The Manzanar Project 2001
[Photo: Gordon Sato with supervisory personnel Tesfom, Samuel and Millien] The objective of the Manzanar project on the coastal deserts of Eritrea is to have local people in villages use the technology we have developed to produce food and wealth for themselves. Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita gross domestic product of about 150 USD per annum. The life expectancy of an Eritrean male is 45 years, and childhood mortality is unacceptably high. Health and longevity are strictly correlated with wealth. We believe that with successful completion of the various parts of the Manzanar project that Eritrea will achieve self-sufficiency in food supply and will experience a substantial improvement in its standard of living.
The headquarters for our work is the Ministry of Fisheries in the port of Massawa on the red sea. Massawa is reputedly the hottest inhabited place on earth and on average has less than two centimeters of rain per year. Our challenge has been to develop a productive agriculture under these extremely harsh conditions. The basic principle of our work is to use the intense sunlight of the desert and seawater to grow plants that can be converted to food for humans and products that can generate revenue. The main plant we use is the mangrove tree Avicennia marina. The leaves of Avicennia are fifteen percent protein, and thus as fodder are more nutritious than alfalfa. We harvest mangroves by clipping small branches with a hedge clipper, wash off the salt crystals with water, and feed them to goats. On a diet of only mangrove leaves our goats thrive. For diversification we plan to also use Cattle. Cattle cannot stand the hot temperatures of the Eritrean lowlands, but in the future we plan to import breeding stock of the Indian Brahmin cow. The Brahmin cow is the only cow that sweats, and can thus tolerate high temperatures. From the known productivity of mangrove forests, efficiency of conversion of fodder to meat, and the price of meat and beef, we conclude that one hectare of mangroves can produce 4,000 USD per year. This high productivity is due in part to the fact that our growing season is 12 months a year. The animal work showed what we have to do---grow mangroves and feed them to livestock. Our task was to determine how this could be done.
In nature mangroves grow in the intertidal zones of tropical countries. In Eritrea, only 15 percent of the coast has mangroves, and where they grow they form a narrow fringe, usually no more than one hundred meters. We noticed that the mangroves grew in mersas where the seasonal rains collect and enter the sea for a few days a year. We reasoned that the rain waters must be bringing minerals from land and that the important elements must be nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron, because these are the only mineral elements necessary for all living organisms, including plants, that are deficient in sea water. Also the narrowness of the mangrove fringes must be due to the fact that waters cannot carry the nutrients more than 100 meters from shore. We reasoned that trees could be grown in the 85 percent of the intertidal zone now devoid of trees, and that we could widen the mangrove fringes by providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron. These predictions have proven to be correct, and now we routinely establish trees where trees had never grown before.
Although methods are extremely simple, they are new and original, and we wish to share them with the world. Our method of providing a slow release fertilizer to trees growing in soil that is continuously washed by seawater is of interest. We pack a plastic bag with diammonium phosphate and iron oxide, seal it shut, and punch a few holes with a nail, and bury the bag next to the tree. The amount of fertilizer, the number, size, and positions of the holes are adjusted so that fertilizer exits by slow diffusion, fast enough to nourish the tree, but slow enough that the fertilizer bags can last from two to four years. Our method of planting trees is also of interest. We grow seedlings in a plastic bag of six liters capacity, partially filled with sand and containing a bag of fertilizer. The bottom of the bag is pierced with a nail to provide drainage, and allow the roots to penetrate the underlying substratum. The bag is loosely tied at the top to prevent loss of soil by wave action, and the trees are kept in the nursery until the roots are well established. To plant the trees we simply place the bags on the ground where we want the trees to grow. Because the trees are well established in the bags, the roots can invade even unfavorable soils, such as heavy, poorly draining clay or rocky coral reefs, and establish the trees. We can ultimately plant between 25 to 50 thousand hectares of intertidal zone in Eritrea that are presently barren mud flats, at a rate of two thousand trees per hectare. Our plan is to plant two million trees in the first three years---four hundred thousand the first year, six hundred thousand the second, and one million the third. After the third year, plantings can continue financed from the profits of the mangrove forests.
We plan to work in five villages---three near Massawa, Hargigo, Enbiremin, and Gorgosum, and two islands, Dahlak and Nora. Initially the work will be directed by local authorities, and owned communally, but as soon as possible we will establish private individuals on small farms. Overall management will be performed by the Ministry of Fisheries. We plan to bring two or three workers/students every three months from each village to our teaching institute of seawater agriculture in Massawa for three months of intensive, hands-on training. They will be sent back to their villages to establish and manage the farms. The institute will provide logistic support, intermittent on site supervision, and advice when problems arise.
The Manzanar project began with my interest in Ethiopian famine in 1985. I discovered that Ethiopian famine was Eritrean famine because the Ethiopians were starving out the rebels. I joined the Eritreans in the field and found them to wonderful, dedicated people. With the donation of about three hundred thousand USD from Mr. Shingo Nomura of Global Action, I started fish farming in rebel held areas with good success---we provided high protein food for the wounded. After the war the emphasis changed to economic development and our time has been spent working out methods of creating wealth and food in the desert. We have worked with little money, about 200,000 USD since independence---the bulk of which has been my personal contribution. Eritrea has been a very good place to do this type of work. Our work had the enthusiastic support of the Minister of Fisheries who for the past three years has provided funds for equipment, salaries for workers, and housing for myself despite budgetary constraints due to war. The leaders are people of penetrating intelligence, devoted to the well being of their people. There is no corruption. Nine ethnic groups, Christians and Muslims live together in harmony and share in the power of governance. Eritrea is a model of what African countries could become.
-----Gordon Sato 2001
© 2001, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved