a great solution for farmers who have only a small space to grow vegetables, and typically involve planting in boxes on tables rather than in large fields. They are perfect for growing vegetables in urban areas.

In her micro-garden, Mrs. Diop grows vegetables in plastic bottles, boxes, and other recycled materials, placed on wooden shelves. She grows lettuce, potato, mint, leek, parsley, spinach, celery, tomatoes, and many others. She also breeds chickens. She says, “I love this work so much. This is my passion.”

Mrs. Diop has also built a greenhouse on a 1,000-square metre plot. Here, she cultivates her most valuable plants: cabbages, strawberries, celery, and pineapple.

She explains, “Here, it’s like a laboratory…. Mice or bacteria do not enter. I take care of this place like my house…. For quality vegetables, you need a clean environment.”

Cleanliness is crucial for Mrs. Diop. It is also important for her to check the plants regularly to make sure they are well-watered and free from disease, particularly during the winter, when frequent rains can destroy crops. That is why she works an average of six hours a day, from Monday to Saturday.

She produces her own composted manure. It’s a mixture of dead leaves, horse manure, ash,  red earthworms, groundnut shells, and rice husks. Once it’s ready, Mrs. Diop uses some for her vegetables and sells the rest to other gardeners, many of whom she has trained.

Mrs. Diop is one of 10,000 people who have been trained in micro-gardening over the past 12 years. The former accountant is now a trainer and an activist for micro-gardening, and travels to share her expertise at agricultural fairs.

She also sells chickens, eggs, and vegetables to loyal customers looking for organic products, although much of her product ends up on her own table. She says: “I do not do this job to make money, because there is not much urban space to cultivate. But I gain in quality. I eat what I produce, and moreover I know what I eat. Also, I am following my passion and that is fortunate.”

Mrs. Diop also saves money through her enterprise. She explains: “Look, if I had to spend 5,000 FCFA [$8 US] a day to buy something to prepare for my family, I would only go out half as often. But [now] I take a good part of the ingredients from my garden. And when we know how much the vegetables cost in our market, which are filled with chemicals, then yes, it’s worth it to make my garden.”