Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Improved Seed Extension Training

I hosted a training for all the farmers I’m extending seed to this year back at the end of May (yeah, I’m a little behind on my blog…sorry, but we’re all really busy now that the rains have come). Here is a (slightly edited) summary that I wrote for my boss.

Sustainable Rural Agriculture and Urban Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Senegal extend improved varieties of field crop seed that are developed by Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) to farmers all across Senegal. For this seed extension program, PCVs typically give each farmer 2 kilos of seed at the beginning of the rainy season and then work with the farmer throughout the rainy season to make sure he/she uses the practices applicable to that variety to ensure he/she will have as high a yield as possible. At the end of the rainy season, the farmer is expected to give the PCV 4 kilos of seed, which is then used to extend improved seed to twice as many farmers the next year. These improved varieties are designed to have better yields than traditional varieties because they are disease, pest, or drought resistant, grow better in depleted soils, and/or reach maturity faster and thus allow for multiple harvests in one season. Thus, by planting these improved varieties rather than traditional varieties, farmers and their families are able to increase their food security. In order to maximize the potential of these improved crop varieties, certain practices should be followed. For example, each variety does better in certain soil types, with a certain plant spacing and density, and with certain soil amendments. Thus, each farmer receiving seed for the improved varieties needs to be trained so they know about and are able to carry out all of these practices. Most PCVs extend seed to about 10-25 farmers each year and are, therefore, able to personally train all the farmers they are extending seed to, either in small groups or individually. However, this is not the case in Kayemor, a village located in the department of Nioro du Rip in the Kaolack region, for the 2010 rainy season.

Kate Ballentine (2007-2009), the first PCV in Kayemor, extended seed to 25 farmers her first rainy season in Kayemor and, because of a near perfect seed return record and the addition of an improved variety of sorghum, 50 farmers her second year. When the second PCV in Kayemor, Danielle Stoermer (2009-2011), began planning for her first rainy season, she quickly realized she would be extending seed to 100 farmers throughout the 23 villages in the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor and decided a formal training for all of these 100 farmers would be the most effective and efficient way to ensure they had the necessary information to maximize the potential of their improved seeds. She also decided that a “village relay” system should be set up so that one farmer in each village would act as the relay between the PCV and all the farmers in his/her village, relaying information between the farmers and the PCV and showing the PCV around to all the fields when she visits the relay’s village.

Danielle worked with Peace Corps Agricultural Technology Trainer Youssoupha Boye to plan the training. They decided that splitting the training into two days, so one group of 50 farmers would be trained one day and the other 50 farmers would be trained the next day, would be most effective. Since the training would last all day both days, Danielle applied for a small Peace Corps grant to cover the cost of making lunch for all the farmers. During the morning of the first day that Youssoupha arrived in Kayemor, Youssoupha and Danielle discussed the various materials that they thought should be covered during the training. They designed the training to make it as participatory as possible, so that the farmers would be more engaged during the training, share their knowledge with each other, and gain confidence in themselves and their fellow farmers. They wanted to cover all the practices that should be followed to maximize the potential of the improved crop varieties plus 2x2 m plots of yield calculations, seed saving techniques, and the village relay system.

According to everyone involved, the training was a huge success. Each day, Danielle opened up the training with a formal greeting and introductions, and then Youssoupha facilitated the bulk of the meeting. He made sure to cover all the practices that should be followed to maximize the potential of the improved seeds but kept the training flexible and open enough to allow farmers to chime in with comments or questions. Danielle’s counterpart and the Wula Nafaa representative in Kayemor were particularly vocal, sharing information that they had learned at other trainings and through their numerous years of agriculture experience. Youssoupha also discussed 2x2 m plots, seed saving techniques, and the village relay system.

During the training, Youssoupha also gave a brief explanation of what the Peace Corps is, what PCVs, specifically agriculture PCVs, do, and in what ways villagers can work with PCVs. While this was not originally part of the plan, this was particularly helpful because most of farmers at the training have never worked with a PCV before and, therefore, did not know that much about the Peace Corps. The president of the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor even came for part of the training and talked briefly about the importance of such capacity-building trainings and programs as the seed extension training and program we are doing.

After lunch each day, the farmers were given their 2 kilos of seed. We had plenty of seed so that most farmers were able to get their first choice of which kind of seed (cowpea, rice, corn, millet, or sorghum), and if they could not get their first choice, then they were able to get their second choice. Overall, the farmers were very engaged during the training, learned a lot, and really enjoyed it.

Here I am giving a brief introduction – yes in Wolof, yes with notes, yes in my nicest Senegalese outfit. :)

Youssoupha is just getting warmed up.

My friend Ari (an agroforestry PCV in a village around 25 km away from me) came for the training on the second day to help out with stuff. She took all the pictures that have me in them – and here’s one with her.

Everyone is finishing up their lunch here. My host mom cooked lunch (with the help of several other women) – it was delicious!

Youssoupha and the sacks of seed:

I’m writing down all the farmer’s names, which village they live in, and what type of seed they got – hence the reason why I’m bent over in all these pictures.

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