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


Donn’s Africa Adventure Day 13

26 08 2010

The following pictures were taken by Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske while working in Senegal, Africa for the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

To see more pictures from Donn’s Africa Adventure visit

I did see a very, very few tractors. Mostly old Massey Fergusons but a I also saw a Ford / New Holland or two. This one is a Mahindra tractor (made in India and advertised during Royals games)

Huge pile of groundnuts (peanuts). Tarped for protection from the elements.

Donn’s Adventure to Africa, Day 12

16 08 2010

The following pictures were taken by Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske while working in Senegal, Africa for the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

To see more pictures from Donn’s Africa Adventure visit

Main highway coming back into Kaolack from the villages.

Restroom in Clusa office, (brand new building). Not much room for Donn's beer gut! The "thinker" pose just doesn't work over here!

Donn’s Africa Adventure, column 6

16 08 2010

Post 6: Koalack, Senegal  Aug. 15  1 PM Central time, 6 PM Kaolack time

It’s Sunday and tomorrow morning we head back from Kaolack for the airport at Dakar and my trek home. Fingers crossed, right now I’m in a lot better shape for flying then when I came over.

And it’s getting time too, I’m a missing ma and the grandson and the cows, and yeah, I guess the kids too.

I’ve been noticing that my room really stinks lately and I thought maybe the hotel staff was using some type of different disinfectant or bug spray because I haven’t had any problems with the misquotes for several days but starting to pack today I’ve figured out that it’s two weeks of really dirty, really sweaty laundry laying around (man it’s starting to smell like Tyler’s room!), but what the heck, if it keeps the misquotes away…… but I really feel sorry for the airline crew who is going to have to handle my luggage!

Ramadan hasn’t been that big a deal either so far. Both of my escorts made many breaks a day to have a cigarette and they had their super strong Senegalese tea several times a day too, so now with the start of Ramadan, between the fasting during the day, the lack of cigarettes, and the lack of tea they’re getting a little testy by mid-afternoon. And all three of us are bitching about being away from our wives’ for two weeks now too!

About Ramadan, Senegal is 95 percent Muslim and they take Ramadan very seriously. According to sites on the Internet, Islam was adopted in this area of Africa no later than the 11th century and one site claimed the 8th century so it’s been around here for a long, long time!

And a little about Senegal, it’s a little smaller than the state of South Dakota but they have 18 million people living here. (Doesn’t Kansas have just a little over two million?) The Peace Corp girls told me that almost all the countries that surround Senegal have pretty serious internal unrest right now and the population of Senegal is growing by the day as people are moving in from the surrounding areas.

Back to the project. We went back out to the village of Keur Ali AGueye on Monday, Aug. 9. Before we left Kaolack we went by the Peace Corp compound and picked up a couple of peace corp volunteers to take them back to their host village.

The two girls, Danielle Stoermer is from Minnesota and is with the village of Kayemar and Aciana Constant is from New York and is at the village of Yongo. Both girls were quite friendly and we actually celebrated over lunch one day their 1- year anniversary of their 2-year commitment. So both girls being here a year were very, very helpful to me in understanding the villages’ farming management, what they did, or did not do, and were REALLY helpful with the translating. They may have not known the Wolof language better than Yaguemar but they knew English much better than he did! Between the three of them they made a great team.

We stopped at Keur Ali AGueye first and had a really good interaction with the girls included. Part of the discussion got into hilling of the corn and as I looked at the hiller plow, I had serious concerns about doing that aggressive of tillage in standing corn and possibly hurting the feeder roots of the corn. The villagers said that they needed to do that to push dirt up around the stalk of corn to hold it upright and that the channel the hiller made also held water from the rains.

One of the villagers started babbling about something and then Yaguemar said that there was a farmer out in the fields right then hilling corn if I wanted to see it in action. So off we went to the fields again. It was pretty special to be able to see close-up the hilling of the corn with two cows pulling the hiller. Women were sprinkling fertilizer by each stalk of corn before the hiller came along and covered it up.

hilling the corn

I think some of the best pictures of the trip were taken during this visit, my favorite being the farmer’s, who was hilling the corn, wife who was out spreading fertilizer with her child strapped to her back. That IS my very favorite picture so far, she’s an attractive young woman proud of what she’s doing, where she’s at, and especially her passenger on the back. You can just see that all in her face! (I did email a friend who used to hill a lot of corn for flood irrigation the pictures and asked for his input. His thoughts were that they were indeed doing damage to the corn with the hilling and that the fertilizer was being applied too late)

Then we headed off to Danielle’s village to drop her off and have a meeting there. The village of Kayemar is on south and east of Nioro. Part of the way to the village, I saw a series of rocks set in some type of arrangement, almost kind of like a very small Stonehenge. The history nut in me got pretty interested and as I asked about them the girls said that there are rocks piled up like that all over and when they ask the villagers about them they say something about the “ancient ones.” I asked if we could stop there on the way back so I could take pictures and look at them closer but in all of the activities of the day that stop got lost in the action, darn it!

Kayemar is a village of about 1,200. The village is a lot more progressive than Keur Ali AGueye and they have some infrastructure and even some electricity in the village. There was even a toilet (sort of) outside Danielle’s hut! The farmers have worked together to build a seed storage warehouse, a bank (kind of), and a meeting hall. We met with about 30 farmers there in the hall. (Man it was hot!)

Before we left we decided to have lunch in a brand new restaurant in town. The restaurant consisted of a two room block structure with a porch on the front. One room had one table in it for eating and the other room must have been for supplies. The cooking and washing of dishes is all done outside on the ground. There was an open fire of charcoal that the ladies were cooking over. The girls ordered for us and we were going to set on the porch where we might catch a little bit of breeze but the owner insisted we eat inside. So we gathered up enough chairs and sat inside, she brought us our plate of food and set it in the middle of the table and each of us got a big spoon and we all dug into the plate. It was a delicious meal and if you ever happen by that way when you’re running around I highly recommend it!

We each got a bag of water with the meal also, that’s right, a BAG of water. It’s a clear plastic bag that looks kind of like a heavy duty water balloon and one just tears the corner off with your teeth and you suck the water out.

We left Danielle at her village and headed off to deliver Aciana. Her village, Yongo, is South and West of Nioro quite a ways. The highway on south was HORRIBLE and we came up on some young men and women digging dirt from the roadside ditch, piling it on a piece of cloth and then two of them would each pick up an end and carry it out to a pothole and fill the pothole in. Aciana said that it is all volunteer work and the villagers doing it just hope that people will throw a little money out the window to pay them for their efforts. (I did notice on the way back that Khassim, our driver, did roll down his window and hand a young man some coins).

At one point Aciana told our driver to pull off the highway into a field. I wondered what the heck was going on but that was the “road” to her village. We drove through miles and miles of fields and went through two other villages first before we got to Yongo (about a population of 200). (Aciana said that there were several more villages on back further but she had never been back there).

There are all kinds of paths though the fields, kind of a big maze, and every time we saw someone working in the fields Aciana would holler out something that apparently meant which way? The girls had been gone for a week and I guess after every rain ditches change and she was trying to guide us in the best way. If that was the best way I would have hated to have seen the others, several times I thought sure the pickup was going to go over sideways. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that they don’t haul their grain out with semi’s!

After we left Aciana off the day was pretty well shot and we worked our way back to Kaolack. Incidentally, I guess when we were down at Yongo we were just a couple of miles from the border of Gambia, a country almost completely surrounded by Senegal and one where there is quite a bit of unrest.

Enough for this posting, on the next one I want to get into some of the challenges the village of Keur Ali AGueye faces trying to develop a niche market and / or change some of their farming practices.

Take care,


Donn’s Adventure to Africa, Day 11

13 08 2010

The following pictures were taken by Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske while working in Senegal, Africa for the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

To see the rest of Day 11′s pictures from Donn’s Africa Adventure visit

If you are on Facebook visit to view Donn’s personal posts of his trip.

“Found a blacksmith / peddler to try and create a couple of attachments I would like to try on the farmers planters. Should be done today by 5:00 so that we can go back to the village tomorrow and try them out. Then Yaguemar walked me over a couple of blocks to meet his sons and nephews and nieces,” Donn Teske said.

Blacksmith / Peddler shop in the market at Kaolack. He's having a couple of experimental attachments made for me to try out on the villagers planters.

My host Yaguemar Diop and his two sons and nephews and niece in his bother-in-laws home.

Donn’s Africa Adventure, column 5

13 08 2010

Post 5: Koalack, Senegal  Aug. 11  4:23 PM Central time, 9:23 PM Kaolack time

As I’ve said previously I’m over here at the invitation of NCBA (National Cooperative Business Assn.). Here I’m based out of the CLUSA (Cooperative League of the USA) office and I know that USAID is a funder in the whole thing too. My host Yaguemar Diop is the project manager for the “Farmer to Farmer” project here in Senegal. The “Farmer to Farmer” project is a new project and I think we’re the first team to come over here as part of the effort. Our team consists of a production specialist, myself, (sounds cool doesn’t it, a production specialist, I didn’t know I was a specialist in anything!), a Striga (a parasitic pest weed I’ll get more into later) specialist will come next, and then following him will be a milling specialist.

The goal of the project is to try and help the village of Keur Ali AGueye (who has already shown an interest in working together and improving their agriculture), a village of about 900, turn their millet crop, which traditionally has just been a sustenance crop into a cash crop also. The intent is to double millet yields, process it into Couscous and then sell it at the market in Nioro.

Groundnuts (peanuts) is the main cash crop in this region. The French introduced groundnuts here in the 1500’s and it has been a main cash crop since. The normal crop rotation for the farmers here is to have a crop of groundnuts on a piece of ground, then the next year plant millet on the ground to use the nitrogen fixation of the groundnut (a legume) to help with the nutrients feeding the millet. And then once in a while they will plant corn in the rotation somewhere. The millet and corn, according to what the villagers tell me, is all used for sustenance and the groundnut crop is sold for cash for the necessities they need.

The problem is that the groundnut companies have started importing nut oil from a cheaper source (WOW, who?) and processing that and just using local production to fill in where needed (sounds familiar doesn’t it??). So the groundnut price has crashed in recent years and the villagers are looking for something different.

Millet is by far the main sustenance staple in Africa. Rice is used when there is not enough millet and from what I’ve been told purchased rice here has gotten quite a bit more expensive and the whole system is causing social problems in the society here. But my focus is the village of Keur Ali Gueye.

There is a supply of fertilizer distributed by the government to the farmers for purchase and then it is up to the farmers to use the fertilizer where they see fit. Part of the whole problem is that they put all of the fertilizer on the cash crops instead of the millet and the groundnut, being a legume, is probably not the place to be fertilizing.

We went out on the first visit to Keur Ali Gueye last Thursday. We left Kaolack and headed about 40 miles southeast to the city of Nioro, (population about 15,000 and where the Couscous is intended to be sold), then we headed out from there about 8 miles to the village. Now I do want to point out here that this isn’t a wilderness and that we have to go that far to find a village.

There are people EVERYWHERE, and villages everywhere. I actually started a game with myself while riding in the pickup, I will close my eyes and then open them and try to see where there was a human in my sight. I never once failed to see a person.

But as I mentioned earlier the village of Keur Ali Gueye has already shown an initiative to work toward this direction so they were selected. (My host tells me that “Keur” means home and that villages are named after the man that started the village so in this case the village is the “home” of “Ali Gueye.”

In the region around Nioro the relief efforts are mostly coordinated by a relief group called Symbiose (out of Austria I’m told) and they are the local contacts we are working through. I was really impressed with this bunch, an efficient office, a staff of professionals who are local people who have went out in the world and made it, then came back home to try and help their community. Good group.

I have been told here that early efforts for relief assistance to rural Senegal were done through the Senegalese government, but it was found out the hard way that little of the relief ever worked it’s way down to the people so all efforts now are like the one I’m involved in where the relief agencies work directly in the rural communities.

There were many villages we passed by as we drove to our site and they were all very beautiful but as we drove into the village I was struck by the aura of the place, the beauty of it, the neatness of it and the way it fit into nature. We immediately drew a large crowd and were surrounded by villagers, none begging, all proud, all with a sense of humor, children curious and friendly. I liked it.

The first thing we did after the formalities of introductions (very important here) was to have a discussion in the village gathering spot. Chairs are a sign of wealth here and they immediately took off and brought two chairs for Yaguemar and myself to sit on. Well, the two chairs look like they were made out of baling wire. I looked at the chair, then at the villagers, then patted my girth, and the whole village broke out in laughter. Then they went out and found a chair that I could sit in. (I sure as heck wasn’t going to break one of their chairs!)

Through Yaguemar I asked them their crop planting practices and procedures, the timing of the practices and events, their management of the crops, etc. This part of Senegal gets about 600 millimeters a year of rain (about 24”) but it almost all comes in a three month wet period that runs from the last part of June until fall, then the rest of the year is bone dry. They plant their millet before the first rain and have it waiting for the rains to come for sprouting.

For some reason after the crops are harvested the villagers go out and clean all residue from the fields and then (according to the Peace Corp volunteers I met) they literally go out and sweep the fields. So erosion by wind is very bad during the dry season and when a rain does come cuts the soil badly.

We went out and looked at the growing crops. The soil here is a very sandy base, with some clay. (I saw much better soil for crops at other villages). The crops they had growing were groundnuts, millet and corn. There were a couple of fields left standing that were idle (they said they have much land and not enough time to get it all planted) but mostly everything was growing something and the crops looked pretty well cared for.

They showed me in a field of millet the effects of the Striga on the growing crop and what they pointed out was yellowing leaves and streaks on the leaves. I asked to see the dreaded Striga weed that I had heard so much about. They said it doesn’t come up from the ground yet this early in the year but attaches itself to the root system of the host crop it feeds off of and lives that way this time of year. I don’t know anything about Striga so I don’t know if that is accurate or not but it’s what they told me.

They showed me a healthy millet plant then many, many more around the healthy one that was only about a third as high. They told me that this was the effect of Striga on the plants and that these plants would not mature in time before the rains quit. Like I said, I don’t know anything about Striga but what I saw was healthy young plants that showed no signs of stress. What I saw was a poor seedbed for the seed and that although they were planted the same day came up at different times. Then I asked to see what machinery they used in the crop production and we headed back to the village.

We went to one villagers family compound and he disappears and comes back with a planter and another man brought up a cultivator. I looked at the one row planter, and looked, and finally asked them what was going on because this planter couldn’t plant a crop, pieces were missing.

Their planters.

They looked abashed and acknowledged that this was a planter from the junk pile and went and brought one to look at that was field-ready. (One thing about us farmers, we like to mess with people’s minds. Don’t matter what color or nationality you are! I can even see their reasoning here because if someone is coming who might be able to provide aid maybe you don’t want to show them your best stuff? More about they’re messin with me later.)

Everybody everywhere has the same planter. I’m told that the planters are distributed by the government for purchase and intended for groundnuts. They are crude to the extreme but probably about right for the mechanical abilities of those I have been around. I can see where the planters might be adequate for groundnuts which has a pretty big seed but I had instant concerns about the ability to produce a fairly consistent seed bed for millet seed which is very small, even smaller than our Milo seed.

Then I asked to see the seed plate they used for planting millet. They showed me the groundnut plate! Crap, that plate would POUR the seed on. I asked them if they were sure that was the plate they used for millet and they told me that it was. (A contributing factor in this is that my guide Yaguemar is a wonderful fella and was critical for me to be there but he doesn’t know anything about agriculture, he’s a city fella.)

Anyway after our visit we head back to Kaolack. I’m thinking all the way back about what could be done to make the planter do a better job planting millet and the first thing we needed was a decent millet plate which should be pretty easy to fabricate.

They eat their evening meals late here, kind of like I usually do too, in fact the hotel restaurant doesn’t even open until after 8 so I took off and headed for the market area a few blocks from my hotel. (The market needs to be a story all in itself for later).

As I wander through the shops I see one that sells farm stuff, including used equipment, and in the store I find a good selection of millet planter plates! Those darn villagers and they’re messin with me! Either they were feeding me full of bull stuff, the question was lost in translation, or they just weren’t using millet plates.

The Peace Corp girls I met later told me that the villagers would always be testing me and that’s how they measured one’s abilities. I told them that I figured everyone was saying all kinds of things about me around Senegal in their native language, which is Wolof, and making fun of me, the girls said that they were for sure doing that and that the natives still do it to them even though they know the language.

They even messed with me in that they told me that they break the ground for planting by hand with a hoe. I don’t think so. There are animal drawn plows at the market as well as the equipment they showed me.

A couple of days later we’re back out at the village and I tell them I want to see their millet plates. They look at one another and then we head off in another direction and they pull out a really nice planter quite a bit newer than anything I’ve seen previously and a whole selection of plates, including millet plates!

At least I understand now who I’m a messin with and we can get down to actually working on what needs to be done and what are they willing to try and do.

More later.

Ramadan starts tomorrow. Should be interesting.


Donn’s Adventure to Africa, Day 10

13 08 2010

The following pictures were taken by Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske while working in Senegal, Africa for the Farmer-to-Farmer program.

To see the rest of Day 10′s pictures from Donn’s Africa Adventure visit

If you are on Facebook visit to view Donn’s personal posts of his trip.

“WOW! Talk about a change of atmosphere! Most of my stay at the hotel here in Kaolack has been pretty isolated. Often, I’m the only one in the restaurant at the hotel in the evening. This afternoon a whole bus load of young adults from France pulled in and took over the hotel! And I must say some of those young French gals really spiced up the place!!! I haven’t found out yet what they are a part of, guess I’ll just have to talk to the girls and see if any speak English. (How about that Kathy??)

“I was Facebooking with Lisa this evening and I told her that even this old workhorse was pulling at the bit a little bit now and tossing it’s head! Of course then I told her that I’m just like a dog chasing a car, if I caught one I wouldn’t know what to do with it!” Donn Teske said.

French tour safari. The best I could get out of our language barrier with the man running this outfit is that they haul tourists around Africa for 2 weeks. The truck is a "very old" French military truck.