Eden Foundation

Eden Foundation

Founded 1985 in Sweden
Active in Tanout, Niger, since 1987

The environmentalists at Dalli

When Eden first started to work at Dalli, perennials were cut down or uprooted by local farmers. After the field station was fenced in perennials started to grow from seeds that Eden had direct seeded, from seeds that were already in the soil and from root systems of chopped down bushes of which some are now over 3 metres tall. By 1992 Moussa, the farmer to the east of the field station, had by his agricultural practices caused sand to cover Eden's fence to the depth of 80 cm in some places during the dry seasons when the prevailing wind comes from his direction. In the rainy seasons, when he is growing his millet the wind changes to the opposite direction so his field has progressively been protected by the perennials of the field station. In 1992, many farmers had to resow several times because the strong wind killed their seedlings. On the contrary, Moussa only had to resow the part of his field that was furthest away from the field station. In this way his millet grew taller and gave a higher yield than the others' millet. Moussa got a harvest of more than 130 baskets of millet, each containing about 60 kg. As he didn't have enough room in his granary he had to build two more. The farmers reported this to be the highest yield recorded this year within a 20 km radius of Dalli. By comparison the farmer on the opposite unprotected side of the field station only got 40 baskets.

The farmers at Dalli have credited Moussa's greater harvest to his protection from the field station, and are now saying that it is the wind that is their enemy. In this way the farmers' own observations of the field station/demonstration farm have convinced them to become environmentalists.

By direct seeding perennials the farmers will obtain more food even before the perennials are mature enough to produce a harvest. Around Dalli the size of a farm is related to how much a farmer can farm, as there is enough land. Farmers can work a larger area when intercropping perennials because once established they only demand work at harvest time which is often outside the millet growing season. Also by getting a greater yield per plant they decrease their work load.

Perennials add nutrients to the soil directly, but they also have an indirect effect. Presently soil nutrients are being lost as many farmers burn their fields in the dry season. This leads to the more nutritious top soil being blown away. Livestock then lose interest in this land as there is nothing left to graze, so there is very little nutrient input before sowing. If farmers intercrop perennials they will not burn their fields anymore, and the livestock will have a reason to enter the fields and thereby fertilise them.

In the millet growing period the farmers at Dalli keep their livestock tethered, but when it is over the animals are allowed to roam freely. At this stage the farmers don't see anything valuable left in their fields to protect. But when a farmer intercrop perennials there is an immediate effect. He then has something valuable to protect through the dry season when the environment is especially vulnerable. He sees the harm his livestock is doing to the environment, and will therefore either protect the perennials directly or herd his animals in order to protect the perennials.