Farmers Are Creating Circular Gardens in the Sahara Desert. Here’s Why

They look a lot like crop circles.
Derya Ozdemir
Representative image of a circular garden.Aufwind-Luftblider/iStock

Senegalese farmers are on their way to building their own Great Wall -- but theirs will come with a twist. It will be completely green.

If you were to fly over the town of Boki Diawe, in northeast Senegal, the sight of newly sowed seeds in carefully planned circular gardens that look like the unblinking eye of the desert would surely catch your attention.

The gardens, known locally as tolou keur, are the most recent incarnation of The Great Green Wall project. They were designed by Aly Ndiaye, a Senegalese agricultural engineer who couldn't leave Senegal when the borders were closed.

The initiative, which was launched in 2007 by the African Union with support from the European Union, the World Bank, and the United Nations, was originally intended to help prevent desertification by stifling the Sahara as it moved south. The plan was to plant a belt of trees 10 miles wide and 4,350 miles long across the Sahel region, from Senegal to Djibouti. 

Farmers Are Creating Circular Gardens in the Sahara Desert. Here’s Why
Source: Great Green Wall

However, the program ran into a number of problems, including the difficulty of planting trees in the parched savanna and the lack of funding. According to UN estimates cited by Reuters, the overall program has only managed to plant 4% of the pledged 100 million hectares of trees, and completing it by 2030 as intended might cost up to $43 billion.

The circular garden represents a new, more localized approach to the Green Wall project.

Circular trees to halt the desert

Plants and trees resistant to hot, dry climes, such as papaya and mango, can be found in the gardens, and one of the inner curving rows is even dedicated to medicinal plants. Three months following the completion of a garden, its agents begin a two-year series of monthly inspections to check progress. 

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But, you might wonder, why are they planted in a circular pattern. The reason for that is circular beds allow roots to grow inwards. This traps liquids and bacteria and enhances water retention and composting.

According to Senegal's reforestation agency, the 'Tolou Keur' gardens, which were apparently partly a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and number roughly two dozen today, have thrived since the project began seven months ago. When Senegal had to shut its border to the coronavirus, the villages had to become more self-sufficient since many were dependant on foreign food and medicines. So the project was born.

Organizers hope that hundreds of such gardens will be built as part of the project, which will increase food security, reduce regional desertification, and engage thousands of community workers. 

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