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Scientists roll out innovative system for producing vegetables

Posted by Lindy on September 9, 2010

Referred to as the African Market Garden, the new system will be implemented with about 7,000 small-scale farmers at 100 locations in Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal, with the aim of extending the success of 3,000 gardens already established in countries of the Sahel during recent years. Support for the expansion comes from the governments of Israel, Italy, Switzerland and the USA and from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, and various international foundations and NGOs.
“The African Market Garden combines efficient drip irrigation to save water, energy and labour with improved crop management to boost farmers’ vegetable yields and economic returns. The African Market Garden is a promising technology for smallholder farmers, which builds on a vegetable-growing tradition in the Sahel that dates back at least to colonial times,”

“In recent decades, the demand for fresh tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and other vegetables has grown dramatically, as a result of rapid population growth and urbanization, and this has given rise to vibrant local and regional markets. But traditional vegetable farming has proved unable to keep pace, partly because of inefficient use of water and other resources.”
The African Market Garden benefits women particularly, who handle much of the region’s vegetable production and marketing, raising their incomes and enhancing family nutrition in a region where vitamin A deficiency is widespread.
To irrigate a traditional vegetable garden of 500 square meters using the conventional system takes one man, lifting two watering cans at a time, about 4 hours a day or one woman, lifting only one watering can, about 8 hours a day, compared to just 10 minutes for drip irrigation. Using a solar-powered pump or other renewable energy source to provide water allows further savings and makes the system more sustainable. The new system uses water more efficiently which is necessary if the water table is not to drop and salt pans are not to develop.

In Benin, three women’s groups have managed communal market gardens successfully, producing vegetables year-round for the last 3 years. Each woman generates, on average, just over US$200 per year from a plot measuring just 120 square meters. The profits are twice those for traditional gardening, plus the nutritional benefits of having more vegetables in the family diet. Young girls are especially happy with the new system, because they no longer have to spend hours fetching water for irrigation.
Improved locally adapted varieties of okra, tomato and other vegetables resulting from their work are spreading rapidly in Niger and other countries of the Sahelian region. For the first time ever, markets in the nation’s capital, Niamey, were well supplied with vegetables, especially tomatoes, during the last rainy season. A new line derived from a local onion variety shows promise, yielding 60 tons per hectare, nearly twice as much as other varieties grown by farmers.
In a further effort to diversify farming in the Sahel, ICRISAT scientists are promoting vegetable intercropping with fruit trees. One especially suitable tree species is the Apple of the Sahel, or Pomme du Sahel in French (Ziziphus mauritania), whose apple-shaped fruit possesses ten times more vitamin C than apples and is also rich in iron, calcium, phosphorous and essential amino acids. Another is the Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera), whose leaves have seven times more vitamin C than oranges, four times more vitamin A than carrots, four times more calcium than milk (plus double the protein) and three times more potassium than bananas.
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