Friday, October 7, 2011

Building local capacity through seed extension

As I’ve written about on my blog before, I help oversee a pretty large (for Peace Corps standards) seed extension program in my community.  There are farmers who are involved in the program in all 23 villages that make up the Communauté Rural de Kayemor.  Last year there were about 100 farmers in the program, and this year there’s even more.  I tried to start a village relay system last year where a farmer in each village would be the “relay” between me and the other farmers in his/her village, but it didn’t really get off the ground.  So this year, I invited Peace Corps’ agriculture technical trainer, Youssoupha Boye, to lead a training in Kayemor for all the selected relays to get move this system from a good idea to something actually being put into practice.  The ultimate goal of this system is to not simply have a network of farmers who gather data on the seed extension program in their respective villages (though that is very important!) but to build up the capacity of these farmers and others involved so this seed extension program can be sustainable and potentially expand into other crops and/or evolve to include a farmer cooperative that buys and sells seed and other things like fertilizer.  Below is an outline that Youssoupha and I used during the training we held in July, and after that is a summary/evaluation that I wrote up for my boss regarding the training.  (FYI “keppar” is the word in Wolof used in my area for “relay”, and “Ndeye Diaw” is me, my Senegalese name.) 
Since the training, I have gotten out and visited a lot of the relays and their farmers, though due to time constraints (because I’ve already started doing some of the responsibilities I’ll have once I move to Dakar) I have not been able to visit everyone.  The relays that I’ve visited have been all over the board – a couple of them have been collecting all the correct data and doing everything else I asked of them, some of them have collected the basic data (like who has seed in their village, what type of seed and seeding dates), and others have more or less done nothing (for various reasons).  I will work with the PCV who is replacing me in Kayemor (in just over a month!) to organize a training in November or early December to gather all the data and then evaluate how the program went this year and how we can work to improve things.  So stay tuned to learn more.  J

Improved Seed Extension Relay Training Outline
Kaymor, July 25, 2011

Greetings and introductions
Reminder to everyone: please turn off your phones or put them on vibrate only; if you have to take a call, please step outside

Reason for training:
-          Peace Corps has an improved seed extension program that every agriculture PCV participates in.
-          There has been a PCV extending improved seed in the Communauté Rural de Kaymor for 6 years now.  The program started out with about 10 farmers and, 6 years later, has expanded to over 160 farmers.  Ndeye Diaw managed the program last year, but it is now too large for one person (Ndeye Diaw) to manage.  So a village relay system is being started, which will put the management of the seed extension program in the hands of several different people.
-          Peñc Mi has a “keppar” system for its activities, so these “keppars” have been selected to act as the relays for the seed extension program.
-          We are having this training to train the “keppars” and other members of Peñc Mi so they will be able to effectively and efficiently take over the management of the improved seed extension program that Ndeye Diaw has been managing.

Summary of schedule:
-          Review the improved seed extension program
-          Explain the village relay system
-          Explain improved field crop management techniques
-          Explain data collection specifics
-          Explain seed production, saving and storage
-          Next steps, closing remarks and evaluation

Review of the improved seed extension program
-          What is the importance of improved varieties versus traditional varieties?
-          ISRA (Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole) has been doing research on field crops for almost 80 years in order to develop improved varieties for Senegal
-          ISRA/Peace Corps extends 5 different types of seed and several different varieties (some of which are not included here because they are not appropriate for our region in Senegal):
§  Millet – Souna 3
§  Sorghum – CE 180-33 and CE 145-66
§  Corn – Early Thai, Synthetic C, Swan
§  Beans – Melakh and Yacine
§  Rice – IRAT 10 and Nerika
-          Program is a type of loan program: 2 kg of seed are given to each participating farmer at the beginning of the rainy season, and then each farmer is expected to return 4 kg of seed after harvest, unless the farmer has no harvest due to germination problems, severe pest problems, or other similar problems.  This way the program can grow larger every year – i.e., with each passing year, the number of farmers in the program will grow so that eventually every farmer in the area will be planting improved varieties.  Farmers in the program are encouraged to keep seed for themselves so they can continue to plant the improved variety year after year; they are also encouraged to try a new variety of seed each successive year in the program, so that after several years in the program they could be planting only improved varieties of all 5 different types of field crops.
-          This is the 6th year the ISRA/Peace Corps improved seed extension program has been in the Communauté Rural de Kaymor; there are now over 160 farmers in the program
-          There is specific data that ISRA needs from each farmer in order to continually improve the varieties that they develop; the PCVs usually collect this data, but because there are so many farmers now, the “keppars” will now be collecting this data

Improved field crop management techniques
-          Field preparation techniques (ex. manure application, tilling timing)
-          Planting techniques (ex. seed spacing, timing)
-          Chemical fertilizer use (ex. NPK versus urea, quantities, timing)
-          Weeding techniques (ex. timing, frequency)
-          Integrated pest management (ex. organic versus chemical)
-          Seed gathering and storage techniques (ex. seed for food versus seed for planting, organic storage versus chemical storage)

The village relay system
-          As mentioned, there are so many farmers in the program now that Ndeye Diaw cannot manage the program by herself; she needs help from individuals in every village
-          You are all part of Peñc Mi’s “keppar” system so you are motivated and dedicated to agricultural development.  For this reason you have been selected to be the village relays for the seed extension program.  This responsibility will take some time and effort – not a lot – but some.  Obviously you have a choice if you want to be a relay or not; is there anyone who does not want to be a relay?  I will ask again after I tell you what your responsibilities will be.
-          As with the Peñc Mi “keppar” system, all 23 villages in the Communauté Rural de Kaymor will have 1 relay except for the 3 larger villages, which will have 2 relays.  Each relay will be responsible for the farmers in his/her village who are part of the seed extension program; there will not be more than 10 farmers per relay.
-          Here are your responsibilities as a relay, should you accept the position:
§  Answer any questions your farmers might have regarding the program, crop maintenance, seed storage, etc.
§  Encourage farmers to use improved field crop management techniques, such as applying manure and fertilizer, thinning, etc.
§  Act as a relay between Ndeye Diaw and your farmers – Ndeye will contact you if she wants to share information with your farmers; you should contact her regularly to share with her how things are going for your farmers and if they have had any problems or questions; if you have any questions that you needed immediately, beep her and she will call you back as soon as she can – here is her cell phone number: 77.330.48.63
§  Collect the necessary data and share that data with Ndeye Diaw and others as necessary in a timely fashion
§  Attend the results and evaluation meeting at the end of the rainy season; during that meeting everyone will share their results from the rainy season and we will evaluate how the program is going and make any necessary changes
-          Who can tell me what one of the responsibilities of a relay is?  [when one is given, ask:] What is another responsibility? [etc.]
-          Is there anyone that does not want to be a relay?

Data collection
-          This system of seed extension is a way of testing out new seed varieties to see how they will perform throughout Senegal with various soils, climates and farming practices.   Thus, there is certain information that needs to be collected and recorded for ISRA for them to be able to know how well these seed varieties are performing and for them to, therefore, continue to develop new and better varieties. 
-          Each relay will get a data collection record sheet to use when collecting data. [Pass out sheets]
-          If you don’t understand the French, that’s ok.  You can rewrite it in Wolof, or memorize each column, and if you forget, you can always ask someone else who can read.
-          Here is the data you need to collect for each farmer:

§  Farmer
§  Village 
§  Crop     
§  Variety
§  Amount of Seed (kg)
§  Previous Crop in Field 
§  Seeding Date    
§  Spacing Between
§  Rows (cm)        
§  # Plants per Meter per Row      
§  Thinned? (Yes/No)       
§  1st Weeding Date
§  2nd Weeding Date
§  Soil Amendments (Manure, NPK, Urea)      
§  Date(s) Applied      
§  Disease/Pest Problems       
§  Chemical Controls 
§  Chemical Application Date(s)
§  Harvest Date            
§  Yield of 2mx2m (kg)            
§  Yield (kg/ha)           
§  Farmer Commentary and Feed Back            
§  Your Notes and Commentary

-          The hardest part will probably be getting accurate yield estimates from the 2x2 m plots.  Because this may be difficult, if you have more than 2 farmers growing the same variety, you can choose 2 of them and have a 2x2 m plot in each of those 2 farmers only.  If you have 2 farmers with, for example, Melakh, and 2 farmers with Yacine, please mark out 2x2 m plots in all of the fields since, though Melakh and Yacine are both beans, they are different varieties, so we want yield estimates from both of them.  If you don’t do a 2x2 m plot but can get a yield estimate from the farmer, please do that.
-          [Go out to a field and practice collecting data]
-          Ndeye Diaw will go out and visit all of you periodically throughout the rainy season to see how things are going.  Please visit her at her house when you’re in Kayemor on louma days or for anything else.

Seed production, saving and storage
-          This program wouldn’t work if we didn’t save seed from year to year.
-          There are certain things you should do to make sure you save the best seed for planting.  [Explain the methods for collecting the best seed for planting and then how to properly store this seed.]  You should share this information with your farmers.
-          It will be your responsibility to gather the 4 kg of seed that each farmer needs to give as their payment for being in the program. 
-          The Communauté Rural de Kaymor has a seed storage facility, so we will save the seed there.  The seed needs to be properly labeled with the name of the farmer, type of crop, the name of the variety, the year it was grown and the date it was stored in the seed storage facility.

Next steps, closing remarks and training evaluation
-          Thank you all for coming and for participating so well.
-          What is the first thing you all need to do when you get back to your villages?  [Answer: introduce themselves to their farmers, explain their role/responsibility, and begin collecting data]
-          How did the training go?  Was there anything that you don’t think worked well?  How could we change it to make it better in the future?
-          Ndeye Diaw will be visiting you all within the next few weeks, but be patient because she has to visit 23 villages!  Again, always feel free to beep her and she’ll call you back, and/or stop by her hut when you’re in Kaymor. 
-          Ndeye Diaw will inform you all when the end of the year results and evaluation meeting is.
-          Thank you all again!

Seed Extension Village Relay Training
Kaymor, July 25, 2011

On Monday, July 25, 2011, PCV Danielle Stoermer hosted a training in Kaymor to train the group of farmers who are village relays in the Peñc Mi organization in how to be relays for the ISRA/Peace Corps Senegal improved seed extension program that has been present in the Communauté Rural de Kaymor for 6 years.  The program has grown to include over 160 farmers, which is too large for Danielle to manage herself, so she decided a more decentralized system of village relays would be better.  She organized the training with Peñc Mi, a locally-run development organization that has been present in the Communauté Rural de Kaymor for over 10 years, because they had a preexisting system of village relays, where each relay is called a “keppar”.  All of the relays, as well as the members of the Peñc Mi bureau and its animateurs, were invited to participate in the training.  [See Appendix I for a complete list of participants.]  Peace Corps Agricultural Technical Trainer Youssoupha Boye came down to Kaymor and assisted with the training.  Youssoupha started the training by explaining the reasons for the training.  Then he explained the ISRA/Peace Corps seed extension program since some of the relays were not familiar with the details of the program.  Next he explained the relay system: what it is, why it’s being started, how it’s being implemented, and what the responsibilities of the relays are.  Data collection was discussed after the relay system was clear: why data collection is important, what specific data needs to be collected and how it should be collected.  The data collection record sheets were written in French, but time was spent during the training translating the document into Wolof or Arabic for those relays who are not literate in French.  In order to ensure that the relays clearly understood how to collect the data, a brief field trip was taken out to a nearby field in order to practice collecting all the necessary data.  During this practical session, the relays were trained in how to use simple tools to measure and collect data, such as using the distance between the tip of one’s index finger and thumb (which is generally 20 cm) to measure the distance between plants between rows and within rows and using 2 long strides to mark off the 2x2 meter plots.  Time was also spent discussing seed production, saving and storage, since this is such an integral part of the seed extension program.  Youssoupha closed the training by giving a brief summary of what was discussed, asking for feedback from the relays regarding how the training was conducted, and explaining to them the next steps they need to take to get the program fully underway.  [See Appendix II for a couple of pictures from the training and Appendix III for a detailed outline of the order of and the material covered during the training.]

From the perspective of both the trainers and the trainees, the training was a success.  At the end of the training, Youssoupha asked the relays for feedback regarding the training, and they all commented on how beneficial it was – how the village relay system is a really good idea and the training was a very effective way to get it started.  Several people commented that the data collection sheets are particularly important and beneficial for this work, so they were glad that they had been developed and handed out during the training.  The hands-on data collection part of the training was also particularly effective because, by teaching the farmers how to measure distances with specific parts of their bodies, it eliminated the need for them to have measuring tools other than themselves; it also allowed the farmers to see how little time it takes to collect the data, thereby providing them with the confidence that they will be able to be successful relays and collect the necessary data. 

While the training was a success overall, there were a few changes that could be made for any future trainings similar to this.  The training occurred at the end of July, after nearly all the seed in the program had been dispersed and after many of the farmers had planted already.  In this new system, the relays are expected to train their farmers in improved agricultural techniques (especially ones recommended for the improved varieties), but they hadn’t been trained before some of their farmers planted.  This meant that some of the farmers (who were new to the program) were not trained in how to plant their improved varieties of seed.  So it might beneficial to have this training earlier in the year, like in late May.  While this would allow all farmers adequate time to be trained in improved techniques, it would make the practical data collection field session during the training difficult if not impossible since no field crops would be growing.  A nearby garden could be used for that session if it had field crops in it. 

Due to circumstances out of the control of the PCV and Tech Trainer, they did not arrive in Kaymor until almost 11am, so the training started quite late.  Most of the relays had been waiting around for a couple hours and were therefore quite discouraged by how late the training ended up starting.  This also messed up the schedule, such that the practical data collection field session occurred just after lunch, during the heat of the day.  It also meant that the training didn’t end until about 4:30pm, so many farmers had little or no time to rest before they went out to their fields to do some evening work.  While everyone agreed that the data collection sheets are essential for this relay system to work effectively, more space should have been left at the top of each column for the relays to translate the column heading into Wolof or Arabic.  Leaving space for the relays to translate the headings themselves is better than translating them ahead of time because there is no consistent spelling of words in Wolof and because some of the relays are only literate in Arabic.  Some of the relays are not literate at all; this created problems in terms of motivating and convincing those relays that they would be able to collect the data.  Those relays were told to find a literate individual in their village to help them with the data collection; while they agreed that this would definitely be possible, it would be easier if in all future situations all the relays were literate in either French or Wolof.  Few relays brought pens, so they also had to share pens when they were translating the column headings, which added extra time; therefore, extra pens should be brought to any future trainings.  Relays also mentioned that notebooks should have been provided for them so they could have been able to take notes during the training; this will be particularly relevant in future trainings if all the relays are literate in French or Wolof.   

Because of time constraints, the practical data collection field session was used primarily to explain how to collect the necessary data, with little elaboration into improved field crop management techniques; however, this is an ideal time in which to review improved agricultural techniques as well as the recommended techniques for the improved varieties of seed.  Another activity that could be included during this session if time allows in future trainings, is to have one or more relays do a practice data collection interview with a farmer regarding his/her field.  This will be another way to further empower the relays to feel confident in their ability to succeed as a relay and it will provide an opportunity for corrections to be made if relays make mistakes or still don’t quite fully understand the data that should be collected or how it should be collected.

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