Micro-gardening is permitting soilless horticultural production in small urban spaces, and participate to the fight against food insecurity.
Dakar houses approximately 25% of the country’s population. Agricultural space is sparse, and proper food security is not provided. To provide Dakar inhabitants with alternative supply solutions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in collaboration with the government of Senegal, the Municipality of Dakar, and several NGOs launched the project for micro-gardening in 1999. Since then, the project has been re-launched several times. In 2004 the project was transferred to other cities in Senegal and Africa.
Micro-gardening technology permits soilless horticultural production in small urban spaces such as roofs, yards, or vacant areas. Before implantation in Dakar, the project had already been used to reduce poverty in Latin American and the Caribbean. The project provides families with food and allows them to sell the surplus for a small income. It generally targets environmental enhancement for fragile groups in societies by enabling inhabitants to produce food in urban situations.
The programme in Dakar was very successful: more than 4,000 families were trained. The harvests provided families with fresh vegetables, and a surplus to sell. The technique of micro-gardening does not require expensive material and intense training; it can be easily implemented and transferred to other environments.
This project was awarded the 'Dubai International Award for Best Practices' in 2008. Learn more about the award.
Background and objectives
The city of Dakar has been undergoing an enormous population increase for several decades. In 2011, the city had 2.77 million inhabitants over 550 square metres, i.e. about 25% of the total Senegal population. As a result, the city grew quickly in uncontrolled ways. Former agricultural land in the city surroundings was settled and soon became part of the city or suburbs. This reduction in agricultural space due to population pressure caused serious threats for fragile groups in society, who suffer from insufficient food supplies.
When Dakar micro-gardens project was introduced in 1999, it aimed at: reducing poverty through autonomous production of nutrition and generating income by selling surplus crop yields. A further intention of the project was to enhance sustainable development by recycling material and diversifying water management. Furthermore, it specifically sought to enable inhabitants to produce fresh vegetables and thereby contribute to improving food quality, to broaden income sources, and to provide fragile groups of society with access to agricultural activities. In its most recent re-launch from 2009, the programme focus lies, in expanding and consolidating beneficiary groups, diversifying vegetables produced in order to intensify vending and production, and enhancing commercialised activities by opening a shop for vending micro-garden products. Finally, the project aimed to establish an administrative unit in the Municipality of Dakar to be responsible for managing and implementing the programme. This last objective was adopted in order to enhance capacity building within city government and to secure sustainability in the programme after external funding ceases.
Before the program was launched, several preliminary actions had to be carried out. As a first measure, the organisation charged with executing the project, the Department of Horticulture Research Management and Agricultural Agency, part of Senegal Ministry of Agriculture, had to be trained. Agricultural technicians from the Horticultural Development Centre (CDH), responsible for training potential beneficiaries, were familiarised with establishing and operating new techniques. A Columbian technician who had experience in micro-gardening trained future technicians for the programme.
In a second step, the newly trained technicians passed their knowledge onto beneficiaries of the project. One beneficiary group was economic interest groups (EIG) composed of 12 individuals, who joined forces in order to be able to calculate at a higher commercial level. They were trained in several sessions. Trainees were selected with regard to their degree of poverty and their motivation to participate in the project. As their access to farming land and / or other income sources was limited, it was mostly women who applied to the project. Individuals or private institutions were trained free of charge but had to pay costs of materials. Agricultural technicians providing the training were paid by the project. Permanent project priorities contained further development of fixtures, buying and setting up input and equipment, constant production, compiling and maintaining a database, training technicians; trainers; and beneficiaries, and selecting new beneficiaries. Further actions included continuous research on substrates and possibilities of reducing production costs, marketing and promoting micro-garden products, monitoring and evaluating action, and a restoration workshop.
In 2001, the launch of a Special FAO Program for Food Security (SPFS) allowed extension of the micro-garden project; it was able to be transferred to other regional capital cities in Senegal. Subsequently in 2002, a workshop for regional technicians in the project from all over the country was held. In 2004 the project was launched again with the aim of consolidating the programme. This time FAO had withdrawn from its financing status and now only provided logistic support. Through cooperation between the City of Dakar, the City of Milan, and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the programme was financed until recent financing termination. Within this last programme period, a manual was compiled, capturing experience and technological insights to facilitate transferring the micro-garden programme to other countries.
By involving different categories of actors, the programme was able to achieve highly sustainable impacts on Dakar inhabitants, and establish an integrative network among several relevant governance actors within the country, such as elected officials from Dakar Municipality and other participating cities, regional offices, various divisions within local government, national administrative authorities such as the Ministry of Agriculture, agricultural research institutions such as the Horticultural Development Centre (CDH), NGOs and local groups such as EIGs, and other civil actors. When a special division for urban agriculture was created within the Dakar Municipality Department of Urban Development, in 2007 for the last phase of the project, efforts were made to reinforce sustainability of the project and the integrative nature of the network.
In 2008, the project won the Dubai Award given by the Municipality of Dubai for best practice projects in horticulture. The prize money was able to be invested for the last phase of the programme from 2009 to 2012.
Financing and resources
The first phase of the project was financed by the FAO with a fund of 250,000 USD. For the second phase, the FAO provided 802,704 USD between 2001 and 2002. From 2004 until 2006, 114,672 USD was provided. Additionally, the City of Milan supported the project to the amount of 250,000 USD. During the last period of the programme, the City of Milan again provided 450,000 USD; the Italian government contributed 250,000 USD. In 2008, the prize money from the Dubai Award provided about 44,000 USD. Regarding other resources, the programme also benefitted from local support. The project office was provided by Horticultural Development Centre (CDH) at the Senegal Institute of Agricultural Research, also comprising a laboratory and a reference garden site. Experts training technicians for the project were also provided by national government.
Results and impacts
Overall, the Dakar micro-garden programme reached over 4,000 families.
One main success factor of the programme is the high vegetable production achieved by micro-gardening. A survey in 2006 proved that one micro-garden can provide 6 cropping cycles per year and on average yield annually 30kg of vegetables per square metre. Families possessing micro-gardens consumed between 5 and 9 kg of vegetables per month, on average more than double that consumed by families not participating in the programme. Marketable crop yield surpluses generated also contributed significantly to income generation in participating families and thus strengthened their financial autonomy. From a socio-economic aspect, the programme achieved by its selection criteria to provide fragile and disadvantaged groups with access to income and nutrition sources.
Seen from the aspect of environmental protection, the programme also achieved very noteworthy results, such as the principle of recycling agricultural waste as a solid substrate, using old wood and other material for planting basins, and by resettling unused space; contributing to sustainable development by transformation and recycling.
A further result is the educational impact the programme generated by providing schools and colleges with access to micro-gardens. Last but not least, the program generated an important impact at the level of institutionalisation and integration. Several institutions from various levels of government (national, regional, local), non-governmental (NGOs), and private actors (EIGs, individuals) cooperated within the programme, and a new administrative unit within the city government was created.
Barriers and challenges
Within the implementation process, some constraints evolved regarding training and organising beneficiaries, their access to equipment, input, and produce marketing. First of all, the existence of only one reference garden site minimised capacities to train beneficiaries. External training implemented as a response to this constraint was cost intensive as technicians had to travel to respective districts. During cooperation with the City of Milan, this problem was able to be resolved to some extent through establishing local training and demonstration centres. Another problem was funding continuity which was interrupted several times due to change of donors and short running time for the respective project phases. This caused halt in activities and training each time a project phase ended and thereby delayed the process of diffusing micro-garden techniques. A hitherto non-evaluated solution was enhanced capacity building, training individuals to become technical trainers from within beneficiary groups. Other barriers are found in lack of production space, marketing micro-garden products and some technical and /or material constraints, such as durability in planting bins etc. What seems until now to be the greatest barrier and challenge to sustainable programme implementation is lack of local institutional infrastructure to maintain the programme in the absence of international support. Establishing a dedicated administrative unit within the national Ministry of Agriculture has not yet been evaluated.
Lessons learned and transferability
First of all, several lessons have been learned regarding employing the technique of micro-gardening and technical constraints, which were solved by further development. For example, optimising the planting process enabled frequency of yields to be raised, and consequently also revenue. By developing and intensifying partnerships with a broad scale of actors, the programme succeeded in improving and extending techniques in other areas and contexts, including in schools, where micro-gardening is supporting lessons, or in hospitals. Partnerships were able to be established with the American Peace Corps; Oxfam UK; Resource Centre for Social and Participative Emergence; LEGTA, Figeac, France; Pugnac Learning Centre, France; SOS Sahel International / Louga and the Association of Professors in Life and Earth Sciences. As for transferability in the programme, remarkable results were achieved: with Oxfam support, technicians from neighbouring countries such as Mali, Niger, and Mauretania were trained by Senegalese Agricultural Services’ technicians familiar with the techniques.
Transfer to other countries is still expected, as for example in the case of a project in Antananarivo, Madagascar. One remaining barrier to transferability in the programme is the high cost of chemical fertilisers which need to be imported from abroad and are sold by only one supplier in Dakar. The micro-garden programme is currently involved in research on other possible solutions and vending sources in other Senegal regional capitals.
- Manuel micro-jardins du Sénégal. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, December 2010.
Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2040f/i2040f00.pdf
- Project agenda of the last phase of the program :
PROGRAMME DE COOPERATION DECENTRALISEE FAO/ITALIE Document de Projet GDCP/SEN/002/ITA – Phase II. Official Document (2009).
- Ba, Awa and Ba, Ngouda (2007): Micro-gardens in Dakar. Published in: UA Magazine no. 19 - Stimulating Innovation in Urban Agriculture, December 2012.
- Dakar Micro-Jardins. Contexte et objectifs du projet. Ville de Dakar.
Retrieved from: http://188.8.131.52:8084/sites/default/files/depliant_mj.pdf
- City-to-city cooperation for urban and peri-urban horticulture. FAO Factsheet. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/greenercities/pdf/FS/UPH-FS-8.pdf
- Sposito, Tomaso (2010) : Agriculture urbaine et periurbaine pour la sécurité alimentaire en Afrique de l’ouest. Le cas des Micro-Jardins dans la Municipalité de Dakar. Doctoral Thesis, University of Milan, Agricultural Faculty.
Retrieved from: http://air.unimi.it/bitstream/2434/150156/4/phd_unimi_R07359.pdf