My Master Farm

13 June 2012

Double digging a garden bed with Gano at the Master Farm in my first month at site.

Proud of his companion planted cabbage and salad, not necessarily biologically advantages, but a good pairing for market production.

Proud of his companion planted cabbage and salad, not necessarily biologically advantages, but a good pairing for market production.

As I recline under the shade of Amadou Gano’s (or simply Gano, as his name has been famed among regional PCVs) mango orchard waiting for Peace Corps staff to come install drip irrigation, my work with the Master Farm program is in perfect focus.  Despite the slight distraction of the allergic reaction I’m having to cashew oil and the full-torso heat rash that are plaguing my skin, my mind is as clear as it can be on a day that necessitates it to switch between four languages (English for higher thought processes, Mandinka at home, the minimal gardening and greeting Pulaar that gets me by in my work at the Master Farm, and French for the school garden lessons I’m translating).  The Master Farmer program is a PC/Senegal initiative supported by USAID’s Food Security Fund.  The goal is to have 100 one-acre farms owned and operated by Senegalese farmers in communities with or near a PCV, where agricultural demonstrations can serve as an educational tool and provide income for the farmer.

(one month later)

Red, rashed, and swollen. The aftermath of cracking cashews in village.

So, it turns out the entire rash was an allergic reaction to cashew oil that had overrun the minor heat rash I had prior to cracking open not fully burnt cashews seeds.  I couldn’t ben my arms fully they were so swollen.  As a friend saw the swelling decrease over the course of the turning point day, she remarked, “I can see some muscle definition in your arm again!”  My arms got the worst of it, but the rash spanned my entire body.  It was not pretty and my village was concerned.  This had not happened to either of the previous volunteer in F.B.  Everyone wanted it to go away and they were full of advice:  Only shower with cold water, don’t sleep witha sheet on, let me carry you to the hospital to get medicine.  In the end, a lot of loratadine and two days at the PC Regional house in Kolda with a computer and electric fan to distract me from itching, it went away and all returned to normal.

And normal, at this point in time, was going to the Master Farm every other day.  Typically, PCVs are supposed to work with their Master Farmer (MF) two to three times per week, but preparing for rainy season had me there more often than usual.  Getting the MF to be more independent is a challenging goal for me and several other volunteers.  There’s a fine line we walk between letting the MF be in charge of his own farm and figure out how he can apply PC’s techniques alone and making sure all the demonstrations are implemented correctly.  We want to please our bosses (PC Staff) but we also want this program to be sustainable.  USAID has only signed on for the first four years of the program, so MFs need their fields to be productive enough to continue working at the established pace when funding is gone.

As volunteers, we are also very aware that we are only here for two years and communities are only supposed to host three volunteers (for a total of six years).  Other PCVs will come, NGOs will come, but we want our villages and work partners to be able to stand on their own two feet.  This is both the goal of development work and the sticking point for development.  Since Senegal has been a stable nation, relative to its neighbors, for so long, it has never lost aid money.  Development organizations see Senegal as a safe investment, and thus it has become a dependent nation.  And suddenly becoming a development agent, what do I do to ease the dependency?  This is a constant nagging in my work, especially in a village with incredible motivation and work ethic.  What can I do to wean Senegal off aid?

My female counterpart, Fanta, helping out at the Master Farm. Later that week she taught a double digging demonstration for the Fode Bayo women’s garden.

Gano teaching proper spacing at the garden training.

Step 1:  Only apply for grants that go towards trainings.  See “Earthworks!” and here, what I like about the Master Farm program: Helping Gano become a local agricultural trainer.  Master Farm budgets, written each year specifically for each site by the PCVs working there, typically cover a garden training and a field day event at the farm.  We hosted a two-day garden training this March, attended by forty local women, where Gano’s enthusiasm and understanding of basic and improved organic gardening principles gave him a chance to shine as a teacher.  Inshallah, we will have a field day this Fall open to the surrounding communities, where Gano and PC Staff will present our field crop demonstrations.  Gano is also great at on-the-fly trainings.  Often when people wander into the garden to steal some shade a mango, chat, or stare at the toubabs at work, he will give them a lesson on soil amendments and double digging.

Step 2: Tell people and help them realize what they can accomplish on their own and with local resources.  This is where I try to give Gano instructions for work to finish between my visits or let him roll with a new idea for companion planting.  Also, as a group, the MFs have decided they will get bank accounts before the end of this year.  As PCVs, all we have left to do is tell them how progressive and important their decision is.

Gano and another Master Farmer reuniting during the Earthworks Training.

Gano, Youssepha (PC Tech Assistant), and another Master Farmer visiting for the garden training.

Step 3: Introduce only appropriate technologies and practices.  If anything is too difficult to do or obtain in the unassisted circumstances of my village, it’s not worth doing.  There is likely a simpler, more appropriate solution that can be found through living and working in the same circumstances.  This is where I (and other PCVs) have bumped heads with PC staff.  The drip irrigation system installed at all MFs, for example, PC staff believes is an appropriate technology to model for increased agricultural production.  Yes, irrigation is helpful, some books I’ve read recently claim it is basis for societal evolution and success.  The materials for the system installed, however, cost 240,000 cfa, are only available in Dakar, and require training to install properly.  All replacement parts are also only available in Dakar.  The minimum transit cost to Dakar is 6,000 cfa, plus baggage fees.  New flip flops cost 500 cfa and kids in my village often go barefoot for weeks before their parents  are able to afford a new pair, whether this is poor financial planning or lack of work and resources doesn’t matter because the money is not available for local farmers to apply this system.  What this demonstrates to local farmers is not an improved practice, but reinforces the power of foreign aid.  And perhaps we could create a local system using hoses, faucets and joints available at least in regional capitols and bigger cities.  I don’t want to say that PC staff is too far removed from the village to realize this, because they are Senegalese, which I am not (spoiler!) and they have dedicated their entire working lives to studying and working with agriculture in Senegal; however I’ve not talk to one volunteer who thinks this specific technology is appropriate for their community.

PC tech assistant, Arfang, Gano, and some little helpers working on the drip irrigation installation.

My new neighbor, Steph, and Gano using the Stand & Plant (http://www.standnplant.com/) seeder made of PVC piping and a few metal connectors.

The seeder in action, planting a rice intensification demonstration.

What it comes down to is a balance of giving and teaching.  A balance that I think a program like the Master Farms can obtain, if we watch how much money we are throwing at individuals versus training those individuals to be community resources.  Training of trainers, as its called in development work.  Getting natural innovators to find success with improved access to information and sharing their education with others and creating more innovators and more ideas.  That’s what I hope the Master Farm program will be, a seed of an idea that grows and grows through generations  into a piece of the Senegal developed by Senegalese.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Oh, and did I tell you that Gano has the cutest children ever. Little Souleman and Ami eating breakfast on the farm.

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5 thoughts on “My Master Farm

  1. Great description of the work you’re doing and how it fits into the bigger picture of development in Senegal. Also, Souleman is adorable! I want to play with him again 🙂

  2. Mary,

    Those children are beautiful!

    Loved today’s blog post and earlier Skype. I can sense your frustration about how international aid is defined and allocated. You are such a huge help to these Senegalese. God bless.

    LOVE,
    MOM

  3. Dear Mary- Very intersting reading about the Master Farmer program. Yes, After talking with Larry Duffee (home from Sudan for a bit) and Carey Chirico (recentlyreturned from mission visit in West Congo) “sustainable” is the operative word, sustainable in the hands of the Senegalese. But Larry and Carey both agree that when time is up for individual western aid workers, there is a very real sense that on account of lack of stable and sound infrastructure and legit government, all the good they did will quickly disappear. But that’s why what you are teaching, what Larry is doing to insure the sound practices of the Epis CHurch finances, is so critical-EDUCATION that can be passed down, . . . with the hope that stablitiy and erasure of corruption will gradually occur! A million thanks for the work you are doing to get our brothers and sisters on their best feet! Hugs, Joanna Catron

  4. Mary, what a gift your insights are for all of us and I’m certain for those with whom you are sharing these years. (And I’m so glad the cashew allergy cleared up. I haven’t eaten them in years after feeling funny once.)

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