Talking Education, Leadership, and Women’s Empowerment with Trees for the Future’s Newest Country Coordinator: Fatoumata Diedhiou
Fatoumata Diedhiou spends her days changing the literal and figurative landscape of Senegal, West Africa. As the Senegal Country Coordinator for Trees for the Future, Fatoumata orchestrates country-wide regenerative agriculture strategies, supervising 36 employees and 2,200 farmers participating in Trees for the Future’s Senegal Forest Garden projects.
“My main motivation is to see people’s lives changing day by day thanks to this project,” she says.
The 24-year-old was born and raised in a village in Thionck Essyl, Senegal where she says her personality and interests were molded by her time spent with family, namely, the time spent gardening with her mother. Fatoumata counts herself fortunate to have attended primary school, college, and university.
“Sociology has changed my life positively because with it I have discovered other new localities for community and social actions, so I can say that it is the thing that made me what I am today and also helped me understand rural communities,” Fatoumata says of her studies.
After meeting Trees for the Future Executive Director John Leary in 2007 (then he was working as a volunteer), Fatoumata went on to intern for Trees for the Future years later. In September 2017 she accepted a position with Trees for the Future as the Senegal Assistant Country Coordinator and in 2019 was promoted, becoming the youngest and first female Trees for the Future Country Coordinator.
Today, Fatoumata speaks passionately about the positive impacts Trees for the Future and agroforestry have had on her country, noting the considerable drop in hunger and poverty for program farmers.
“I never thought that trees could eradicate poverty to this point,” she says. “My main goal is to integrate all the villages that have land for agroforestry, to create mini-programs to help farmers be more financially independent thanks to agroforestry.”
As a country coordinator, Fatoumata is responsible for overseeing the country program budget, supervising and training technicians, and tracking each project’s progression. She recently oversaw the installation of hundreds of water systems on project farmers’ land and regularly works with women’s savings and loans groups in the region.
At just 24-years-old, Fatoumata is unique in that she holds a supervisory position as a young woman in a part of the world where women are often not given this opportunity. She recognizes the disadvantages Senegalese women face in the workforce, but she is more keen to focus on the power women do have and how she can help them achieve more.
“I believe in one thing. I believe women can all [accomplish anything] if they want to, so I encourage them to be more decisive in their work and believe that being a woman does not reduce the ability to change the world,” she says.
Each Forest Garden Project consists of 300 farmers, on average. Trees for the Future requires 30% of project participants to be women, but they typically exceed this number per project.
“The women farmers I work with are brave women, their commitment far exceeds that of men. Today, with the TREES project, women have gained a lot of respect from their husbands given that they are the ones who pay for their children’s schooling and help with household expenses through agroforestry.”
By promoting women’s sense of worth in the Forest Garden and in the family, Fatoumata believes a shift in gender norms is possible.
“Since the woman is the person closest to the youth, it is through her that we can instill agroforestry and entrepreneurship in the minds of children and youth and put an end to the rural exodus and poverty,” she says. “[Women] are often intimidated by men in the villages but little by little they free themselves from those grips.”
Although she is still settling into her new role, Fatoumata looks forward to what the future holds for herself, Trees for the Future, and all of the farmers that she will work with along the way.
“Trees for the future has transformed the lives of many farmers and has helped many young people in Senegal achieve their dreams,” she says. “I believe that with these types of international development projects, a lot of lives will change.”