Community garden for women

Photo credit WVC 2000-07-02-Sorghum.jpg

During the rainy season the landowner occupies the field to plant Sorghum.  As the soil in the community garden (background) has been conditioned with TerraCottem in 1997 and the village women have since that year laboured the garden, sorghum production is significantly higher in the garden than in the surrounding fields.  See the 2-3 meter high sorghum in the background and the 50 cm high one in the foreground.


Community garden (Horticulture) in Burkina Faso

by Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

Together with my team of the Ghent University 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. 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 and fertilizer saving soil conditioner. A smaller part of the garden remained untreated (control plot).

Capacity building
Photo WVC 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, sun dried soil is broken to a depth of 20 cm, a very difficult job because of the small and simple tools.

Preparing garden 01
Photo WVC 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).

Photo 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.

Distribution TC 02
Photo WVC 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 rhythm with a traditional song.

1997-07-Preparing garden 03
Photo WVC 1997-07-Preparing garden 03: Women singing while doing the hard work

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.

1997-12-01-General view 01 copy
Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-01-General view 01 copy – 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.

1997-12-02-General view 02 copy
Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-02-General view 02 copy: The TC-treated garden was very productive and well kept (almost no weeds)

Each woman decided for herself what kind of vegetables to cultivate. Some produced tomatoes and potatoes, others onions and radishes, 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.

General view 04Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-04-General view 04: 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.

General view 07Photo WVC 1997-12-07: 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-Non-treated part
Photo WVC1997-12-Non-treated part of the community garden: Less production of vegetables, significantly poorer than the TC-treated part.


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.

Originally published at:

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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