For Senegal’s Migrants, Hope is Green
Young people in West Africa are leaving their homes in hopes of finding opportunity elsewhere, but a new program aims to make it possible for them to thrive at home.
“Nobody can understand how we feel as young Africans. We do not want to leave this continent but in the face of poverty we have no choice,” says one young man who lived as a migrant for seven years.
About the Program
Climate change and the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources has brought the region to an ecological imbalance, leading to a considerable decrease in food availability and purchasing power of farmers, ranchers and loggers. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its partners are mitigating these challenges with a new project: Reintegration and Climate Resilience – Towards an environmental dimension of reintegration assistance to reduce the pressure of climate change on migration in Africa from the West.
Funded by the government of France, the main objective of the project is to: “contribute to the mitigation of the negative effects of climate change on migration and to the reduction of forced migration outside regions exposed to harmful environmental changes in Africa in the West by involving returning migrants in income-generating activities contributing to climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development in these regions “This project aims to create opportunities” for green jobs ”for returning migrants in the Kolda region and to facilitate their sustainable reintegration.
Regenerative agroforestry nonprofit Trees for the Future (TREES) is an implementing partner on the project and is assisting in the resettlement of 30 Senegalese families. TREES works with thousands of farmers in Senegal, training them to use regenerative agroforestry and sustainable farming techniques known as the Forest Garden Approach to repair their land and their livelihoods. Even as farmers confront challenges brought on by climate change, TREES’ Forest Garden Approach has proven effective in lifting thousands of families out of hunger and poverty. Through the training provided by TREES, the group of returnees are succeeding in environmentally-friendly farming while achieving stable and sustainable incomes.
Finding Opportunity in Forest Gardening
The program does not just aim to get refugees home, it is built to provide each family with an opportunity to support themselves – an element that is often missing in resettlement programs which exacerbate the cycle of poverty, hunger, and migration. In partnering with nonprofit Trees for the Future (TREES), IOM resettled 30 Senegalese refugees interested in becoming Forest Garden farmers.
“I want my children to have the chance to live in Senegal, to grow up close to me,” said one beneficiary after first returning home in 2019. “If I can have the opportunity to feed my family through farming in my own country, what more can I ask for?”
In this pilot project with IOM, TREES worked with returnees to determine which farming activities they were interested in, while also paying attention to how to best structure this non-traditional approach within the constraints of the conservative elders of the village.
“At Trees for the Future, we firmly believe – and have proven – that revitalization efforts and new techniques can’t work without community interest and support. Resettlement initiatives miss the mark when they fail to listen to what the community needs,” explains TREES Director of Programs Brandy Lellou. “Our West Africa Regional Coordinator Mohamed Traore and many technicians worked with returnees through training workshops and TREES engaged a local professional to facilitate community focus groups and spend time discussing the issues, challenges, and constraints before making any lasting decisions, and the results speak for themselves.”
Forging Their Own Path
After assessing their options and going through a series of training and design workshops, the returnees decided to purchase a two hectare plot of land just outside their village. In addition to their community plot, each family established smaller market gardens inside their existing compounds.
Since returning home and working with TREES, the group of 30 Forest Garden farmers have been able to establish a well that now provides water to both the village and the Forest Garden.
“I was really touched to see the faces of the migrants when they saw the first drops of water in their gardens,” says West Africa Regional Coordinator Mohamed Traore. “It was a sign of hope and recognition of the work and guidance given by TREES.”
The group has also installed a secure fence around the Forest Garden to protect it from grazing animals. Less than a year into the program, the 30 Forest Garden farmers are collectively growing peppers, okra, onion, sorrel, eggplant, tomato, cabbage, green beans, and watermelon. Traore says the abundance of produce signaled something in the group.
“With the first market gardening crops, migrants begin to believe that a Forest Garden may be a second chance for them,” he says.
Harvests from each household garden provide food to their families and harvests from the community Forest Garden are sold at local markets and across the borders in nearby Gambia and Mali – contributing to significant earnings for each family.
“At first, I still felt reluctance in some people because they still wanted to leave,” says TREES Technician Sadio Sadio. “But in late February, after the first harvest each of them had about 35,000 CFA francs ($60 USD). You could see the satisfaction of these former migrants.”
“Even other young people in the village want to join the project,” says one former migrant. He explains that part of their TREES training has taught them to grow produce according to demand. “Bell pepper and bitter eggplant are very expensive in the summer in this area so there will be huge benefits. We already have customers waiting for our vegetables and fruit. It’s fantastic!”
“TREES is restoring the economy of our zone through the use of agroforestry,” says another returnee, noting that he wishes these practices had been available to his community sooner. “If TREES had arrived in our area earlier, there would not be so many deaths from irregular migration.”
Achieving Lasting Change
This project isn’t just providing growth and resilience on the farm, TREES staff say the focus groups have provided an avenue to explore opportunities for growth and resilience as a community as well. The focus group conversations have led to powerful conversations about environmental degradation and how past practices have contributed to deteriorating living conditions.
By collectively identifying natural resources, discussing their importance, listing obstacles for protection, and determining solutions; the group of farmers came to the agreement that these resources are vital to the future of their children and they are now developing a plan for protecting those resources through more sustainable practices.
“These insights were a powerful realization of the importance of community-level, multigenerational focus groups in identifying the connection between environmental degradation and loss of opportunities,” says Lellou.
Settling Into Home
As they approach their second year of the program, the group is building a tree nursery and will soon establish a living fence made up of thousands of fast-growing thorny trees that create a thick barrier around the Forest Garden. In addition to keeping grazing animals out, living fences also reduce wind and water erosion, they add to soil health through leaf litter, and they offer a supply of fuelwood and animal fodder. Once the living fence is established, the Forest Garden farmers will be able to remove the metal fence and use it to start another Forest Garden nearby.
With plenty of work and opportunity still ahead of them, the group of returnees say the doubt and fear that forced them to leave their home is ebbing away.
“I would not say that the desire to leave for young people has been erased, however, it has considerably diminished. In the coming months, none of us will want to leave, neither me or my friends,” says one beneficiary. “TREES gave me the opportunity to rebuild myself in my village and to have enough to feed my family. That’s all that drove me to leave.”
Watch this short documentary to learn more about Trees for the Future’s Forest Garden Approach. Donate to TREES today and support training efforts and resources like those needed in Madine-Touatt and around the developing world.