Saturday, August 30, 2014

Backyard fruit production - in the tropics. Plus the dreaded and beloved Anacardiaceae family!

Deep inside of Dakar in the Liberté 6 quartier, behind a row of apartments, squeezed into a small terrace, were these two beautiful bananas. Apparently they produce so well that the owners share the fruit with all the neighbors. Back yard bananas - they get the heart racing a bit more than the backyard potato patch!

After staying the night in the center of Dakar, I travelled out beyond the city limits to the Fankanta center of my friend Lamine's organization, Oasis Grow Biointensive. Once at the center I was enchanted to find all sorts of exotic trees I had never before seen. Among them were two species from the Anacardiaceae family. This family contains what is without a doubt the plant I despise the most as well as what is perhaps my favorite fruit. Thanks to Anacardiaceae Toxicodendrum diversilobum I have incurred thousands of dollars of medical expenses and can never really frolick through the woods with carefree abandon for fear of this terrible scourge - poison oak! Luckily there is no poison oak here in Senegal. There are however mangos (that's the favorite fruit) and cashews.

Here's a young mango tree (Anacardiaceae Mangifera indica). Although all the mangoes from this one are gone, I have been buying them in large quantities at the market. My hosts here Lamine and Fatou are warning me that I'm eating too many, but they're the best mangos I've ever had. One must be careful though, as urushiol, the allergen in poison oak, is also present in the leaves and branches of the mango tree. I once heard of somebody who rubbed a mango on their face (because who wouldn't, they smell so good) and ended up with a terrible rash. The fruit is so good though that I'm willing to overlook these unfortunate similarities to poison oak. 

While it's hard to notice and physical similarities between our friend the mango and the terrible Toxicodendrum diversilobum, the leaves of cashews on the other hand, do bring to mind the sickeningly oily and leathery appearance of poison oak leaves.


The cashew tree (Anacardiaceae Anacardium occidentale) produces a fruit, at the base of which are the nuts we know as cashews. The fruit is rather decent, with a texture remiscent of an unripe mango. The flesh is juicy and sweet although somewhat astringent. The nut is much more sought after though and often the fruit is simply tossed once the nut has been harvested. Before the nut can be eaten it must be roasted to remove it's toxins (by now it's probably clear that Anacardiaceae is a pretty noxious plant family). Special attention must be made not to inhale the smoke produced from the roasting nuts lest the toxins enter the lungs with potentially life threatening consequences. I rarely buy cashews as they're so ridiculously expensive but now it's a little easier to appreciate all the costs involved in their production.


Stay tuned for updates about the Oasis Growbiointensive organization, farming in Senegal, and the community composting project.

Cashew tree at the center

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Municipal Composting in Senegal

Very briefly I wanted to mention I'm going to Senegal to set up a small municipal composting facility.

The project will be in partnership with a demonstration farm, Fankanta, outside of Dakar:

Which is run by Lamine Diawara, (on the right in red):

To provide compost to farmers in the region.

Farmers in Senegal often rely on synthetic fertilizers like urea, which although effective in the short run, are detrimental to soil health. Furthermore, while urea is relatively cheap for farmers in the US, it is an enormous expense for farmers in Senegal. Compost would help farmers improve soil fertility without having to rely so heavily on these synthetic fertilizers. All the organic waste that households produce is thus a valuable resource that is just waiting for the infrastructure to render it useable for farmers.

Stay tuned for more updates!