Organic Tanmirt

by Helena Rundquist

To plant seeds in Sahara and turn sand into soil

My mission as a volunteer with the Vilostrada Foundation was to see if it is possible to inspire more Nomads to start growing their own food, which also could mean better health, since their daily intake is a lot of white bread, tea with lots of sugar and couscous.

My idea was to start with a small pilot, simply and pedagogically. In a Nomad village, with four families and a tent school, we created mini green houses made by empty 5 liter plastic water bottles by cutting them in half lengthwise, one bottom part and a top part with a lid. We started by putting Sahara-gravel and goat manure at the bottom and soaked it with water. This created a water reservoir and added nutrition. We covered it all with sand and planted peas that had soaked overnight. Finally, we spread the finest of sand on top.

10 children participated and took one small green house back home. We also shared the information on how to take care of them with their parents. For example, to bring them inside the tents on cold evenings and to  water them and place them in the sun during the days. The peas will hopefully grow 30 cm and they can harvest them for a long time since new shoots will grow back. This tiny experiment, hopefully, will inspire to continue planting.

We also visited another Nomad family that all ready grows a few carrots in the sand. I shared the knowledge on how to fertilise by using camel, chicken and goat manure and this way get larger carrots. Even ashes from the fire and the golden water (men’s morning urine mixed with 10 times water) helps to increase the crop. They could also collect all green they can gather and make a compost. The Nomads have access to this all ready but do not use it. This time of year (February 2017), the ruccola blooms in fields in the Sahara and there is plentiful of feed for the goats, camel but also to compost. I tried to explain that if you cover the soil with green, the moisture will stay and fertilise and the soil’s humus will be increased. This way, they could turn sand into soil!

5 year old Mbark planted pees for the first time in his life. Hopefully, this crop will succeed so that they will be inspired to grow other types of vegetables than today. I showed them photos of my carrots in my own farm to show them what happens if the soil is fertilised. This, they really understood, I noticed.

Our next challenge, the family of Lahcen (23 years old) who left the desert and started agriculture professionally (since 15 years in the area close by the desert. The family are now  self sufficient with vegetables. This time of year (February), they grow carrots, onions, beets and watermelon. During the hot summer months, they grow henna since it is too hot for vegetables on a larger scale. The family only grows vegetables small scale for the household with no cover for the sun.

Today, they use “blåkorn” as a fertiliser, even if they have access to organic options. The soil was compact sand with drip irrigation with sturdy pumps and a water reservoir. I shared the advantages of organic farmed vegetables. Lahcen and his family farm on an area of 1 hektar. On the same area in Sweden, at #Skörsbo farm, we grew more than 50 different types of vegetables.

So if Lahcen and his family would change to organically grown vegetables, by fertilising as I earlier described, utilising a moisture tube, that decreases the water consumption by 70%, they would most likely be able to grow a lot more than they do today. If they put a timer on the irrigation, the chances of success would increase even more.

Instead of “blåkorn”/NPK that contains nitrogen, you would use “golden water” and all green you can find, growing beans that add nitrogen to the soil. You also add phosphorus that can be found in chicken manure and calcium you can get from ashes and lime.

The Vilostrada Foundation project Organic Tanmirt, #organictanmirt, offered the family to participate in our pilot project. We created a whatsapp group where we will be in touch and share knowledge. Lahcen offset land where he will start organic farming with seeds donated by Runåberg in Sweden. The seeds are organic and type A, not manipulated. My own experience with these seeds says that they have excellent germination, taste and nutrition.

During the last days of my stay before I went back to Spain, we started planting in Tanmirt Desert Camp. My idea is to create optimal conditions for this garden as an example for others to follow and visit. By using the ground cloth in the bottom so that the soil is not drained. My experience to grow in sand soil is that the humus drains away if you do not stop it with a cloth.

After, we created a soil by mixing crushed camel manure, mud, sand, compost and ashes. We placed a moisture tube connected to a water tank. In the next step, we planted seeds and covered the sand with a fiber cloth for protection during cooler nights but also to make sure that the condensed water stays in the ground.

Finally, we will fence the garden to protect it from camels and goats eating the crop but also to project it from the sand that blows frequently in the area that will suffocate the crop.  This first crop, we plan to be harvested before the hot summer season begins.

This is what I could contribute with this first time. I feel satisfied and grateful to have been given the opportunity to have been apart of making Sahara greener with the Tanmirt Expedition 2018. I humbly accept the challenge to get the people here to choose a change, to motivate them, awake curiosity to try something new.

I am grateful to the Vilostrada Foundation and Ahlén family for giving me the trust and possibility to be apart of the Nomad’s lives here in the Sahara. This positive, amazing family that I now have shared more than 2 weeks was filled with the family’s enthusiasm and has all been a team effort”. A big thank you to all – Victoria, Joakim, Lucas and not least Maj. You will always have a piece of my heart. Thank you for everything.

I am again so grateful to have lived this simple, uncomplicated life here in the desert. I will miss the stars and the warm embrace of the night sky all around me. The earth is round and that you can clearly see here.

I will miss the evenings by the fire, when Lucas and makes Berber tea the Nomad style, Brahim’s stories about Berber Nomad history and everyday life. Thank you Brahim for all.

Humbly, I realize again how little you really need to survive. The community among people, all that we have in common, even if you do not have a lot, is wonderful to be apart of. I always felt welcome, well received and seen by everyone I met with honesty, respect and courtesy. To only be who I am, face to face, touches my heart deep within.

I share the Vilostrada Foundation vision and happiness to support these last Nomads living in the Sahara so that they can stay where they want to be. They have lived their life in the same traditions for thousands of years. We need to respect their rights and choices to continue the life they have chosen.

Thank you all who supported my first journey and kickstarting these organic gardens!

Under the stars in Sahara,
Helena Rundquist

We welcome all feedback and follow the continuation of Organic Tanmirt by searching for the #organictanmirt on the social channels. If you would like to be apart of the team, please get in touch, mark the message #organictanmirt

You can also donate to the continued work in making Sahara greener and bringing new crops to the Nomads and the people in the desert regions. Each €50 kickstarts a garden. Mark your donation #organictanmirt

About the author: Victoria Ahlén

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