Obama’s global food security initiative is called “Feed the Future.” Senegal is one of the participating countries and Peace Corps is one of the recipients of funding through our food security initiative. Pretty much all of my work is directly related to food security, but none more than this: I planted a field of rice.
As agriculture extension agents, PCVs extend improved variety field crops developed by ISRA (L’Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles). This is a way for us to get seed with better pest resistance, shorter maturation periods, fuller grains, etc. into our communities and to develop relationships with farmers so that we can extend improved farming techniques as well. I wasn’t expecting to use any of the seed myself, but when I returned to site after a short trip to the regional capitol one time I was told I had a field. This was after six months of refusing. “No, no, I’ll be helping you with your fields. I can’t have my own” was apparently translates to “I want work my own rice field, because I am a woman in this community and that’s what women do when the rains come.” My only response at this point could be “Okay, but don’t think for a second I’m not going to try to teach you something with this field.” Thus was born my SRI (System of Rice Intensification) demonstration.
SRI is an improved method of rice farming originally developed for irrigated fields, but easily adaptable to seasonal flood planes like the faroo (seasonal river) in F.B. Below is a photo essay of how my first farming season went.
The most Senegalese coffee I will ever make. Traditionally, a woman would stay home to make breakfast to bring out to a dawn work crew helping prepare her field. I let them come later for milky sweet coffee and bread, as long as I got to teach them a thing or two.
All in good humor: the women of Fode Bayo know how to find joy in even the most strenuous labor.
Now that we’ve visualized the spacing with rope, let’s throw a dance party and sing a song. Yes, that’s where the joy comes from.
16 July 2012: NERICA (New RICe for Africa) ready to be seeded in neat 25x25cm spacing.
27 July 2012: Thinning to one plant per space. What a perfect transplant, energy pack included.
A little plot of order amongst broad-casted rice for miles around.
30 July 2012: Scarecrow installed. Or should I say Scareweaver. Weaver birds love to suck the juice out of growing rice. Another method employed is stringing cassette tape around the field.
Check out that tillering! I counted thirty-two tillers on my largest plant. The average for most rice fields in Fode Bayo was three.
25 September 2012: Muddy prints after weeding #3. I went a little over-board on the weeding so that it looked perfect for a community field visit led by my boss, Famara Massaly, who came all the way from Dakar to talk with us about the state of our agricultural production.
8 October 2012: Water logged. Now that’s how I’d imagined rice fields before I’d come to Senegal.
16 October 2012: Looks like a field of food to me. My plot was located on a frequently passed path through the faroo. Women and men alike complimented me on how nice my rice looked and showed interest in my growing method.
14 November 2012: Harvested. A sickle is an incredible tool. I was able to cut off the tops of the plants and let them keep producing. Got two good rounds of harvest.
0.5kg sown and 11.6kg harvested. More than twice the rate of production by the community members fields I monitored through the seed extension program. Thanks to Fanta I was able to get it all home too.
Doing my part. And feeling hopeful that next year more women in my village will bringing yields like mine with a new knowledge about the effects of spacing, thinning, and timely weeding.
What would I do without Fanta? 30 December 2012: She, Konkou, and Bintou pound my rice while I show my American family around village.
31 December 2012: Mom and brother eat home-grown rice for breakfast. Fanta made it into the turro, a delicious peanut-rice porridge.
Feeding myself in the future, that’s something, right?