Together with my team of the University of Ghent and in cooperation with the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou, I have set up different development projects in Burkina Faso since 1988. Reforestation and creation of community gardens for women have been the main topics (see other postings).
In 1997, we started the application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC), as a project of the Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation (see the website http://www.tcdialogue.be). In the community garden for women of the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso), some 2500 square meter of the vegetable garden were treated with that water saving soil conditioner. A smaller part of the garden remained untreated (control plot).
1997-07 Capacity building in the garden : members of the local women’s association Gueswende got information about TC-application and its role (Photo Monique Van Endert 1997)
First labour phase : preparing the garden beds (1 m broad to make cultivation actions from both sides more easy). The hard, sundried soil is broken to a depth of 20 cm, a very difficult job because of the small and simple tools.
1997-07 Breaking the hard and dry soil was a very painfull job for every woman
Second phase : spreading the granular TC over the surface at the right rate (100 g TC per square meter equals 3 handfulls).
1997-07 Gueswende’s president showed the female members and some young men of the village how to distribute TC over the cultivation beds (Photo Monique Van Endert 1997)
As the application is really easy, all local women soon started to cover their garden beds with the white TC-granules.
1997-07 Every garden bed was treated with the optimal dosage of TC
Third phase : once the garden beds covered with TC, the women started mixing it with the soil by turning it over to a depth of 20 cm with their handmade digging hoes. They sustained their labour rythm with a traditional song.
1997-07 Singing women mix the TC with the soil
In December 1997, we visited this community garden of Niou again, accompanied by Luc VAN LOON, journalist of the Belgian FLAIR magazine, who wrote different articles on development cooperation in Burkina Faso. Nice pictures were taken by photographer Monique VAN ENDERT. The desertified poor garden was totally transformed into a lush green oasis, surrounded by some trees, e.g. Eucalyptus trees, acidifying the soil underneath.
1997-12 Five months after the start of the project, the community garden is like an oasis in the extremely dry area
Fourth phase : in this garden, each of 36 local women cultivated many beds with a number of vegetable species : tomato, cabbage, lettuce, onion, egg plant, raddish, red beet, potato etc. Some irrigation water was at hand in two garden wells and distributed with buckets. Thanks to the presence of the water stocking TC in the soil, only 50 % of the normal irrigation volume was needed to keep the garden beds in good condition, sufficiently humid to avoid hydric stress for the vegetables. Less irrigation needed, also means less labour and more time free for the family or other duties. Plant growth was remarkably good. With half of the irrigation water, production went up to the double.
1997-12 The TC-treated garden was very productive and well kept (almost no weeds)
Each women decided for herself what kind of vegetables to cultivate. Some produced tomatoes and potatoes, others onions and raddishes, cabbages and egg plants or juicy lettuce. What a pleasant feeling to see the splendour of this garden and to listen to the happy women, chatting around the wells.
1997-12 Garden beds in excellent condition, continuously moistened with the TC up to 20 cm deep
A community garden, where a large number of local women can work together, is also a daily meeting place to improve social contacts. Central point of such a garden is the well. Babies accompany their mother to the garden and stay in the shadow of the trees, where also mint tea is cooked.
1997-12 Watering the vegetables only takes half of the normal time (50 % irrigation is sufficient to keep the soil humid).
The importance of TC-application in horticulture was easily shown when comparing the vegetable production with that in the non-treated part of the garden. Significant differences in plant production were registered.
1997-12 Plant production in the non-treated garden was significantly poorer
Moreover, the women had to irrigate these untreated beds twice a day to keep the soil moistened. Only half of the production with a double volume of irrigation water ! Again a success story in the combat of desertification and the alleviation of poverty. Indeed, the women took a certain part of the vegetables to the local market, thus enhancing their annual income.