Greetings I hope you all are in health, rest assured I am, and once again eating well. Last week I packed my things and after a long 12 hour ride on a crowded bus and a miserable road resembling the pock marked lunar landscape I eventually arrived at my intended destination in Niamey for my In- Service Training (IST).
In-service training is an opportunity for we little volunteers to return to our original training site in Hamdallaye, (30Km SE of Niamey) and an opportunity for three weeks to share memories and experiences from our first two months at post. Also we spend an incredible amount of our time devoted to developing our language skills and improve our knowledge of Sahelian agriculture.
Last week we visited a terrific place named ICRISAT. It is a big acronym and the full name escapes me, but feel free to look them up on the internet. ICRISAT is the leading West African seed bank and scientific location for testing new farming practices and developing improved crop varieties of millet, groundnuts, beans, cowpeas, and many other vegetables resistant to both pest and drought. There is a lot of information disseminated from this place but what caught my attention most for the purpose of this blog imput was their efforts towards developing eco-farming.
Eco-Farming is a term used to describe using a plot of land to its maximum potential incorporating both intercropping and agro-forestry in concert to reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers and additional irrigation. A critical aspect of eco-farming is to reduce land erosion by making a snake like terraces or demi-loons (terrace like half moons) along the contour of the land. Within these terraces trees useful for nitrogen fixing, mulch, fruit, and other useful improvements are placed in these half moon circles.
Using both poly-agriculture and agro-forestry the economic impacts improve exponentially the value of the farmer’s land value profits and efforts. For example one hectare of land generates averages between 60-70$ USD when used only for millet, groundnuts, or cowpeas. But with eco-farming, each hectare has the potential to generate nearly 600-700$ USD (U.S. Dollar) Sounds like a good deal? Ecological improvements! Economical improvements! and Social improvements!
The social impacts of this type of agriculture is that it provides the farmer with labor for nearly 10 months out of the year instead of the typical 5-6 months usually attributed to a typical growing season. The impacts of this aspect are incredible because when the farmer has income generation throughout the year there is no need for the farmer to “exode”. Which means work as a migrant laborer in neighboring countries depriving their families and nation of its most critical workforce and most productive of individuals.
Why would farmers not want to do this? All the initial investment demands is roughly about 300$ USD for start up cost. Unfortunately that is a lot of money here and to some it is an incredible gamble to invest an incredible chunk of their average income to invest on some “anasara magic” But the most unfortunate reason and real scourge of Niger’s inability to develop independently is the lack of simple knowledge along of agricultural practices and techniques. Its difficult to change someones mind, more difficult to get some one to change their life and extremely difficult to tell a farmer who is using the same terrible methods perfected for millet production decades if not centuries ago. So unfortuanetly there are a lot of things in this country that can kill in this case not only the lack of rain kills people but so does the lack of awareness. I believe that to be the worst of two evils.
So why is this blog entry entirely focused on ICRISAT and Eco-Farming? Well because for one, my trip to ICRISAT really inspired me, and secondly I decided that eco-farming will be the main focal point of my volunteer service. Currently the 3-5 NGO’s I am currently working with seem to be doing these efforts in their own way, but none seemed to have concentrated their practices towards this type of eco-farming. So my initial efforts will be to develop test programs for these NGO’s then integrate these practices into communities for independent farmers to try out. Two years seems like a long time to be here but I will be amazed if I do nothing more than set up the initial groundwork for the other volunteers behind me to continue. So I have A LOT of work to do before next rainy season and it will be nothing less than a miracle if my labors are successful. Never the less my ambition is nothing less than to completely alter the method of agriculture used here and a in a way change the fabric of the typical Nigerien livelihood. My goodness I am so excited, my tail is wagging!!
Lastly I would just like to thank you all for your comments, thoughts, care packages, prayers, and love. I miss you all incredibly and hardly a day goes by when I think “Josh why torture yourself here?” “There are all the creature comforts of home just waiting for you.” “A/C, friends, family, Charlie (my dog), my worldly possessions, the beautiful American landscapes consisting of rivers, forest, mountains, not to get into detail about the array of other cultural things beckoning for me to return” But…..
Then I think of what it is I am doing here and how it feels to come to an understanding with myself as my potential develops and my individualism and independence become more and more unique. Then I think of all the positive change I am making or have made in Niger and throughout the world and my zest for life increases more and more to staggering levels then….I stop thinking silence, and the realization comes that I am finally where I have always dreamed of being since childhood. Africa. Man what a life!
Your friend, son, nephew, grandson and all the many other things inbetween.