Since 2011 the Adunni Susanne Wenger Foundation in Nigeria, in Cooperation with the German NGO SONED Brandenburg e.V., built up the Environmental Education Centre called Permaculture Forest Garden at Gberefu Island, in Badagry, Lagos State. Beside the sustainability of the local environment, the project’s focus is on health care, food security, nonviolent communication and the support of democratic processes. Permaculture Forest Garden is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and The German Foundation Stiftung Nord-Süd-Brücken. The beneficiaries of the project are the inhabitants of the surrounding settlements, students, teachers, farmers and landowners from Badagry and Lagos.
Gberefu is part of the peninsular which separates the Lagoon of Lagos from the Atlantic along the Nigerian coast line. In the past the region was completely covered by rainforest, but due to the massive logging, slash-and-burn clearance and overgrazing, most of the original natural forest is gone. The topography of the area increases the problem of land transport — the closest bridge that crosses the lagoon is far away, and most of transport modes people use are canoes and small boats. The island is not connected to the public grid, so there is no electricity, no streets — just footpaths which are partially flooded during rainy season.
The northern borders towards the lagoon are very swampy and almost wild. To the south the land rises, and because of the sandy soils it is very dry. This area suffered massive deforestation. Vegetation was cut, burnt and overgrazed by cattle. It was so heavily eroded that only the hardiest plants could survive.
Lawal Adeosun and two partners live and work permanently in the camp. Last year their main goal was fencing the land with hedges from different trees and shrubs, stabilizing the eroded soils and the construction of the necessary buildings. They also built a tree nursery and the kitchen garden. They started seminars, involved neighbours and interested people in the projects and advised them on how to improve their own land.
To be able to live and work at the camp we built a small hut from wood and palm leaves. Then we started building the Multifunctional House, erected out of self-formed concrete blocks in order to protect materials and equipment from thieves and the weather. We gave it a grass roof and massive window shutters and a door from hard wood. This building is being used as an office, store for materials and tools and as a safe place for guests. In between the hut and the house we built the kitchen hut for a rocket stove and fire wood. The first hut was almost immediately attacked by termites and so we decided to build the seminar hut out of growing woods, which are well known for growing together fast. We build all this by ourselves, from time to time with the support of experts.
This year we finished the final design for the land use and zoning. We decided to give ourselves this time to be able to properly observe the land in the rainy and the dry season, so we could avoid a lot of design mistakes.
The public, central space around the seminar hall and the multifunctional house will be the only relatively open area. To protect the ground from further erosion and to stabilise the soil we planted native trees and shrubs very densely. Luckily we could use wonderful trees like Mango, Cashew, Coconut, Oil palm and Neem as pioneers supported by legumes like Guava and Acacia. In the future we will replace some of them with more precious or sensitive trees and plants. We also want to grow, beside fruits, trees suitable for firewood, construction materials and medical plants.
Around the seminar hut we built a little research farm. The soil here is poor and dry and in the rainy season is temporary flooded. These extreme conditions apply to most of the available farmland in the area and we are working to find solutions to these challenging conditions in order to share them with our neighbours.
The western part of the camp is much more fertile because of the slope towards the lagoon. Here we will establish a food forest which, following the example of natural forests, provide habitat for various plant communities that support each other. We could plant already more delicate or exotic trees like date palm, star fruit, pomegranate and avocado, which grow well under the protection of the existing pioneers and legumes.
Around the living and working spaces we established our kitchen garden. The vegetables, lettuce and herbs of daily use which need most care and daily watering in the dry season grow in this corner. Even the most delicate medicinal plants we introduced here. Raised beds, which are able to store and provide enough water and nutrients, enable us to harvest from this formerly bare sand.
A water garden and farm with crops that need permanent moisture is developing in the northern part of the land. The tree nursery is located here. In 2011 we grew more than 300 fruit trees. We planted them in 2012 on our land and also at the farms of our cooperating neighbours.
The south eastern part of our land is most affected by erosion through water runoff and overgrazing. We dig many swales and planted them densely with pioneers and legumes. In this corner livestock like chickens and rabbits will find a home and their composted dung will help to improve soil quality.
In the first year we lost many of our young trees because cattle herds were constantly breaking our fences. After many fruitless meetings with the owners, we lost patience and decided to catch and hold one cow at the camp. We were actually not aware that we started a public debate in the community. After five days we returned the cow, in perfect condition, so as to win the respect of the cattle farmers. According to local law we would be allowed to keep and even kill the cow. Many smallholders had already given up farming a long time ago due to this well known problem. Today, in our part of the island, cattle are monitored by herdsman and tied overnight. Now many farmers are encouraged to start working their land again.
Another conflict arises out of the decision to protect the land belt in between the lagoon and the camp and declare it Zone 5. Here the vegetation is lush and provides habitat for a lot of wildlife, including monkeys, monitor lizards and alligators. But those are even coveted prey for the local hunters. Everybody knows that monkeys are very intelligent, and so after a short period we had up to five big males with their families spending the night with us in the safety of the camp. Frequently armed hunters intruded the sanctuary at night times. Up to now we were always able to send them back. Just once it ended up with a physical confrontation. The food situation in our region is critical and some people seem to depend on this extra protein and so this conflict is not tackled so easy. It will take more discussions and alternative protein sources, like livestock or mushrooms, to find a way which is satisfactory for everybody.
The supply of electrical power and clean water are the next challenges we have to face. We started the project with a used solar system. Today it is only able to supply two energy saving bulbs. To be able to charge the telephones and the laptop we have to go to Badagry, which is a great loss of time and money.
The water of the wells around us is not safe and infections like Typhus are very common. We dug a little pond which provides the water we need for the plants. The lagoon is polluted with the unfiltered sewage of Badagry and Lagos. Because the groundwater and even the water from the lagoon enter the pond we cannot use it for drinking, washing or personal hygiene.
We would like to equip the camp with a solar system that will give us the possibility to run an independent, energy sufficient office and to pump fresh water. So we call for people willing and able to support us with donations in money or material equipment.
Contact: forestgardennigeria (at) rocketmail.com or andrea (at) soned.de
GLS Bank donation account: SONED Brandenburg, keyword: Forest Garden
BLZ 430 609 67 bank account 11 038 66 100
For donations from within EU/out EU:
Paper form: DE 73 4306 0967 1103 8661 00