When I went to Kaymor the first time for my Volunteer Visit (i.e. “Demyst”), Kate, the PCV in Kaymor before me, and I interviewed farmers regarding the work she’s been doing the past 2 years in the area. We did these interviews for a professor of mine at Cornell that is teaching a class (that I took last year) about farmer-centered research and extension (which is the type of work ag PCVs do here in Senegal). I posted the links on YouTube so the students in the class could watch them. The interviews were done in Wolof, so Kate helped me translate them into English (see translated summaries below).
Here are links to each of the interviews on YouTube:
Farmer Interview #1:
Farmer Interview #2:
Farmer Interview #3:
Peace Corps Volunteer Interview:
Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R82fIfAOCEY
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_3XdaB4PcE
Here are the translated summaries of the farmer interviews, and a summary of the PCV interview:
First interview: Diomba Sow
Early tai corn variety is really good because it is so fast – if you plant it early, it will be ready when it is still the rainy season. The farmer planted another variety of corn, too, which produces more, but takes quite a bit longer, and the early tai variety produces enough to sustain his family through the dry season.
One way to improve the program is to extend more varieties of crops – he got corn, but would also like rice, for example. [Our program does extend rice – it extends corn, rice, sorghum, and cowpeas.]
The farmer has talked with other farmers because they saw how quickly the corn grew – it’s the fastest they’ve ever seen corn grow.
Second interview: Thierno Ba
The cowpeas are really good because they were fast and taste good, too, and are faster than the traditional variety.
He didn’t have many pest problems, because when he saw the pests initially he used a pesticide 3 times and used the pesticide Kate suggested. This allowed him to have 3 harvests of cowpeas (when some farmers would have been lucky to get only 1).
Many farmers have come up to him and asked him where he got the seeds because they are really good seeds, and he said he had gotten them from Kayemor because a white person lives there. So there is a lot of interest in the seeds. But the news about these seeds had already been spreading in the village because Kate had extended the seed to other farmers in the village the year before, so many people already knew about the seeds.
Third interview: Ndey Ndiaye Toure
She planted beans and rice because she shared the seeds with another woman in the woman’s group. (She knew the name of the bean variety when the other farmers didn’t.)
The beans were good because they had big fruits that you could sell or eat yourself. The rice was good because it was fast. More importantly, the rice was good because usually you have to grow millet or peanuts to sell and then buy rice, but with this variety you can grow the rice and eat it, too. So it improves your life.
The program is good but could be improved by teaching farmers how to store their seeds so that each year you can be giving new seed to new farmers because farmers from previous years will be storing their seed so you don’t have to give them seed any more. This increases sustainability and increases the number of individuals receiving seed.
Peace Corps Volunteer interview: Kate Ballentine
Rural sustainable agriculture Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) extend improved seed varieties (for field and garden crops) to farmers, extend improved farming techniques, and teach leadership and facilitation skills.
Since Kayemor is in the peanut basin of Senegal, people grow a lot of peanuts there, so one focus of Kate’s work was to help farmers diversify their crops both for monetary purposes and health/nutrition purposes.
“It’s like you’re giving us the seed for free – except better!” This is what one farmer had to say about the seed extension program the Peace Corps runs. It’s great because they get good, quality seed in a timely fashion for free upfront but are able to repay it (and not receive it as a handout) in kind at the end of the rainy season. And it’s obviously important to make sure the farmers are always onboard with the program because it’s them that do all the work.
The main challenges are environmental challenges, as is always the case in agriculture – sometimes it rains a lot and floods the fields, sometimes the rains come late and the seeds don’t even germinate, and sometimes the soil gets tired and can’t support the crops.
Kate encountered challenges being the first young, white woman in the area trying to teach farmers who had been farming for generations how to change and make improvements. But after the first year, the farmers quickly understood that she knows her stuff and can (and should) be respected and listened to.
Kate worked with Symbiosis, a local Senegalese NGO, and their branch in Kayemor, Peñc Mi.
With the help of the handful of men Kate worked with closely in Kayemor, she has developed an idea she calls the “village captain plan” where there is one farmer in each village who would act as the “captain” of the village and thereby receive special training so they could answer farmers’ questions (rather than the farmer having to always go to the PCV with questions) and receive special knowledge on how to plant, grow, and store the seed. This not only helps build capacity by educating farmers and giving the more power and ability to take initiative, but also makes the seed extension program more sustainable because it gives the farmers the vast majority of the power and gives them knowledge and resources so that when the PCV leaves, the program doesn’t die. One issue is how to pay these farmers. One suggestion is to give the village captains seed that they don’t have to return, so they’re receiving a payment in kind – a payment of seeds that they don’t have to repay at the end of the rainy season. This will give me them another kind of motivation (besides the motivation of gaining knowledge and respect in the village).
The main things Kate learned from her Peace Corps service was that everything takes time and nothing happens for free. Farmers are incredibly willing to help distribute seed and try new things, but they also are watching out for the welfare of their families and need to ensure that they won’t take too many chances and risk the health and wellbeing of their families.