The small community of Hamdallaye Alpha has big plans. Since June, Tostan’s Peace and Security team based in Dakar, Senegal has been hearing amazing things about this isolated yet dynamic community on the Senegal-Gambia border. This community recently acquired land so they could plant 200 cashew trees, and with Tostan’s assistance they were able to acquire saplings and bamboo fences from the local government forestry department.

The community of Hamdallaye Alpha (population 530) is one of 60 communities in Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau that are participating in Tostan’s Peace and Security Project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). This project aims to contribute to peace and security in West Africa by ensuring that local communities are engaged in regional peace initiatives and promote peace and security within and between their social networks.

This includes human security – a concept that deals with the empowerment of individuals and communities in the present as well as the implementation of measures that can prevent future challenges. For example, by addressing environmental security – an element of human security – through reforestation, a community like Hamdallaye Alpha can ensure future food security and economic empowerment.

I traveled with the Peace and Security team to this village to learn how their tree planting initiative came about. Upon arrival I spoke with Penda Diallo, coordinator of the 17-member Community Management Committee (CMC) set up when Hamdallaye Alpha began their participation in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in 2009. She told me that after the additional Peace and Security Module of the CEP ended on July 31st of this year the CMC decided upon an action plan. Their first priorities were to fix potholes in the roads and to improve the environmental and economic security of the community by planting 200 cashew trees. A local community member, Dalla Diallo, heard about the plan and donated one hectare of his land to the community without any conditions.

Next, the CMC went to the local water and forestry department to ask for tree saplings but were told that they had stopped providing trees to communities seven years earlier because previous reforestation efforts had failed due to illegal logging and damage by local livestock.

It was then that the CMC approached Tostan facilitator Samba Téning Coulibaly, who taught the Peace and Security Module in the community. The dynamic facilitator organized a partnership between the local forestry department, the community, and Tostan. The forestry department would provide the trees and instructions on how to maintain them on the condition that the community would come up with a detailed plan to protect them. Tostan’s role was to facilitate press coverage during the tree planting event and to provide the bamboo mesh needed to protect the trees from hungry goats and cows.  

Penda, the CMC coordinator, explained that the community will take the tree maintenance very seriously. The CMC decided that each member would be in charge of a certain number of trees and would be tasked with watering them during the long dry season and spraying them with insecticide. She hopes that they will be producing fruit in three years’ time. The profits from the sale of cashews will be used to purchase a cereal mill for the whole village’s use and a chicken coop and chickens.

Many community members participated in the tree planting event held on September 8th by measuring distances and digging holes for trees. A forestry department official generously donated his time on his day off to carefully explain how to properly plant and maintain the trees. The women danced and sang and the local media was there to capture all of the excitement.

During the event, the people of Hamdallaye Alpha shared the story of their achievements, serving as an example of what a dynamic community can do. They know that this is only the beginning and don’t plan on resting on their laurels. The community intends to plant a field of mango trees next and to build an elementary school so that their children no longer have to cross the border to The Gambia to attend school. They also asked to host an intervillage meeting to share with neighbors what they have learned. I have no doubt that, with time and effort, the community can achieve all of their goals.

Story by Alex Dunkel, Tostan