In 2015, Barbara Hachipuka Banda, the founder of the Natural Agriculture Development Program Zambia, was introduced to the Sandele Foundation in Kartong in the Gambia. The Sandele Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Center, which was started by a British couple, Geri Mitchell and Maurice Phillips. The Foundation focuses on promoting eco-villages and community development along the Atlantic coast of south Gambia and southern Senegal. As part of their work, they encourage farmers to practice organic agriculture using permaculture principles.
The Natural Agriculture Development Program Zambia started a pilot project with the Sandele Foundation to introduce Natural Agriculture to eight villages, which were already practicing agriculture. They will be examining the environmental, economic, social and health benefits of Natural Agriculture and the potential to expand. Overall, there are 11 communities working with the Foundation.
The pilot project has helped to organize the communities into a farming cooperative structure and creating a standard approach to agriculture that will be Natural Agriculture. At the start of the Natural Agriculture training program, 200 women in Kartong and 300 women in Sambouya had already registered.
Simon Gibba, project coordinator, says, “It’s the first time we are seeing the women being organized in this way and they were motivated by the economic incentives of being able to get more by putting in less and not having to rely on store-bought seeds and fertilizers.”
The partnership is an opportunity for the communities to benefit economically by growing food that is chemical-free. The goal is to ensure that value chains are established to support the economic viability of the project. The 3rd phase of the project is to develop a value chain system that connects the cooperative with businesses including local hotels and supermarkets, to supply local produce that has been grown sustainably without the use of chemicals or pesticides.
In addition to the Natural Agriculture project, the Sandele Foundation is working with the community heads and various stakeholders to transition the villages into the eco-villages by looking at the economic, social, cultural and ecological dimensions of community life. They hold Eco-village Design Education (EDE) courses to create a critical mass of people in communities who become ‘Eco-Champions’ and work together as a team to design the future for their village.
During the 4-week EDE program, participants learn about planetary health, climate change, mitigation and adaptation, permaculture, cultural values, sustainable economies and food systems. In addition to the farming project, they are also learn skills on how to create small-scale business enterprises such as soap making, tea, oil processing, etc. Overall, the program is designed to improve livelihoods and community resilience in this coastal region of the Gambia.