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A Future Shaded by Trees

Mariama Ndao’s ancestors lived in a Senegal covered in lush green trees. Those trees channeled water back into the ground, providing organic materials such as fallen leaves and flowers as well as shaded areas that helped retain moisture while enriching the soil. Slash and burn farming and the clearing of trees for fences, homes, and fuel have blighted the landscape. Mariama’s Senegal is a land without trees, filled with empty fields and barren soil. It is also a land without water; in the past two decades Senegal’s water tables have fallen more than 60 feet. Indeed, just as trees need water, water needs trees.

The women in Mariama’s village now stand beside her, following her example.

Mariama had a vision, though. Thanks to a workshop conducted by our partner Trees for the Future, she looked around her village and saw a landscape restored to productivity through tree cover. She planted 800 thorny, fruit-bearing jujube trees around her two-acre plot of eroded farmland, knowing that someday they would become a living fence that provides protection from grazing animals. She knew that someday she would be able to selectively grow more lucrative crops in soil shaded and nourished by those trees. She knew that someday those trees would provide water to not only sustain the crops that would feed her five children and four grandchildren, but also provide security for her family.

“Danga dof (You’re crazy),” the women in Mariama’s village said as she carried over a dozen tubs of water a day the length of a football field to sustain her new trees. But water feeds trees, and as they grew she planted vegetables within her living fence. When a drought struck during her second year of forest gardening, the peanut farmers in her village suffered, but Mariana had no need to line up for bags of rice from relief organizations. She wasn’t crazy after all, and that year her drought-resistant pigeon peas fruited twice, providing her family with both food and an income.

The women in Mariama’s village now stand beside her, following her example. She has assisted over 20 other families in planting forest gardens, helping to ensure that future generations will live in a Senegal covered in trees, nurtured by water.