Blog post

"Eugenia" was waiting for me...

Published on
December 5, 2019

...and..."Eugenia" was waiting for me in Senegal with great news! - By Abdoul Khalighi Diallo, FNP student

Late 2018 I was offered an Orange Knowledge Programme scholarship to join WUR as an MSc student in Forest and Nature Conservation and started learning about many species, their survival, conservation and management. As part of the study I have to do an internship to apply in the field what I learn in class. It was a big surprise to me when I heard that as a first year student, I’m eligible for such an opportunity and for an internship offered in Senegal, neighbor to my homeland Guinea. I went through the application process and was selected for the internship which was aimed at assessing the non-timber forest products’ value chains in eight villages. WUR is working there in the EU funded Roles of Agroforestry in sustainable intensification of small farMs and food SEcurty for Societies in West Africa project (RAMSES II)  with ISTOM (a French University), IRD (France’s International and Research for Development), ISRA (Senegal’s Higher Institute for Agricultural Research), and CNRF (Senegal’s Forestry Research Center) to research the restoration of agroforestry parks.

As required, I went through literature review and discovered many things about the many tree species that were listed as potential targets to be surveyed in my internship.  Acacia (Faidherbia), the desert date palm (Balanites aegyptiaca), Baobab (Adansonia digitata), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Guiera (Guiera senegalensis) and many other species were listed as having a key role in livelihoods as many people collect fruits, barks, roots and leaves for sale or for their own food and medication. My interest in these valuable but so-called "neglected crops" in my region grew stronger and I really could see how research about their contribution to livelihood is so relevant.  As I progressed in my study, it was the images of Guiera which struck me, as I had thought it was called "Eugenia" more than a year ago! This shrub is completely unknown in my country but was being widely used and contributing to improve livelihoods in neighboring Senegal about only 800 kms away! Scientific research has shown the shrub’s potential to cure tuberculosis, diarrhea, many fever related diseases, snake bites, hepatitis and for fodder! I was even more highly impressed! I dug for more information and couldn’t wait to go to Senegal for my internship and to learn more about Guiera and non-timber forest product (NTFP) value chains!

But …how did I come across Guiera a year earlier!?
Early 2018 I was working in Guinea helping an NGO to train women in sustainable gardening in my own village when I came across an intriguing shrub that was dominating a whole landscape. Seeing one single species covering even one hectare is very uncommon in my country and this shrub was striking as it had colonized acres of land ranging from hills, lowlands, river banks, drylands, and fallows. Farmers I talked with testified that this shrub has been spreading so quickly for the last 2 to 3 decades, had caused soil fertility and biodiversity loss, and may have contributed to speeding up drought in the area. Farmers admitted that they don’t know where the seeds are "flying from" and that the shrub always takes advantage of fallows from shifting cultivation to spread. It grows quickly even in harsh conditions and is neither browsed by herbivores nor harvested by humans which facilitates its survival even better. Its rooting system weaves long distances across the soil, outcompetes any neighboring seedling, and creates a soil structure that makes it difficult to plough using traditional hoes. I contacted a researcher who shared with me a list of local species that went through to find the scientific name of this shrub. I consulted with some friends and decided that it must be "Eugenia sp" due to its height, color of leaves, flowers, fruits and bark.

On June 20 2019, I landed in Dakar after having been oriented by my FNP supervisors Verina Ingram and Jim van Laar about my internship. Our interviews revealed that Guiera was well known and widely used. All researchers, traditional healers, government officials, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, wholesalers and retailers interviewed knew about Guiera and its multiple economic and medicinal values. Early July when my supervisor joined with students from ISTOM with whom I was working in the RAMSES II project, we found out more about the social, economic and environmental aspects of the areas to be surveyed (Niakhar and Khombole), and she linked us to resource people to start our surveys, reassured us about her availability throughout the internship, and shared valuable feedback on our plan and assessment tools (interviews, focus group discussions, observation sheets, etc). We conducted preliminary interviews where we discussed NTFPs with experts in Dakar, Niakhar, Thies, Khombole, and Bambey, before starting to organize focus group discussions in the 8 villages and then made about 50 individual interviews with people involved in collection, processing, transportation, commercialization of the five most valuable NTFPs to the local communities: Baobab, Tamarind, Balanites, Faidherbia and Guiera.

After having spent few days in the field I caught cold and couldn’t work as the fever was really high and lead to tiredness. A medical officer recommended some pills that didn’t work out well. Villagers and everyone around me were suggesting that I try Guiera tea, so I did. One cup in the morning, another in the evening and I felt really better and up for more work!
I thought that maybe my village and country could learn a lot from these Senegalese and stop neglecting Guiera and the many resources we have. Maybe Guiera has even more potential !? I shared my findings on Guiera with people back home and now they see it with different eyes. The feeling is that the yesterday’s "useless" alien species is becoming today’s resource back home.

Now back in Wageningen I feel that I know more about what to study and that my pride in being a student at WUR and at FNP has increased. I can’t wait to spread the many messages I’m learning here and perhaps contribute to improving the many lives in need for nature and future somewhere in the world!

Photograph by: Marco Schmidt

Re:actions 3

  • Fadzai

    Very interesting

  • Adeiza

    Insightful and really beautiful writing style

  • Jared

    Very insightful, Abdoul.