The “Ecole Pratique d’Agriculture Liweitari”, or EPAL, is a subproject of the professional training CFL in the North of Benin. The biological agriculture school EPAL was established in 2018 by the founder of the CFL, the Swiss Heinrich Roth, in order to render a balanced diet available for all and to save existing water resources despite a fast growing population facing the difficulties climate change brings with it. Thus, the programme is more than just a training. It serves to save the basis of human living
Improvement of nutrition
The training at EPAL aims to improve the production of food all over the country. To this, in addition to the biological agricultre, also the protection of forests and the levelling up of the water table are important to us. The ecological cultivation of plants spares natural resources and increases crop yields. Moreover, by carrying out different measures for renaturisation on a site of 60 ha, 3 kilometres from the CFL, the supply in drinking water is to be ensured.
The work of the EPAL began in 2018 with several training of 3-4 days, carried out during a few months in various villages. Even today, in addition to the 18-months training, such trainings are still offered. By doing so, as large a public as possible should be covered to rapidly improve the food production and to anchor the importance of saving natural resources deeply in the conscience of society.
Research is pivotal at EPAL. By considering the newest scientifical results, the field next to the CFL is primarily used to perform experiments with parasite resistant plants and new sorts on small plots. Biological, self-made pesticides are tested, too. The results of the cultivation is strictly observed and noted and all the knew learnings are respected in planning and conducting following cultures. Thus, the sorts of plants and the period of cultivation are constantly optimized.
Conservation and use of food stuffs
That the population is provided with enough food all throughout the year, even in times of crises, EPAL attaches high importance to food conservation. The trainees are taught different ways to conservate food. The EPAL itself produces juice and jam out of yielded fruits. Furthermore, fruit slices are dried. Parts of the products are sold at the market. However, in general most of the agricultural plants, especially basic food such as corn, rice and vegetables are used in the CFL kitchen. To cultivate those food, it is mainly used the area of 60 hectares at a distance about 3 kilometres from the principal area, where also the renaturation project (see below) takes plac. As a goal, the CFL should be able the completely cover its own demand for nutrition withoutg needing to buy additional food from external sources.
The EPAL as a part of the CFL trains young people (the majority of the apprentices is between 16 and 25) in biological agriculture. In addition to the ecological cultivation of useful plants, food conservation takes an important role in the training. Moreover, trainings of 3-4 days in villages are concucted from time to time. The first year of the training of 18 months started in October 2019.
Using the principles of the programme “Farming God’s Way”, the apprentices are shown how to increase crop yields and retain the soil’s fertility using ecological methods. Being consistent in applying those methods, the harvest volume will be increased significantly as well as a massive improvement in soil fertility in the long term. There are no chemical fertilizers used, but only pure natural fertilizer. This is why the correct fabrication of a fertilizing compost is an integral part of the training. Moreover, it is strictly observed to rotate the plants in order to let the soil regenerate instead of exploiting all minerals. Soils are also covered rigidly to protect them against drying out and thus losing fertility during the dry season from October to April. The results are listed in detail and all knew insights are respected for the following cultures. In addition, the apprentices are included in a renaturation programme (see below), which protects existing forests and aims at increasing the groundwater level.
The taught way of biologically treating soils and carrying out measures for renaturation are important to protect existing water resources and ensure their long-term availability as well as increasing soil fertility while the population is rapidly growing. All this is necessary to provide a sustainably secured supply in food and drinking water to the people in Benin.
Since the beginning of 2020, the EPAL takes charge of a renaturation project, conducted on an area of 60 hectares. By this, taking appropriate steps, the groundwater level should be raised, what should solve the problem of the precarious water supply.
Despite heavy precipitions of about 1.000 mm per squaremetre during the wet season, soils dry out completely in many parts during the dry season from October to April. Thus, the rain water is just draining without penetrating into the earth. As a consequence, not only the groundwater level is dramatically shriniking, but also the soil fertility is suffering.
Realization of the projectUmsetzung
On the project area „Kuyie nko menie“ with its 60 hectares of surface, various barrages of different size are constructed. They are integrated into the landscape in a natural way. Moreover, a comprehensive reforestation with local trees is done.
The realization of the renaturation project is conducted in various steps, beginning in the valley and gradually moving upwards by building a multitude of natural barrages. The thereby created lakes and ponds are connected one to each other. For building the barrages, it is first dug a trench up to the dense clay layer. This is then filled with loamy earth from the excavation on the lake side, compacted and subesquently filled in on both sides with earth. The crown width of the barrages is between 3 and 4 metres, depending on their height.
In realization, the use of machines is completely avoided. Instead, we rely entirely on human workforce to give many locals a job and to pass the know-how of the method so it can be applied elsewhere, too. Due to the huge workload, beside the apprentices and the workers of EPAL, there are some additional workers employed.
Conducting the mentioned measures, it is ensured that the stream traversing the area will be flooded with water for all of the year. Moreover, the region’s groundwater level is raised significantly, as rain water can again infiltrate the soils. Thus, for the whole year, also during the dry season, there will be more water available.
In addition, fish farming will be possible in the ponds and the surrounding fields can be used as precious farming land for growing diverse fruit trees and useful plants. The surplus of water can be used to irrigate already existing fields. In this way, the project contributes to an ensured food supply and to a balanced diet respectively.
As a further effect it is to be stated that the continuous water flow will render the stream available for other occasions. The bottom part of the stream can be used by the regional population during the whole year, e.g. for doing the laundry.
Also the plan to do all of the project just with human work and without machines, brings various benefits to the local citizens. First, many locals will find work in the project and thus gain some income to feed their families. As well will the know-how about how to raise groundwater levels be passed and can be applied in a beneficial way elsewhere.
Summary of the renaturation’s advantages:
- Significant raise in groundwater level
- Fish farming in ponds
- Using adjacent fields for farming
- Cultivation of fruit trees and useful plants in the surroundings
- More water for the irrigation of existing fields
- Bottom part of the stream can be used during all the year (e.g. for laundry)
- Financial income for local workers
- Relaying the importance of a responsible use of resources and the knowledge of how to apply it in practice