When we visited the the Baddibu project in Februar 2020, we were very impressed by how professional the gardens were planted… shortly after the solar pump broke down.
The solar pump has been in operation since 2013 and we were prepared that it would break soon, because the lifespan of such a solar pump is about five years. They had saved enough money – over 300.000 Dalasi, the equivalent of about 5.500 euros, were in the account of the village community. We knew that. Without that knowledge, we would have not have stepped out of the project.
Our goal as Sabab Lou is to set up the projects in such an entrepreneurial way, that they are able to finance themselves after a few years and that the communities manage to maintain the increase in revenue also after the Foundation exits the project.
Despite the existing savings, we assumed that we would at least have to support in organizing the replacement of the pump. But not even that was necessary. Mbelly, chairman of the Village Development Committee, sent us a video of the new pump on May 11th. Everything had already been organized. Pump breaks, they call the engineer, discuss all measures, place the order, supervise the replacement – done. Within two days the village and garden had water again.
It was a great moment not only for us, but also for the families in Dutabullu. The fact that the money, which had been collected continuously and without exception for years, was enough to pay for the new solar pump and thus maintain their source of income, astonished them and reinforced their determination to continue implementing the project measures.
The other village, Jumansar, with 1.000 inhabitants, will also have to buy a new solar pump in the near future. And just like Dutabullu, they also saved enough money to pay for it. We are certain that the residents of Jumansar, perhaps with the kind support of Mbelly, will also manage to organize the exchange entirely without our help.
They don’t need us anymore. They don’t even need our partner, the Rural Development Organization anymore. This for us is a huge success – and time for us to exit the project.
The gardens are blooming
Their financial independence is not the only thing, that makes us happy. What the families achieve in the gardens is remarkable. The gardeners of Dutabullu and Jumansar were able to increase their annual income from 100 euros in 2017 to around 300 euros in 2018 and maintain the higher revenue in 2019. They had learned how with a planned, year round cultivation and a healthy, fertilized soil, their yield would increase.
Of course they also suffered from pest infestation, of course it was difficult to counter the drop in prices in the high season through countercyclical planting, of course it required courage to rethink and grow vegetables and lettuce all year round. But the gardeners of Dutabullu and Jumansar have developed into highly qualified professionals.
The competition doesn’t rest
Mbelly and his community know that they cannot rest on their laurels. Other aid organizations also set up solar-operated pumping systems in the Baddibu region and enable other communities to grow vegetables in the dry season. Unfortunately, the pumps are often installed as gifts, without the requirement to build up savings. This is not sustainable, it keeps the villagers in dependence. But either way, no matter what we think of the other projects, the competition on the market is increasing.
The families from Jumansar and Dutabullu always strive to be one step ahead and to develop niches, such as growing lettuce in extreme heat and growing tomatoes in the rainy season. However, there is no simple guarantee of success. They have to continue to critically examine their own cultivation habits, closely observe consumer habits and changes on the market, European imports cannot be ignored either. But the gardeners in Dutabullu and Jumansar are attentive, prudent and creative enough to face these challenges.
The Rural Development Organization will remain a point of contact for Dutabullu and Jumansar and also we, as Sabab Lou, won’t just disappear. The women and men from both villages have repeatedly expressed their wish for further training in the past year. So whenever we conduct special trainings in the Gambian Youth Project, we will of course also invite representatives of the garden committees from Jumansar and Dutabullu.
And when the next pump arrives in Jumansar, we will hopefully be there to celebrate with them.