“Farming is the future of Africa.”
It’s a hot August day in the small, rural village of Kebemer, in northwest Senegal. A group of Senegalese and international farmers have gathered together for a first-of-its kind conference, Regenerate Senegal, to address the challenges facing desert farming.
Speaking to the participants is Senegal native and Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng. Having grown up in Kebemer, he knows first-hand the struggles facing these farmers and is passionate about finding long-term solutions that will strengthen Senegal’s families and the country as a whole.
“If you look at Africa, about 60% of the land hasn’t been used. And I believe farming is the future of Africa. I don’t believe it’s oil or gas. I think it has to do with farming. Good farming.”
This shared sentiment brought together nearly 50 farmers and five presenters from six countries for the Regenerate Senegal Conference, an interactive farm symposium hosted by MATTER in collaboration with the Gorgui Dieng Foundation, Terra Ingredients and Southwoods EcoSystems.
Farming in Senegal, like other countries in the Sahel region of Africa, presents unique challenges. Overgrazing of animals and deforestation has left large areas without vegetation, and susceptible to erosion and desertification. Poor soil quality and irregular rainfall limit crop selection and produce inconsistent yields. Because of these harsh conditions, the majority of farmers are unable to do little more than subsistence farming, leaving families struggling and Senegal dependent on importing food to feed its people.
In addressing these challenges, many of the presentations and much of the discussions centered around three main topics:
- The importance and benefits of tree planting
- Mulching and covering the ground to keep it cool for crop production
- Co-op models and the benefits of working together as a group in selling to markets and creating value-added products
Held at the innovative Gorgui Dieng Center for Agricultural Excellence, a working agricultural laboratory, farmers had the opportunity to experiment and test new practices, seeing for themselves the benefits of employing new strategies on their farms.
The response from both farmers and presenters was overwhelmingly positive. Many participants expressed their appreciation, noting that no one had ever come to their village before to teach them better farming practices. A common refrain heard afterward was “Please come back and let’s do this again!”
Jeff Johnson with Terra Ingredients, one of the nation’s leading suppliers of whole organic ingredients for feed and consumer products, was impressed with how well the Regenerate Senegal Conference was received and the enthusiasm of the farmers.
“In some ways, the conference is still going on. There is continuing dialogue online among the farmers and with the instructors. This new community of like-minded farmers will grow as they share their knowledge and experience with other farmers in their communities. The conference had an immediate and positive impact, and the potential for long-term, lasting success is huge. Terra is committed to supporting organizations such as MATTER with the goal of improving sustainable farming throughout the world.”
With the continued support from our partners and sponsors, MATTER is eager to expand these conferences to other regions struggling with unique farming challenges. Together, we can provide communities with the tools and training to grow nutritious food to feed families and improve health outcomes around the world.
Read more about MATTER’s innovative Agriculture Programs.