Women drawing water from a shallow well in the vegetable gardens. Credit: Geoff Sayer/ Oxfam
Women drawing water from a shallow well in the vegetable gardens

Mauritania: Vegetable gardens in the desert

“With Oxfam here in our community, I felt inspired to carry on the work they started and build our resilience to drought and water shortages”
Selika

Supporting community vegetable gardens is one of the ways that Oxfam responded to last year’s drought in Mauritania. “It feels as though we were blind before Oxfam came here and gave us sight.” says Salika, a beneficiary of the scheme.

Mauritania is not new to food crises; in the last few years it has suffered from drought and swarms of locusts that have ravaged people’s cereal harvests. It is a land where water is scarce and where people suffer from chronic poverty.

In its latest emergency response, Oxfam worked to make the connection between emergency food aid, and disaster preparedness. We supported communities to develop ‘fallbacks’ through the formation of Cereal Banks and by encouraging community-level vegetable gardens.

Oxfam support

After distributing emergency food rations in villages like Zagoura, Oxfam worked with the World Food Programme to set up Cereal Banks. These village-level grain stores ensure that the community has better control over the price of grain, and that they can manage stocks of food during difficult periods.

Vegetable gardens

Villages in Male Commune in Mauritania now have flourishing vegetable gardens thanks to the efforts of residents; supported by training, tools and seeds from Oxfam.

The produce from these gardens is providing variety and nutrients to the diet of villagers; much needed after the food crisis they endured in 2005. There are even enough vegetables to provide a small income, through their sale at local markets.

Training

Oxfam provided basic agricultural training to one woman from each village-level Women’s Cooperative, empowering them to train the other members in their communities.

One woman in Legourissi said, ‘’we didn’t know how to grow tomatoes or aubergines here. Following the training, we know which type of soil is likely to yield the best results. I know about planting seeds at the right distance, and I use clean water when I sow seeds. As a result our garden is much better than before”

The training covered the basics of tending soil, tilling and use of fertiliser and insecticide. This was supported by the provision of seeds and tools to the Women’s Cooperatives.

Selika’s story

Selika from Zagoura says “It feels as though we were blind before Oxfam came here and gave us sight.”

The severe scarcity of water in Zagoura in Male Commune, Mauritania did not deter Selika from being inspired by Oxfam’s community-garden project, to help herself and her family.

People here have a 20km journey by donkey to fetch water. Village development-committee president Selika was able to reduce the number of trips she made, and help keep the community garden irrigated, by building a pond.

Building a pond

Selika said: “In the dry season water is very scarce here. Fetching water is hard work. Without the pond, in the centre of the garden, the vegetables were at risk of not surviving the dry season. With Oxfam here in our community, I felt inspired to carry on the work they started and build our resilience to drought and water shortages.’’

Selika hired an engineer to advise on the construction of a small pond in the community garden to help tackle the dry-season water shortage. The pond is helping irrigate the community garden producing onions, cabbages, carrots, aubergines, and tomatoes.