It is amazing how much a diverse diet can lead to improved health and enhanced quality of life. Fruits and vegetables make up some of the main staples to a healthy diet. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to fresh produce. In rural Senegal, climate change, resulting in decreased rainfall, droughts and desertification has restricted water access further for irrigation and food production. With less cultivation area and time, rural families concentrate more on cash crop cultivation rather than food crops to sustain them economically.
This has led to Senegal being a net importer of food crops. For poor rural households, this limits their ability to consume nutritious food, which has impacted food security, nutrition and dietary diversity adversely. The World Food Program estimated that 17% of people in Senegal are food insecure. Micronutrient deficiencies are also alarmingly high with 66% of children under 5 years and 54% of women of reproductive age being anemic.
At CREATE!, we are working directly with women in rural Senegal to reduce these numbers and increase dietary diversity and overall nutrition. Through community gardens, women in rural Senegal are growing a variety of vegetables all year-round. In a place that is dry for nine months out of the year, sustaining a community garden year-round has brought hope and numerous positive changes to people’s livelihoods.
Meet Anta Baba Kane
Anta Baba Kane is a mother supporting a family of eight in the community of Thienaba. As a widow, the weight of the needs of her family rests on her shoulders alone. “We used to consume vegetables very rarely because it was expensive and the market was far,” Anta tells us. She describes how when she had the resources, she would buy vegetables in the Gossas market over five miles away. Anta never imagined that one day she would be running her own market out of Thienaba.
Through training lead by CREATE!’s technicians, Anta and other participants in Thienaba developed their first year-round community garden! Each week, cooperative members would attend weekly training sessions in advanced agricultural techniques, including organic composting, transplanting, and planning for future garden activities. “Since we started growing vegetables in the garden, we’ve become healthier because they are natural,” Anta describes. CREATE!’s technicians make sure to teach participants how to grow produce that is popular in the local diet. This includes tomatoes, onions, peppers, okra, eggplant, lettuce, mint, and more.
Not only are families eating a healthy quantity of vegetables now, but they are organic too! Thienaba uses natural pesticides in their gardens which have been known to increase the shelf life of their vegetables, another benefit to organic agriculture. “My children like the vegetables we grow in the garden,” Anta smiles, “and I like cooking ceebu jen for them!” Ceebu jen is a traditional Senegalese dish made with rice, fish, and vegetables.
Taking the Lead in Her Community
Recently, Anta became the new Community Garden president. “I lead a motivated group,” she explains. “I always encourage them to keep working because with CREATE!, we have sustainable development.” As the Community Garden president, Anta is in charge of leading the garden activities and planning all year round. “Since we have the community garden, I have started a small market in Thienaba where we sell the vegetables we grow,” Anta says. After harvesting produce and making sure that their families have more than enough, women in Thienaba will sell the excess vegetables to neighboring villages. This way, more villages have easy access to a variety of nutritious vegetables. If not for Thienaba’s market, many people would need to travel miles just to purchase produce.
Moving Forward During a Global Pandemic
While many of the larger markets shut down at the beginning of the pandemic this year, smaller markets like Anta’s in Thienaba remained open. While implementing COVID-19 safety measures, Anta’s community garden group continued to produce enough food to sustain themselves and their neighbors. Anta’s leadership in Thienaba is truly inspiring, her children look up to an amazing mother and a tenacious president.
We hope to spread this kind of success to more communities throughout rural Senegal. This fall, help two more rural communities in Senegal gain access to clean water and improved food security. Learn more here.