Permaculture training in West Africa

By Andrea Minchio and Pietro Venezia 

In November 2018, we carried out an exploratory visit to Gambia with CIM Onlus, a cooperative we’re a part of that founded “CIM Gambia” in February 2018 together with an association of Gambians returning from Libya and the National Youth and Associates for Food Security. On this trip, we met the group of young people who made up the “Gambia Returnees From Backway” association, made up of around 210 young women and men who had returned to their homeland after trying to reach Europe.

For many of them, migration consisted of crossing the desert and a long stay in Libya, where they were subjected to labor exploitation, imprisonment, torture and both physical and psychological violence. Once they returned, however, they were victims of marginalization and social stigma because of what communities saw as their “migratory failure”. They therefore created an association with the aim of informing other young people about the consequences of irregular migration and creating income-generating activities for young people, especially related to agriculture.

In 2019, the Gambian government granted the association a piece of land in the North-Bank, where the members began to create a farm, selling the products of a small veggie garden. Thanks to the funds made available by IOM (International Organization for Migration), the members later received training in chicken farming and funds for the construction of 2 chicken coops of 400 square meters each and for the production of about 3,000 chickens.

In the summer of 2022, we had the opportunity to carry out training at the North-Bank farm within the framework of the “Trajectories project”, of which CIM is a partner, financed by the “FAMI Fund” and which aims to promote information relating to regular entry and the improvement of the skills of foreign citizens interested in working and living in Italy.

During this period of training we assessed that the structures and the poultry farm were oversized for the technical capabilities of the farmers and the geomorphological characteristics of the land. This led to the failure of the poultry farm project. This failure resulted in psycho-emotional damage to the community and a step back for the economic viability of the association.

Andrea and Pietro teaching permaculture.
Final design of the farm.

Having analyzed the needs and wants of the young farmers, we came to the conclusion that the best way to proceed was to train them in permaculture to redesign the systems such as laying hens’ breeding, market garden, orchard, nursery production, rainwater harvesting, improvement of living conditions and rural hospitality.

The importance of the work done was to restore confidence in the young farmers and to plan together, on the basis of their wants and needs, the future of their association.
The students also understood – on the basis of the “Design from patterns to details” principle – how to organize a complex project by dividing it into smaller systems for which the possibilities of getting funds to develop them are easier. The functioning of the project will allow the farmers to live in dignity without having to emigrate and will provide useful tools to the local population as an alternative to emigration.

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