Donn’s Africa Adventure, column 7

26 08 2010

Post 7: Wheaton, Kansas  Aug. 25, 1 p.m.

Well, I made it home and ma’s worries that I was never coming back didn’t happen. (She was just sure that I was going to be kidnapped or end up in a stew pot or something). It’s good to be home, after a couple of weeks I really got to missing home. But man was I drug down! It took 42 hours from when we left Kaolack to work my way home and there was no sleep through that time except on the plane and that never quite hacks it for me.

Anyhow, back to the village. The purpose for me to work with the village of Keur Ali AGueye was to work with them on their millet production with the goal of doubling their yields and then start the process of milling their excess millet for sale in the Nioro market. One of the problems though for this year is that I was visiting the village right in the middle of the growing season, yields for this year is already past when any difference can be made. The best I can hope for is to start them off with my thoughts for next year.

When I headed over I was wondering just what the heck I could help them with to double their yields but as soon as I was in the village fields things just started jumping out at me. At this time I have over 10 pages of field notes that I have kept besides the postings I have sent out! (At least I feel that I have set a good base down for the next volunteer to sucker into this job.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the fields of the earlier millet had a really variable stand that didn’t look to me like Striga stress but rather poor germination from a poor seedbed. In my notes that evening I wondered if I could bring back enough measurements and photos to get a mechanical engineering class at one of the land grants to take it on as a class project to design, and create, a couple of simple attachments which would replace existing planter parts for when they plant millet to help get a firmer, more consistent seedbed.

As my trip started winding down and I was pretty well caught up on my responsibilities I started wondering if I could relay enough of my thoughts to a local blacksmith to have the parts created here. When visiting the market in Kaolack I found a shop that sold used and rebuilt farming equipment so I drug my interpreter along with me to the market and we went back to that shop.

The blacksmith assured me that he could make anything I wanted to exacting specifications. (He lied)! I then spent about an hour and a half trying to get through to him what I had in mind. I even had it sketched out on paper! All I was trying to get him to do was to create a runner that would make just a narrow cut in the soil instead of the 2 – 3 inch wide opener they use now (the groundnut planter supplied by the government) and then something to cover the seed that would be less aggressive than what they have now which is two 5” sweeps (with no horizontal adjustment!) (My first thoughts were a drag chain to cover the seed and level things out. I don’t think so anymore.)

We paid him extra to have it done the next day and then I had the hopes of going back to the village and trying out my creations in the field on Saturday before I left. Well, when we picked up the new runner I knew that we wouldn’t be trying it out that day. It wasn’t even remotely what I tried to relay to him! It was just the same opener as before but coming down into a point! Crap! (I think the blacksmith knew he didn’t make what I wanted because he had his son deliver the pieces to the shop and I didn’t even have anyone to chew out about it!)

We headed back to the village anyhow and hooked the piece to a planter for more pictures and measurements. I’m still going to try and have a pattern made for their planters here, even if I do it myself in my shop, to send back to the village to try out.

Some of the hurdles that need to be cleared to proceed with this project; In one of my visits to the village of Keur Ali AGueye we had a really intense discussion about their current millet production and if we increased millet yields how we would deal with marketing the excess production. I asked the villagers how much millet we would need to ration back for their sustenance for a full year until the next crop was in.

There was a LOT of internal discussion by the group (once in a while one of the peace corp girls would tell me a sentence, or a question, or a statement, but mostly I just sat there and looked stupid until they finished their discussion) but when they were done they could not give me even a guess of an answer.

They have no concept at this time for budgeting, (my banker probably thinks the same thing about me) and they couldn’t tell me. The girls told me afterwards that they just eat their grain crops and when it’s gone they go into what they call the “starving time” which runs from when the grain runs out until the next crop comes in (now). During that time they eat whatever they can come up with, mostly a root crop that grows almost wild here once planted. (It kind of reminded me somewhat of winter onions here with it’s growing patterns.)

Then I told the group that if they intended to sell the millet processed at the Nioro market then they couldn’t sell all of the crop at harvest because it would need to be sold over the course of the following year. They REALLY didn’t want to hear that!

First, they said that they need the money at harvest time! (I know that feeling) but the main problem was that if they had millet on hand and someone asked them for it they would have to give it to them! That’s right, the culture there is that if someone asks you for something you give it to them! (The redneck in me had to wonder if they sold the crop at harvest for cash, then if someone asked them for their money they would have to give it to them? But I suppose it’s easier to hide money than millet.) There is no electricity in the village at this time to run an electric millet mill and I don’t think there is anyone in the village who can read or write so record-keeping for a community effort like direct niche market selling is going to be REALLY hard to keep records for.

I wanted to give you a feel for what is being attempted here in the village, the challenges we face to help make that happen with cultural conflicts, education limits, mechanical and natural resources challenges, etc. I hoped to wrap this marathon posting up with one more story of the trek home, but I still haven’t written about the village communal vegetable garden or the market in Kaolack yet so there will probably be at least three more. (I’m setting a personal record here people, the most I ever did before on a trip was 3 stories on Alaska! This is already 7!!)

More later. Donn

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3 responses

26 08 2010
Twitted by KSFarmersUnion

[…] This post was Twitted by KSFarmersUnion […]

10 09 2010
Personal Health Care

Great Blog here!! Keep up the good work. I have found it to be very informative, Thanks for all the help

26 09 2010
asdf

i am addicted to farmville

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