In conjunction with National Cooperative Month, we will be featuring a series of posts detailing the recent work Farmers Union members have done in western Africa through the Farmer-to-Farmer program. Erin Schneider, a Wisconsin Farmers Union member, recounted her time abroad.
By Erin Schneider
The Assignment: Project in support of Organizational Development, Horticultural Techniques with KEOH; Kedougou Region, Senegal.
KEOH stands for Kedougou Surrounding and Guidance for Human Development and is an association of private farmers who are producing fonio (a kind of millet), hot pepper, okra, and honey. They are also leading other activities to have a more efficient and effective Association, which is where Melissa Augusto’s, NFU Communications Director, role in helping with organizational development came in. KEOH provides its members with training in developing their capacity as farmers whether its seeds, savings, or accessing credit. Their specific request of me was help in improved horticultural techniques with pepper, okra, and onion. A broad topic, yes, but I was able to winnow down some specifics from the farmers ahead of time and learned that water (too much or too little), insects, and soil fertility were some of the immediate challenges they faced. Sound familiar to fruit and vegetable growers everywhere? Absolutely? That is the background from which I prepared for my role in providing horticultural techniques. Upon arrival all changes were subject to planning, yet some things remained universal. I learned that KEOH has been around for a while, but new to working with the Farmer to Farmer Program and USAID/Yaajeende project implemented by NCBA-CLUSA.
I also learned that working with a women’s grower group meant that I would be working with and training men who then work as liaisons and trainers to the women farmers. Perhaps this is a peculiarity to the culture (more on culture of agriculture in Senegal in my next F2F blog post), or maybe that’s just how they work in this corner of the world. Either way, it’s not to say that the men don’t farm, or value the work of the women farmers, it was just an adjustment for me given my involvement in Wisconsin with women grower groups that are run by and for women. Nonetheless, we used a train the trainer model for sharing expertise to employ with KEOH staff and linkers who work with the women grower groups in their respective farms and villages.
After a rapid fire two days demonstration/teaching techniques in composting, agroforestry, and crop rotation with KEOH linkers, we headed to the fields to meet with four different grower groups associated with KEOH in the villages of Bawal, Saraya, DaLoto, and Dar Salaam.
Field and farm visits meant ~1 ½ to 2 hrs travel time to ferry across rivers and navigate dirt roads (and in some cases make new roads). This gave us plenty
of ‘time’ to ‘plan’ and soak in our surroundings and details of the day. The Kedougou landscape features people out and about (using all possible modes of transportation available to man, save an airplane) whether in town or along backroads going about their daily business of living, trading, working, praying, cooking, and laughing amidst a backdrop of expansive skies, and distant mountains, with water, flowers, animals everywhere.
Tomorrow: Farm Visits and Horticultural Techniques.