Matt Judd

Peace Corps - The Gambia.

Matt is both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at .

September 28, 2000 - Arrival in the Gambia.

5 November 2000

I am slowly adjusting to Africa - I have mostly gotten used to the physical differences: the heat, bugs, primitive conditions, etc., but I have a long way to go in adjusting to the culture and at a least a year before I will be able to speak worth a damn. Then I will take over the world.

I haven't enjoyed much of training - except for the aptly named "Death March" in which we were taken down river about 25 km and dropped into a foot and a half deep mangrove muck. I never thought a mangrove would smell so foul - that is, like rotten eggs. It was a wholly enjoyable day, and my only regret is that I didn't take more pictures. Hopefully, I can get you some for the website (and Peg Gale wanted to see some photos of Gambian mangroves, too). The next day I promptly "caught" dysentery, but that's a different story. Anyway, we were told to keep the mangroves on our left and the bush to our right (which were full of baboons) and walk until we reach Tenduba, the training camp, about 20 some kilometers up the river.

PCVs (small objects near center of photo) on the Death March.


A Scene from the Death March - humid, hazy, hot.

This "community based training" has been pretty cool - as it allows us to live in the village 5 days a week (in theory) with only two other trainees in the village and one language instructor. Unfortunately, we don't spend enough time in the village - we're always taking trips to volunteer sites, organizations, etc., so after 4 or 5 days, we haven't spoken or practiced wolof at all. You can forget a lot of language in a couple of days, when you're first learning it.

26 November 2000

Well, I'm going to my site tomorrow morning--Kerr Katim Wollof. It's in the North Bank Davison in Central Baddibu. I'm very excited to get up there and see it. There is very little information about the area, as there are currently no agro-forestry volunteers in the area.

10 December 2000

My first few days were spent at Girl Guides, a hostel in Kombo, a tourist area outside of Banjul where the PC offices are located. There we were instructed on the basics of Gambian life, such as how to take a bucket bath and an asinine, but slightly amusing lecture on how to light a lantern.

My next 8 weeks were spent in Sareh Samba, a small Wollof village near Kiaif about 160 km East of Kombo. They call this village biased training (VBT). It was actually very cool as we all got to live with families for the days we were in the village, which was about half the time. There were two other volunteers that stayed in the same village, learning Wolof with a language and cultural helper (LCH), and getting aquatinted with Gambian customs, food, etc. Two days a week we had technical training in Tendaba, a tourist camp.

Near the Tendaba camp is a nakko, which means garden in Mandinka. It has a mango orchard, a eucalyptus plantation, a large garden, almost every tree you can grow, and the best soil that I've seen in the Gambia. This is where most of our technical training was held.

Topics covered in technical training:
A primer on pit and pile composting.
Very basic how-to make Manure Tea and why.
Natural Pesticides and Insecticides. (Neem, Garlic, Tobacco, soap, hot pepper)
How to construct a watering can from some rope and a plastic cooking oil can.
Introduction to Bee Keeping and construction of a basket hive made of inexpensive local materials. This was by far the best training session we had. It made me wish I wasn't allergic to bees.
Tour of a bee keeping site.
Tour of a State owned saw mill and forestry department.
Garden Beds--double digging, raised and lowered beds.
Intro. to Soil and Water Conservation-contour plowing, berm construction,
A-frames, Veviteer grass, N-fixing trees.
Farmer Extension techniques--ideas and methods for coping with farmers,
finding/identifying (good) counterparts, common problems/mistakes.
Seminar on Moringa oleifera (Nebedayo in Wolof)
Environmental Education teaching in the local schools.
Fuel-wood Survey.
Garden Seedbed-- Sowing seeds and Transplanting.
Mud stove construction.
Food nutrition and preservation--food drying, jams, sauces.
Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA) the standard RRA/PRA stuff.
Teaching Literacy-phonics approach to (English) literacy.

Brief Site Description:

I live in the Alikalo's compound (Mustapha Beye), in Kerr Katim Wollof. Its in Central Baddibu District in the North Bank Division about a Kilometer from Senegal to the North. There is a shortage of firewood in area, and there are rumors that people are burning dung for fuel. I don't believe it's that bad yet as my father owns two bakeries and gets his wood in the bush a few km away. He also owns a small bitik (shop), that buys peanuts from farmers at D2/kilo and sells to the Gambian Government for D2.60/kilo. (If the Government is actually buying).

Stapha is a very intelligent and hard working man, who should make a good counterpart. He has already worked with volunteers planting live fencing (Aguave sislama??,) and planting Acacia holifera (Gamtel tree), Eucalyptus spp. (Menthalato), Cashew (Ndarkoso), and Leucaena. He has had a lot of problems establishing his cashew trees, the evil goats got them. He has completely given up groundnut and finger millet farming. I think he's the most American Gambian I've met.

Stapha's friend the Imam/Marabout has also started a smaller plantation of Eucalyptus and Cashew with live fencing. It appears to be doing very well.

The farming system appears to be an upland cereal based system growing finger millet, peanut, and some small plots of corn. Sorghum and sesame are being promoted by NGO's in the area. There is no community dry garden in the village, but neighboring villages have them. The water table is 36 meters deep, which is the primary reason for not having one. One family has a really nice small garden with compost pit, Moringa olifera and a thorn (Zysaphus moritana) fence. But it wont be worked until Ramadan ends.

I arrived for my site visit on the day of Ramadan, which is both good and bad. Everyone is moody and tired, and want's to know why I'm not fasting. On the up side I can go do what I want and be left alone because everyone is sleeping on the bantabas under the trees.

My house is a 5x5 meter mud thatched hut, with screen doors and windows. Its quite nice. There is a small pruned Baobob tree in the back yard and I've just planted some Leucaena spp. and Albizia lebbek to shade the house some and give me a tree to hang my hammock. My only complaint about my house is that it's in the middle of the village and is very loud at night. (Sometimes I do like to sleep).

Some baobobs in the village have been cut so they don't fall on people or houses.

The village is on a high plain in between two bolons running to the river Gambia. Its really damn flat (I miss Montana). It is spotted with huge, beautiful Baobabs and tons of Neem (which is a weed here). There are goats, sheep, a few chickens and many ducks, horses, donkeys, dogs, and cats. Occasionally a hyenas can be heard at night. I'm really happy that my family has few chickens as I hate those rooster calls in the morning.

The best lumo (open air-markets) in the Gambia is very close, only seven kilometers on a good road in Kerr Pate every Wednesday. Rupert calls it the Tijuana of the Gambia. There was a volunteer in the village two years ago, but she transferred to another village after six months. Apparently she married a local, then divorced him, moved to a neighboring village, married another local, and then ET'ed. One of her projects was teaching gymnastics. I have some strange shoes to fill.

10 December 2000 - Part 2.

Here I am in Gambia. It's hot, dry, gritty, and I'm starting to like it. For the first ten weeks (PC Training), I lived in a training village about 150km up the main road on the South bank called Sareh Samba. Between Kaiaf and the Senegal border, Sereh Samba is seven km off the beaten path, requiring four wheel drive to negotiate the washed out sandy roads. The village is made up of mostly Wolof families of about 25 compounds. Here I spent five days a week learning Wolof, and the essentials of Gambian life such as washing cloths by hand and brewing attya (Chinese green tea with a sickening amount of sugar).

My site, the village I will be living and working in for the next two years is called Kerr Katim Wollof. It is in Central Baddibu District in the North Bank Division about a Kilometer from Senegal to the North. Ferifenni is 25 km to the East and Keriwan is 25 km to the Southwest.

I live in the Alikalo's compound, who is the village elder and is considered the leader of the community. He is a very personable and intelligent man, who I'm sure will become a good friend. I have my own hut. A 5x5 meter thatched job with screens in the windows and doors. I have a small back yard with a pit-latrine, and soon some vegetables.

To get to Kerr Katim Wollof from the Peace Corps office in Banjul, I take a cab up the pipeline to West Field (near Serre Kunda), get out, catch a bush taxi to the Market in Banjul and walk to the ferry launch. Its a 15 minute crossing to Barra, one way, but takes a minimum of an hour for a round trip. Loading and unloading the trucks is a very slow process. It was very exciting for me, I was in the last minute rush onto the ferry and was luckily pushed onto the ferry by the crowd since they knew I was with Peace Corps. The ferry was very crowded, so I crawled onto the top of a truck to get some air. I began to think about what was said about ferries in training--"If the boat should go down, be prepared to be mobbed by Gambians who cannot swim and know that all toubab (white people) can swim. So if you should find yourself in the water as a human life preserver, sink down really deep, then swim away from the wreck."

You might be wondering what's up with this toubab phenomenon? Well toubab means white person or outsider. Children chant toubab any time I go to a village. Their little arms start swinging around in the air and they are jumping up and down running, yelling "toubab toubab". Well, that doesn't really explain it, but I don't really know how.

When I arrived in Barra, I missed the first bush taxi going to Minte Kunda. So I waited four and half hours in the arm-pit of the Gambia, for my bush taxi to fill. We finally left, and went through Keriwan (where there is another short ferry crossing) all the way to Minte Kunda for D25. From there it was a 3 km walk to my village, just in time to go to sleep.

A note on bush taxis: What is a bush taxi? They are old rickety mini-buses from some European country given to the Gambia. They are Mercedes but don't tell Daimler-Chrysler-Benz. They safely seat about 15 people but typically ride with 25-35 people and all their stuff. Gambians take everything on the taxi. Chickens, food bowls, toilet seats, and I don't know what else. The only thing guarantee to work on a bush taxi is the horn.

The area of the North Bank that I will be living, called Central Baddibu, is a forgotten part of the Gambia. There are no paved roads anywhere near, but there are also fewer people and no tourists here. I think the people are the nicest people in the Gambia.

There is almost no bush left, it has all been cleared for peanut farming. Almost no trees can be seen in the fields, long ago removed to increase arable land. Villages can be spotted by the huge elderly baobab trees that grow through out.


What I see biking near my site...
The hard red clay roads run strait, with deep ruts and holes where cars have gotten stuck in the wet season. The road is lined with brush, thorny gray-green bushes, shoulder height and covered in red dust. Everything is covered in red dust near the road. A truck goes by, and I have to stop and cover my face with a cloth, the dust hangs think in the air ready to choke you if your foolish enough to make too much of an effort biking. Smaller trees, Ndimbo and Here are scattered far apart in the fields beyond the brush and larger trees, huge trees with wide cloud like crowns, can be seen here and there in the distance a few kilometers off.

There are no rocks here, only red clay and sand. A yellow flower is blooming, life continues. Old men ride two wheeled donkey carts carrying Rasta-colored umbrellas. Two small Fula boys, maybe 10 or 12 years old are herding about 30 of the horned African cattle barefoot, they wave calling me by the name of the previous volunteer "Dembo Jaw"! The cattle trample the brush and move on, stupidly. And I continue on my bike.

10 February 2001

The hot dry season is coming-the worst is supposed to come in March and April. I can work outside most of the day except for a few hours around 2-4 when the sun becomes too powerful to bear, and I crawl into my thatched hut, drink some cool water from my clay pot and read

I have been fortunate enough to have a very good counterpart, my father. He knows a little bit of English, which comes in handy when I get stuck in Wollof. He is also the village chief at about 35-40 years old. He's very progressive and intelligent, lived in Dakkar as a fisherman in his younger twenties. He has wind breaks of Acacia holicera (sp?) and has planted Cashew into his inner and outer fields. 5x30 m spacing in his inner fields as a windbreak and for fruit productin. He forms a peanut/millet rotation in between the rows. He has a woodlot of Eucalyptus, as well as some live fencing: Agave spp., Eucalytus spp., Zizyphus moritania, Parinsonia aculeata. He even has some lucana around his fields. Next year he is going to try upland rice on a small plot 4m x 4m and some casava. I'm thinking about suggesting intercropping casava and maize ala Beets, as he grew corn there before with success.

Village life has been difficult to get into. It's hard (for me) to sit and chat, otherwise doing nothing for a good chunk of the day-I know it's important socially here, especially for men, but I just need to go do something-read, wash my laundry, water my tree nursery, write, etc. I can only wathc the chickens fight and the goats rub against fencing for so long.

Another difficulty is that everyone likes to state what I'm doing in Wollof. "You are pumping water," "You are sitting," on and on. They expect me to respond, but there is no intelligent response that I can think of.

Gambians don't seem to have any respect for silence. I think it makes them lonely. Even late into the night, people are talking, children running around yelling, playing tag, youth blasting their radios. The don't seem to enjoy being alone, and I think they might think I'm aloof or disinterested in them because I take long walks alone or sometimes shut my door to be alone in my house.

9 March 2001

Greetings from Kerr Katim Wollof. I read Confederate General from Big Sur in one evening, I was laughing so much, people must now think I'm crazy.

We had or technical training at last, which was held at the Njawara Training Center about 20 km from my site, the only agro-forestry training center in the country. We learned tree nursery management, fruit tree grafting, transplanting, cashew nut processing, seed collection and treatment, fruit tree propagation, home-made polypot craft, eucalyptus (or small seed) germination, cashew apple fruit preservation, the benefits of Moringa oleifera, Zai holes, bee fodder trees. We all invited counterparts, which kept the training simple, since everything had to be translated into three other languages, but it did help in learning a little Wollof in hearing the translation.

I've been mostly working on my Wollof, and learning a little Mandinka and Pular as well. I've been biking around looking for farmers who are trying different methods, who might make good counterparts. I've found a few potential counterparts outside my village, and have just tried to hang out with them and get to know them and their families a little.

Alhadji Jallow (who lives in the neighboring Fula village Mida) has a small inner field that he is turning into a cashew orchard. He has a very nice live fence of sisal (Agave sisilana) and Parkinsona aculeata that we are going to (try to) finish this year. Inside he has some cashews that are poorly spaced but well protected by individual thorn fences around each. He currently farms peanuts around them. He also has a small garden near the well that is already fenced where he has a few large mango trees, cassava, sweet potato, and his tree nursery. He is the only person in the village that I am aware of that is dry season gardening. He's a well-respected man in the village, a good farmer, and is fun to hang out with.

My father Mustapha Baye, has a 5 acre inner field that the wants to finish fencing in (Parkinsona aculeata, Agave sisilana, Ziziphus Mauritania, Leucaena leucocehala), along with a small (1/4-ha) eucalyptus woodlot, Acacia holosceria windbreak, and about 70 cashew trees in a 30 x 5 M windbreak/orchard layout. I'd like to plant between these rows, spacing about every 10 meters. He can continue to cultivate in between the trees, and good cashew varieties can start fruiting after 2 rainy seasons. He wants to finish fencing in his field (about 5 hectares) which is about half finished.

In my village, the elder women's group is interested in a woman's woodlot, but I haven't made any progress with this yet. We are supposed to get some aid from Concern Universal (polypots, tools, seeds, and the ever-promised almighty barbed wire), but I'm not holding my breath. I'd like to try starting a few seedlings that are goat resistant (Acacia holosceria, Cassia siamea, and possibly Eucalyptus camaldulensis) on the land around it. But before anything happens, I think the women should really need to decide how they are going to manage it--who, when and how harvesting and replanting will be done, and how the money will be used.

The neighboring village Mida has a well for a women's garden provided by the Department of Agriculture. They are supposed to come and fence it in with barbed wire and to remove the tailings from the well. It really needs a live fence and a windbreak, and ideally some light shade (Leucaena leucocephala, Moringa oleifera, Sesbania sesban). They have no rope, pulley or bags for pulling water, tools, or seeds. If they show some initiative I might write a SPA for them.

Schools are generally agreed by volunteers as a disaster to work with; I have kept my distance from the schools. The village of Minta Kunda a Mandinka village 2-km Southeast, is not a very fun place for me to go. I get "toubabed" all the time there, other volunteers have also been harassed there. In my experience people have been rude there as a rule and I can't remember a time when someone hasn't gone up to me and demanded a visa or money from me. Is this because they have been the target of outside help (see next paragraph) and now expect any toubab to hand out gifts? I digress. Many volunteers have had good experiences with starting/running environment clubs in the schools. Minta Kunda already has a club, and seems to be active (doing what I'm not sure yet), but I don't want to interrupt a good thing, especially if its being run by Gambian teachers already. I could possibly come as a guest speaker or help arrange guest speakers. The school also has a good garden and a tree nursery that sells extra trees and produce.

My father has agreed to lend me a 1/2-hectare for farming this rainy season. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do with it...anything but peanuts. I'm not sure how much time I will have to work on it and I'm not sure how ambitious I am. So far I've been a failure at my own garden, in my back yard with the exception of my trees (of course, the soil is all red latterite rock which is pretty difficult anyway). I'd like to just try a variety of alternative crops and see what works. Nobody in my area grows yams, so I'd like to try that. Or maybe I'll just plant a small woodlot this year.

Kerr Samba Nyado has a former Peace Corps language trainer, Sajoo Dooboya, who owns a small orchard. I plan to work with him and his wife on making/marketing cashew apple cookies, a simple method to preserve the apples and sell them at the local lumo. He is currently a metal shop teacher in Banjul, and visits his family every two weeks.

Sara Bidum Kunda, a small village of 3 compounds has one farmer Ebrima Bah, who is trying to establish a small orchard of cashew on his own. He has already started some trees for a windbreak and a few fruit trees around his compound. He needs help with small things like soil mixtures for polypots, knowledge of live fencing trees. He's just starting, so well go on it small, small as they say here.

Mida has a broken pump that needs repaired. I plan to look into the problem at EDF. I want to find out why it was never repaired who is responsible for these things like repair, maintenance, if anyone in my area is trained in it. This is a really common problem. When things are given, people don't value them, and they get ruined. Or they don't receive the knowledge to fix or maintain things, have the money to maintain things, or be able to find parts.

I just met one farmer just across the border in Senegal who has a small (~1 hectare) diverse farm that really impressed me. He has never worked with any PC or NGO's. He has a 'live fence' of local grasses and shrubs with a couple of Sisal (Agave sisilana), with mango and cashew trees, sweet potatoes, cassava, cotton, wanjo/bissab, grass, calabash, neem (Azadirachta indica) and Cassia siamea. He sells the grass for thatch, calabash bowls, poles for roofing, the mangos, cassava and potatoes get sold at the market. Impressive considering all the people surrounding him grow only groundnuts and millet.

I have a few other ideas for future projects, but I don't know how they will take off or whether I will try them. One is an agro-forestry kaffo (group) to exchange seeds, share tools, knowledge, etc. Another is to start a tree nursery with my village's children. I'd like to experiment with Zai holes for transplanting earlier, before the rains. Mostly, I expect to be starting tree nurseries so that I can plant when the rains come sometime around June 15.

The local farming system fits Beets description of the Upland Cereal-Based system closely. Rainfed millet for subsistence is alternated each season with groundnuts for cash. The intensity of farming increases with proximity to the village as Beets describes as "concentric-ring farming". There are compound gardens in some surrounding villages (but not mine), with inner fields and outer fields. Inner fields are sometimes fertilized by cows (Wollofs pay Fulani cattle herders to fertilize their land), and sometimes then crop with maize. The outermost fields are sometimes fallowed, but it's rare. Sorghum is sometimes inter-cropped with millet. Groundnuts are the primary cash crop, some vegetables are grown for the local market (Kerr Pate ~6km away has a open air market every Wednesday).

Goats and sheep are owned by women, left to range during the day and are tied up in the compound at night. Chickens, ducks and guinea foul are also raised and consumed locally for meat. No egg production is done because Holland exports (subsidized) eggs cheaper (1.50 dalasi) than they can be produced here.

Beets gives a really good synopsis of problems that holds true in my area. Declining soil fertility, unreliable rainfall, inefficient markets, high cost of inputs, little integration of animals, population pressure (not currently a problem here, but will be), shortened (or no) fallows are all problems that I see.

Soil erosion is a big problem as almost all trees have been removed and no new trees are regenerating as the goats get to them. Trees are seen as a wasted space in the fields--area that could be used for peanut production. Fields are plowed against the contour to help drain water quickly (though I haven't seen the rainy season yet). Wind erosion is the primary problem with the Harmattan winds blowing like a blow dryer all day long. (Haze in the air, dust devils, etc). Windbreaks are needed badly.

People are starting to try small dry season gardens and orchards. There is a real need for soil fertility management, soil and water conservation, and wood production. Pressures on the neighboring forests are a large problem, and are quickly becoming depleted. Soils are infertile, difficult to work. If any manure is applied, it dries up and blows away with the topsoil every year. Roads are turning into gullies and sand pits.

Very few inputs are used as fertilizer is expensive and difficult to get as transportation is (almost) impossible. NAWFA and the Agriculture Department give out herbicide, insecticide, and fungicides.

Mechanical threshers are available for peanuts, but no pounders for millet, which is a large labor and time burden on women. An NGO gave away thresher/pounders for millet, but the men didn't maintain them. There are commercial machines at the Lumo in Kerr Pate, but the millet spoils quickly.

Crop residues are all burned off the field or cleared and brought to the compounds to feed horses, although some families store it in the fields and take their horses, donkeys out to feed during the day. Very little integration with livestock. Men own cattle for both savings and for animal traction. They are kept by the poorest of the Fulani, the traditional pastoralists in the neighboring village. (Villages are generally segregated by ethnic group.).

Burning fallow fields in preparation for planting.

A farm field after it has been burned.

I took an informal census of my village. There are 262 men, women and children in Kerr Katim. There are 12 compounds, but some of these compounds break down into 16 smaller household units. Two compounds own cattle for animal traction, but I think there may be more (I was having some language misunderstandings over this). There are 38 horses, 11 donkeys, 19 sheep (not including rams to be slaughtered for Tabaski), and 94 evil goats.

Training was a difficult time in that everything was controlled. My life was structured, my diet dictated, etc. I dreaded the two days of sessions in Tendaba on "cultural sensitivity" and so on. Now my life is the opposite, no structure what so ever. Going to the city is tough--the change of worlds, its like after watching a long intense movie and then being left with your own simple life again.. Upon returning to my village after a couple days break its really hard to get back into things. I'm usually depressed for a few days, and don't get much done. Or I'm excited about getting things done and run around in a frenzy getting nothing accomplished.

It's hard to adapt to the village pace of life. To just sit. I see young men sitting around drinking attya (a funky overcooked Chinese green tea super saturated with sugar) all day and get disgusted; their wives are out working hard getting water, laundry, cooking, caring for their children. The conversation always comes back to how great America is or how they want a toubab wife, or why I don't have a wife. So I've been trying to hang out with the older women in my village, who have some spare time, and the old men who just don't give a damn. It's not easy sitting and doing nothing, especially with the language barrier. A few men are motivated to plant trees and try new things, but they are the same people who are busily running their bitik (village shops) or ...

5 June 2001

The rainy season should be coming any day now. The first rain on average is around June 15, and Mali has been getting rain early this year so people are predicting an early and long rainy season this year.

Kerr Katim Wollof Women's Group
They have a small tree nursery and have started some eucalyptus, gmelina, gamtel, and Cassia samia seedlings and will begin some gardening of Bitter tomatoes, Eggplant, and Okra. They have been getting help from Concern Universal and will be getting some kind (dubious) aid package for starting a woodlot if they get the local contribution of D1600, which includes a wheel barrow, polypots, shovels, watering cans, and barbed wire. It seems like overkill to me--we can just plant goat resistant trees and the rest is not needed...

Mustapha has been telling me the Gambian and Senegalese governments aren't loaning out much peanut seed this year--it may come late or never. Farmers in my village apparently sell all their peanut harvest except for what is needed for the food bowl. It makes no sense to me why they do this, when they can rely on themselves. Maybe seed storage is a problem? Farmers in Mida keep their seed for the following year. The problem isn't so much producing peanuts for export, but goeng (peanut grass) for the horses, donkeys and cattle.

The women's woodlot in Chorgan Fula was burned down last week by a jealous man from the village. The women had grown some poles (Cassia samia and Eucalyptus) and then sold them to their husbands for roofing and then spent the money on school fees for their children. Almost all the trees are burned up pretty bad--but its only the Eucalyptus camadensus that burned, and I think it will re-sprout if the standing wood is coppiced when the rains come. They have caught the man and the government want to make an example out of him.

I bought a donkey. It wasn't easy to find a good one. The first one I looked at bites--which is no good at all. Apparently, when a donkey bites you it won't let go. Alahji Jallow told me a story about a man who was bit by his donkey--they had to kill the donkey with an ax to release it's bite. My donkey doesn't bite, but it does kick! I'm thinking of naming it punkel, which means fat. My donkey is about 4-5 months pregnant. We use the donkey for pulling water in the morning. Women use the water for laundry, but it is mainly for watering the tree nurseries. Not bad for about $40.

I also bought a chicken and named it George W. Bush. It slept on my grass roof until it scratched out a bed and made a hole in the ceiling. So last week George W. helped me introduce the concept of barbecue to Kerr Katim.

September 2001

Working with People in the village

Mustapha Baye, Kerr Katim Wollof
We finished out-planting his windbreak/fence of Acacia holosceria, lines of cashew in his fields and a small assortment of other non-native agfo trees. He is also growing 2 ha of upland rice. Nobody has tried growing upland rice in this area to my knowledge, and is doing well so far. I just hope the rains keep coming. I think that 2 ha was too big, and he should scale it back a bit, rice is a marginal crop here-upland rice needs about 700mm and so it will fail in some years, and the soil tends to be sandy-risk assessment. I have mixed feelings about growing rice--he goes through something like 30 50kg bags a year and now he will be should self-sufficient in his rice consumption. However, it is nutritionally inferior to millet and corn (and I don't like to eat rice). For the women, it is easier to cook, but more work to weed. Stapha grew over 5000 trees, much more than he can protect, so we gave over half of them away-up to 30 eucalyptus and 30 cashew trees to farmers who promised they would take care of them-to protect them from fire, and the evil goats. I will go around and give advice and encourage protection of the trees. He has also started a rainy season garden, including cassava, sweet potato, bitter tomato, tomato, eggplant, okra, and hot peppers. He sells the product at the local lumos and in the village, making 300-500 dalasi a week.

Alhadji Man Jai Contech, Kerr Katim Wollof
Alhadji has planted a rainy season garden, with the same plants that Stapha is using. He has planted a windbreak around his inner farm using Cassia siamea, and Acacia holosceria. He transplanted about 100 cashew trees as well, but I'm concerned that that is too many for him to protect.

Samba Bah, Mida
Samba is a student at the Njawara training center, interested in Silvi-Pastoral systems. We have been planning his farm, produce fodder for one or two of his cattle through the dry season for milk. He is the only literate English speaker that I know in the area. He saw a plan for a grazing preserve for times of drought that he would like to implement. He will also be doing ram fattening for Tobaski and goat raising. This rainy season we are just trying to fence in his property and plant a windbreak on the North and East sides. As well as adding some cashew trees. Right now there is corn on his farm. As soon as it is harvested we will plant some fodder trees (Sesbania sesban) and cassava in long ridges.

Aladgie Jallow, Mida
Aladgie's sisal didn't survive the rats, so we planted a windbreak/live fence of Eucalyptus and Parkinsona. He direct seeded about 40 cashews, but are having a tough time growing inside his millet field due to the lack of light.

Katim Turey, Kerr Katim Wollof
We laid out and planted a cashew (and a few mango) tree orchard. He fenced in about ½ ha area, which took him about 2 weeks. He is growing cassava and sweet potato under and around the trees as well.

Women's Garden, Mida
What a mess. The sisal beds never got watered. I'm not sure exactly why. Anyway it was all plowed under and planted with peanuts. I believe the women of the village are worried about the land getting taken over by the Alkalo's family (it was originally his land) and the amount of work that goes into gardening in the dry season, as they should, because it is too much work. And if they have a good barbed wire fence, people don't see the need for the sisal.

The ministry of agriculture that dug the well and donated the barbed wire is unhappy because the fence posts are no good so they are withholding the rest of the barbed wire and trees they want to donate. When I first started, I was told by the village that this was to be a women's garden. Later at the ministry, I was told it was for an orchard for everyone. Why build a well to only be rendered useless? Mango and other trees will eventually shade everything out. The well is 40m, expensive, and could have allot of uses. There are no fence posts to cut as the area is totally deforested and transport is very difficult. I don't see how this will not fail. I intend to hold a meeting to find out what people want to do with the land and suggest dividing the area into 5 parts, for the 5 compounds in the village, so that people have some kind of ownership and pride in their work. The few people interested in doing some work can, the others go to waste but at least it is used. I would also like to get the village to come to an agreement on what will and will not be allowed to be done there. Can the well be used for animals? Can shade producing permanent trees be grown there or only temporary ones? ie. powpow and mango. Once I know what the village wants I can go back to the Ministry of Agriculture and see what we can agree to.

There are a few projects that I have seen using barbed wire and local wood posts for gardens and orchards. Is it really beneficial overall to cut 200-400 posts a hectare only to plant 60-100 trees? There must be a better way to do this. In other areas of the country where there is allot of Gmelina, people cut them for fence posts and they re-sprout in the rainy season.

Farming and the Start of the Rainy Season

The rains have finally come and so I have been becoming familiar with the farming system. The primary crops in my village and the surrounding villages are groundnuts, millet, and to a lesser extent corn. Nobody is farming sesame in my area despite the government and NGO extortionists promoting it. I have been told that it is too much work and yields have not been very high. Millet is strictly for subsistence, while both corn and groundnuts are sold to "co-operatives" and the government, as well as for household consumption.

Land use in my area is organised in concentric circles. Inside the village and immediately outside compounds are rainy season gardens growing peppers, bitter tomato, eggplant, tomato, squash, calabash, and onion. Then there are the inner farm fields that are farmed every year and are fertilised with either organic or chemical fertiliser. This depends on who they know and their financial situation of course. This is where most farmers are deciding to add trees to their farms. They are adding wind breaks (Eucalyptus and A. holosceria), and fruit trees (mango and cashew trees) by either building a large fence from shrubs and thorns from the farms and bush or individual small weaved tree guards. The guards are easier to do and maintain, but they effect the tree's growth making them tall and spindly. It also makes it difficult to weed. Some farmers build small fenced-in areas for growing cassava, potato, and sweet potato. Outer fields are sometimes fallowed for one or two seasons for four to six years of crops. Striga is the major pest for the millet, which seems to be the primary reason for fallow. I believe that the Fula farmers tend to fallow more often, as they need land for their cows to be tied up at night. The crop rotation is strictly millet or corn followed by groundnuts.

Millet, Maze, and Sorghum are the staple foods besides rice (which is imported). Millet and Sorghum are often mixed in both the fields and food bowl. The stocks are used for fencing and fuel. Millet and Sorghum grains are used for feed-fattening chickens (a rare thing to do), for horses and donkeys. Grasses in the fields are collected as well for feed during the rainy season. Groundnuts, are primarily the cash crop, but it is getting harder and harder to make a profit. Fertiliser is getting more expensive and less abundant, while prices are declining. Groundnuts are the primary concern of men. They only work 3 months out of the year to earn their money, at best around 3000D. Meanwhile the soil is losing its fertility, and getting washed away with nothing to hold the soil in place. People tend to sell too much of their crop, depending on the government for loans of seeds the following year. Sometime its going to completely fail. The rest of the peanut crop is used for sauces and oil. The leaves and stock of the plant is used as fodder-for feeding horses and donkeys through the dry season.

Between neighbouring village's outer farms, there is usually a strip of bush-mostly shrub up to 11/2 meters tall with a slightly higher incidence of trees. The bush is used as a bathroom, and for firewood collection, timber, poles, posts, medicines, fodder/graze, tying up goats, bush meat, and as a corridor to the river for sheep and cows. This is another case of the tragedy of the commons, there is no regulation or management from within the village over the last remaining bush. I would like to find a way to control fire and animals, but how to do that? Its very difficult working with groups here-at least when I'm working with a environmental project-I have yet to have any successful work done in a group.

Goats and sheep are owned by women, with the exception of rams, which are fattened and sold by men for Tobaski. Men also own all the cattle, horses and donkeys. At the beginning of the rainy season, when the millet is germinating, goats are tied up in the compounds and trees and grasses are lopped for fodder. Sheep and cattle are both herded either by boys in the village or by a hired man (about D800 for the season), which are taken to the river and bush to feed. As the weeds grow goats are taken to the bush or roadsides to be tied up for the day, then returned in the evening. Goats are considered the best money making scheme for women, they often have twins every 7 months or so. If you have 5 or 6 goats you can buy 1 cow (but is rare to see a woman owning a cow).

At the very end of the dry season all the land to be planted next season was cleared with machete and rake, then burned. Combritum spp. and Guiera snegalensis that grows abundantly in fields was removed for firewood during the rainy season.

At the first good rain, when the soil is soaked, farmers begin sowing their millet and then their groundnuts. They have mechanical seeders that have a pair of wheels and an arm that drops the seed into the soil. Seed is measured through a removable plate that rotates with the wheels. A horse or donkey leads the seeder, with a small boy leading the animal. The seeder has handles behind it and so to guide the machine and keep an eye on the seed. The first weeds are removed by a sine hoe about two weeks in. This is also the time that animals are then tied up.


Kerr Katim Wollof

Kerr Katim Wollof has a working VDC (Village Development Council). The council has communal peanut fields, which everyone who is a member (there is a small fee to join), must help weed and harvest. The money from the peanut sales are then put into the VDC's bank account. The VDC is the contact liaison for the village, when dealing with NGOs. They also loan millet and money during the dry season and pay for pump repairs.

Surrounding my village, there is no significant bush and no forest. There is a sort of bush shelterbelt surrounding the outer fields of our village, maybe 20-30 meters wide. It consists of a few trees scattered about, they are fire scared and coppiced. Mostly fruit trees and wood trees such as monkey cutlass (Parkia biglobosa) and Prosipis africana. It tends to be in lower areas that have heavy soils that aren't that great for peanut farming. My village is in the lower peanut belt coming down out of Senegal. Most of the land clearing was done shortly after WWII to clear for the expansion of peanuts.

Mustapha told me that when the area around my village was being cleared the government handed out giant nails to pound into the trees, the most effective way to kill them quickly. Fire didn't kill the trees off fast enough. Apparently the nails worked.

The rainy season is here--millet is already over my head, maize is almost ripe. Children have malaria. There are puddles and mud everywhere. The transformation is incredible. Just two months ago the land was desiccated, barren, brown and dead. Empty space that the Harmittan winds blow through. Harsh. Now everything is lush, the air is thick. I can hear monitor lizard and frogs at night. Weaver birds, small yellow birds have build their homes in a nearby neem tree and are slowly driving me to insanity. From sunrise to sunset there is a constant chatter coming from the tree. They come through in the rainy season to eat millet, so the villagers don't like them understandably. Children like to catch them, tease them, torture them, and eat them (they are apparently very tasty grilled over charcoal).

Speaking of birds, I was eating some bush bird the other night in my food bowl. I asked Stapha, "Ban fasong pitche mooy bii?", what kind of bird is this? He replies "heron". Heron is pretty damn tasty. I have a field guide to all the birds in the Senegambia, so I pull this out after dinner, and he identifies almost every bird in the book and can tell me what kind of habitat the bird likes, and what it eats! I was amazed.

Family names have a totem animal that people leave alone. Ndey, my mother's last name, should never touch a rabbit. Mbye is the monitor lizard--I actually know a man who lets a monitor lizard live in his house because of this. Baye, my family name has no animal, it is a tree! How appropriate. As a boy, my father was told not to touch it (Rati Baye) or he will become very sick.

I got a bad case of bacterial dysentery in the village. My father told me I should kill a chicken. That is the medicine they use. Eat a whole chicken and it will cure runny belly. He also claims I get it from working too hard (or riding on washboard roads).

December 2001.

It's been a relatively unproductive three months at site. Ramadan has started, while people are still harvesting, sorting and shelling peanuts. Labor demand has been high, especially so on women, making it difficult to do hands-on 'work'. However, I have enjoyed working in the fields, harvesting millet and piling peanuts. I really haven't gotten much of the work I had hoped to do from my last report. I feel like I've been running around for the last few months getting nothing done. I must have spent only half my time in village over this period and I now feel kind of guilty for it.

I just got back from a second tour of the dreaded Death March 2001 with the new agroforestry trainees. About half of them visited our Gambia webpage and were prepared for the 'march' but I think some may have been a little intimidated. Again we saw baboons jumping and hanging from trees and cliffs, the sandy baobab beach for lunch, and a green puff viper.

For Christmas I will be camping at a spot called Baboon Island, which is off limits to foreigners except for Peace Corps volunteers. It's the most beautiful spot in the Gambia overlooking the river from laterite cliffs. In the morning you can watch the sunrise, look down and see hippos bobbing in the river in the mist.

Mustapha Baye, Kerr Katim Wollof
The windbreak of Acacia holiceria is growing nicely, the ones we planted in August are already chest high and don't seem to be greatly affected by the difficult soils. I went out to check on them one evening at dusk and stepped on a large lime green poisonous snake. Fortunately the one I stepped on was not very aggressive and just hissed at me. The rainy season vegetable garden was successful, earning 300-600 dalasi a week, by selling his extra produce at the two closest major lumos. Mustapha and I shoveled up some potato mounds--nearly a hectare of them, they were a couple of weeks late, but we will get a decent harvest of small potatoes. Unfortunately the upland rice was a disaster. The rice went to seed but were mostly empty seed pods, I later learned that this can be caused by fertilizing the rice in the last 30 days with urea, which is exactly what we did. Mustapha is not discouraged and has agreed to try again next year on a smaller trial. I would like to try and contact the West African Rice Grower's Association or the Chinese NGO that is promoting upland rice here and share information and possibly get a faster maturing variety seed. During Ramadan, Mustapha bakes bread to sell across the border in Senegal. There are 5 bread ovens overall in the village. He bakes somewhere near 2000 loaves of bread every day selling at a dalasi each. The firewood is collected from the state owned forest near the river. Legally, the wood must be dead and dry to be collected, which seems to be the case observing most of the wood that is brought in from as far as Duntomalang, a small Mandinka village way out in the bush, approximately 20km away. I wonder if people are going out to kill trees and then collecting them later? Right now the only major thing that needs to be done on his farm is to protect his cashews before the goats get to them.

Kerr Katim's hand pumps are broken again for the third time this year. It costs anywhere from 1000-2000 dalasi (about US $60-120) each time to fix it, and my village is fed up with paying it (and the VDC is out of money right now). That leaves the open well as the only source of water for the village, and there is always a line to get water there. It will make running a large tree nursery difficult, and Mustapha has hinted that I should do something about it. I would rather get them to find a solution themselves. Maybe I can find a way for the VDC to raise funds.

Katim Cessay, Kerr Katim Wollof
His orchard/garden is doing really well. His cassava and potatoes are doing well, and the cashews and eucalyptus are looking healthy. He is really good about keeping his fence well mended, which really impresses me. Most people are kind of lazy about it and don't mind if there are a few spots where they may enter. I look forward to working with him next year and we need to sit down and make plans.

Alhadji Man Jai Contech, Kerr Katim Wollof
Alhadji's trees are also doing quite well and he is doing a good job of protecting his cashews with individual tree guards. He has some experience with bee keeping, he has a local hive, but it doesn't have top bars allowing the honey to be harvested, sparing the brood. If the honey is harvested the bees abscond.

Women's Woodlot, Kerr Katim Wollof
The women got the local contribution money together and have a site for their woodlot. I need to contact Concern Universal in Njawera and find out when they will bring the tools and barbed wire. I would like them to have a fence built before the rainy season.

Samba Bah, Mida
We trenched some 'Sierra Leone' type Mangos in his garden for grafting, out planted about 35 Sesbana sesban, 30 cashew, 30 eucalyptus, and 100 Acacia melifera. We have a sisal nursery going and have put up a barbed wire fence. My goal is to get his live fence established and then move his fence elsewhere to start a wood lot. We continue to plan his orchard, but he is busy with his peanut farm and training in Njawara. He will be finished in January when he will begin work on a shelter and pens for the goats and sheep he will be purchasing. He already bought some rams to fatten up for Tobaski and we have a plan for what to feed them.

Mida Garden-- going nowhere and the government doesn't seem interested in helping or getting involved at all. I will hold one more meeting and if nothing happens I'll drop it from my agenda.

Sama Miro Kaffoo
The ten one-hectare orchards that were outplanted in August still havent recived barbed wire and none of the farmers seem interested in protecting their cashews from the goats. They don't think it will work without barbed wire, which of course is a very frustrating thing to hear.

For the next few months I would like to continue visiting the farmers that we distributed trees to and see to it that they are protecting them from fire and goats. I would like to promote mud stoves. I would like to work with the garden master at the school in Minte Kunda and make a couple demonstrations for mud stoves there and prepare the nursery and garden. I would also like to promote nebadaye (Moringa olefora) with the mothers in surrounding villages. I need to find a good way to do this, since they wont grow it until people see the good it will to for them and their children

I would like to get a few farmers to make local hives to see if we can get them colonized, now that we are in the season for it. I would like to have a training for 3-4 farmers on how to do it, which I might arrange with another volunteer that is working with bees in Njawara.

Neem tree that is killing a ween (Ptrocarpous erasous), a valuable timber tree, at the Kerewan garage

March 2002

I have been collecting proverbs (Ganne) in Wolof and Pulaar. Here are some of them:

Reewee Hepbani arte tow tane.
"To have something, then to leave it for something else and fail in getting it, returning to the first thing and not have it."
Nange yoornata ko hoolaka.
"The sun will not dry up anything that is not under it."
Loogeedoo tawata gootowo
"When you get something in your eye, you will go and get someone to remove it."

Ndanka ndanka mooy jaapa golo si nahi.
"Slowly, slowly, is the way to catch a monkey in the bush."
Amut nak dee si sow.
"If you don't have your cow, you died in the bush."
Mënloo lekk ceeb te am ceeb.
"You can't have rice and eat it too."
Ku muñ muuñ
"He who is patient will smile."
Ku koo njek a foon tabbi ajjana
"If you smell it first you'll go to heaven." (Told at the end of a story.)
Lu kenn men fukk (ñoo) ko ko daq.
"Many hands make the work light."
Ku du tukki du xaam fu dekk neexe.
"If you don't travel, you won't know sweet places." (An argument for another wife or girlfriend)
Lu waay jeemu du ko mën.
"What you don't try you cannot do."
Ku bugg dara, def dara.
"He who wants nothing, does nothing."
Ku dinaa rey sa maame.
"Who puts of till tomarrow kills a grandparent"
Ku am kuddu du lakk.
"Who has a spoon won't get burned."
"Ndox du romba pax."
"Isn't it true that you cannot pass over a hole." (Which somebody translated to me as: "First Come , first served.")
Pitci angi si kow waaye xellam mungi si suuf.
"A bird up in the air has its thoughts on the ground."
Benn pitci mënut yaq ndaje.
"One bird won't ruin the meeting."
Xel du japp ñaar.
"Your mind cannot grab two things at once."
Duma jende jaan si paax.
"I don't buy snakes still in the ground."
Suble su neb, dina yaq saku.
"One bad onion will ruin the sack."
Bor du am rakk.
A debt doesn't have a younger sibling.
Gumba du jiite yoon.
"Don't take directions from a blind man."
Lu waay ji, moom lay goob.
"You reap what you sow."
Kundu dubin rey sa maam sa you gissee lu nuul dowel.
"If a Dubin (a black bird) kills your grandparent, you will run when you see something black."
Dërem bi ginnut gal gi.
"Money dosen't leave the boat." (I.e. keep money in the family)
Ku dekka si getta gi naan si meew mi.
"If you have cats in your compound, you should enjoy drinking milk."
Ku bügga yaay, bügga doom."
"Who likes their mother wants children."
Këwel du toop doom jar butha.
Like mother like daughter.
Lu barr buggu moom boxtha bügga.
"If you and anther person want the same thing..."

For New Years I went to a small village in Senegal to see an orchard that was started ten years ago by a teacher from Kaolack. They have the benefit of being close to a tributary that connects to the River Gambia so the water table is shallow. Using a small gas powered pump they irrigate almost three hectares of vegetables and fruit trees. They had a live fence of citrus and eight different budded varieties inside the orchard. They also have poultry for meat and eggs. The whole village is now interested in vegetable gardening; almost every man in the village tends a garden during the dry season. Some of them are buying a cheap pumping machine akin to a Stairmaster. It's made locally for 2000D (about $110). It's really great to see success.

With my parents and sister here for one month I didn't get much work done this quarter. My family went up to my village and spent four days there, where they received Gambian names in a Wolof naming ceremony. We fed the village for the day, killed some goats and did a little dancing. My father brought a digital camera so there should be some entertaining pictures. We also flew to Mali for fifteen days. It's truly a beautiful and diverse country. It was difficult trying to communicate being a Francophone country and Wolof are totally absent there. My favorite time was the three days we spent in a small boat traveling to Timbuktu on the Niger River. The contrast between the river and the dry desert surrounding it is striking.


June 2002.

I have been busy this quarter trying to get people to start tree nurseries. It has been difficult in Kerr Katim, due to a lack of water. The pumps are still broken (I hate to say it, but I'm going to write a SPA to get it repaired) I have tried to locate a local NGO to help us, but nobody seems interested. We only have one working well and it is in full use at the moment. We just got an old well that has been in disuse for the last 15 years re-dug for use, and I am debating with myself as to whether it would be better to have a community nursery area or encourage small nurseries in each compound. The re-dug well would be a good area for a nursery/garden area as there is land for it and would encourage people to exchange information and ideas. However, as community projects have a way of failing here since someone needs to take responsibility for the upkeep of the area-to clear it and maintain the fence and rope/pulley/buckets for drawing water. Anyway I should hold a VDC meeting to discuss these issues.

Timber Harvesting.

3 August 2002.

I have been running around the last few weeks, trying to get some projects moving. The SPA to fund my village's hand pumps were approved so I have visited the local pump repairman and the pump parts store in Combo. The local government apparently ran out of money to buy a pump for Mida, but we managed to get a commitment from an NGO, called SRD (nobody seems to know what that means) to fund it. Unfortunately when I went to collect the money the man went to Combo for a funeral. We had a fourth of July party in Combo, which was a little interesting. We had a pot luck at the ambassador's house which is on the beach, and we got free beer and chicken burgers, mmmm, chicken burgers mmmmm... Anyway we must be a sight to the embassy staff, wearing our shabby clothes and choking down toubab food and pounding Julbrew (the official beer of the Gambia).

Guinea was a great. A beautiful country, I envy all the volunteers who work there. We spent six days at a mountain town called Duki, where we took day hikes to waterfalls, cliffs, streams, swimming holes, good swinging vines, and a huge granite arch. All the villages up there have live fencing around their villages and keep their animals outside of it with sticks around the necks to keep them out of the weaker sections of fence. They have avocados, oranges, mangos, papaya, bananas, inside their compounds (which don't need watering since they get enough rain) and grow corn, squash, and cassava around the compounds. They still practice a limited slash and burn agriculture, with shortening fallow periods for growing fonio (which is a very tasty grain). Transportation is a bigger problem there, they had hundreds of mangos just rotting on the ground. You will never see that in the Gambia. They are Fulani so they of course have cows for milk too, but they were in the lowlands when we were there. We hiked from Mali-ville to Kadagou, Senegal, which took 3 days. Actually we didn't hike the whole way, only to Segu. On the second day of hiking we reached our evening camping spot, where we collapsed. We were missing allot of meals, people in that area apparently aren't too friendly to strangers, and we were damn tired. We passed out on some flat rocks only to wake up in a downpour. We had a tarp and put it up, by the time it was up we were soaked and water was coming in from the sides. The wind eventually knocked it down and we decided to walk on since we couldn't sleep and we were cold. We hiked for about 2 hours by the lightning and a bitiko flashlight (cheap Chinese crap). We were setting down our packs under a tree to lye down for the night when we ran into a hornets nest and had to continue. About 15 minutes later I was about to stop when I came within a step of a huge black scorpion. No longer interested in sleeping on the ground we pushed on (passing another about 10 minutes later). Sometime around 3-4 am we stopped at a bantaba (platform under a tree) in a small town. We spent the night there and continued on at sunrise. Fortunately we got some breakfast of millet porridge, but it wasn't enough to keep off the fatigue. We wanted to stop and rest but there were these stinging flies that would attack us as soon as we dropped our bags. We pushed on to Segu. We waited all day there for the elusive transport to Kadigou. Finally at 5, our luck was about to change, a truckload of french college girls stopped, and they were heading to Tambacounda (where PC has a house). Unfortunately the driver wouldn't let us on no matter what we offered. We eventually got a ride on a mini-bus carrying a horde of young students screaming songs and clapping. So we rode on top, which was a great way to ride out of town, seeing the countryside pass, and the sunset just before we had to climb inside to get past the Senegalese roadblock.

Bee hive built with local materials (eucalyputs poles, baobab bark rope, eucalyptus poles, and cow dung).


Harvesting honey from a Kenyan Bar-Top Hive during Peace Corps In Service Training (IST).

Mid-September 2002.


We have been in a drought here for about 25 days. The rains have started coming now but the early millet is all ruined, the late millet is going to have a small harvest. People are getting hungry, people have been coming to my father's compound, begging for food to eat, as they have no food anymore and cannot afford rice (which has just gone up from 230D a bag in July, 250D a bag in early August and is now 270D a bag or 6D a kilo). The government hasn't yet paid the majority the trivial amount that they would get (D2.00 a kilo or about $0.087) for peanuts (with most male farmers earning around 2000-3000D in groundnuts). The Dalasi has taken another dip as the dollar now buys 23D and is also slipping against the Senegalese CFA (was 1D=50CFA one year ago, now 1D=21CFA). Now my father being the eldest son of one of the richest men in the area, is thought to be rich, but is not. He is struggling to meet his needs-getting food on the table every day with allot of dependents and lazy men in his compound. He has a hard time getting the labor to realize his ambitious hopes for agroforestry production on his farm. He had over 40 cashews about 2m tall which have all died due to the lack of protection and care. Having a shortage of labor on the farm he can just keep up with getting the substance crops and peanuts to feed the animals. He always helps the people who come, something to pay for the rice for a meal. I don't know how he does it. The only income he has is a bread oven. To bake, he must go 4-5 km to get firewood. There he collects large (dead) trees to fire the oven. He knows exactly what the effect is on the forest, saying that "the bread ovens will burn up all the forest in the Gambia", but he is stuck in a situation that he cannot get out of. He doesn't want to be destroying the forest, he has some environmental awareness. He has grown allot of firewood on his farm which meets the needs for cooking meals, but relies on the forest to put food on the table. Without it, nobody would be eating.

I have been spending most of my time either working on my thesis or getting a hand pump in Mida. The local govt was going to pay for a new pump, but it turns out that the chairman of the Njaba Kunda ward council lied to me (to save face?) and that there will be no such project so I have been scrambling to fine an NGO or other source for the pump. There is a new Ward Chairman in Njaba Kunda who has promised me help, but then promises seem to come easy here and very few get fulfilled (from politicians). I am still waiting on my SPA money for Kerr Katim's pump, USAID isn't very efficient. I'm getting really tired of drinking open well water and taking bucket baths with water that smells worse that I do after a hard days work, but I have a filter, health care, and the option to leave whenever I want.

Waiting for the cattle to come back from the river to be tied up for the night. A few days after this picture was taken a hyena killed a cow.

The rains this year have been erratic. After a few heavy rains to soak the ground, farmers sowed their seeds, the rains stopped. The second and third weeks after the rains start is the best time of the year for tree planting, as the farmers have a break before weeding begins. All the corn failed except for the occasional field that was seeded at the right moment and have heavier soil richer in humus. I thought that the millet was going to fail too, but the millet has made a miraculous recovery and I believe will be a better than average year. Peanuts too look good at least vegetativily, we should have a good harvest of peanut grass for animal feed.

I have been encouraging alternative crops as the corn has failed and people need something to grow for a late season crop. I have been recommending watermelon, beans, okra, and sweet potatoes, which are the only crops that I believe, will be able to harvest at this point if the rains keep coming. I distributed some watermelon seed to about two dozen farmers in the area.


I managed to get about 5 kilos of quality cashew seed, so I went around to every compound in Kerr Katim Wollof and Mida, identified one person interested in growing trees and explained how to directly sow the seeds into their peanut fields. Everyone seemed interested and I expected maybe half of them might get planted on time in a way that they have a chance to grow. Unfortunately due to the drought almost all, I would estimate about 90% died.

I have also teaching people about growing Eucalyptus. People are always interested in two things: Eucalyptus and Mangos. Of course nobody actually wants to do any work, but they would all like me to give them trees for free. People ask me every day if i have such and such trees even though they very well know that i haven't grown a single tree this year because of the locusts and lack of access to water. Anyway I had sown about 8 bowls of Eucalyptus, each with a different counterpart, but they all failed because either they:
1. weren't watered properly
2. were attacked by pests (mostly locusts which were estimated to be 2.5 per square meter by the local dept. of agriculture).

But that's ok, because the rains just started now and i don't expect any trees to survive the dry season without watering at this point. So Mangos are fine, if people are willing to purchase themselves. (10D for ungrafted, 25D for grafted, if you can find any), and water them through the dry season. I plan to bring several varieties of graft wood for mangos and graft for anyone who wants. There are two very tasty varieties, Joor which are medium sized and are a ripe a little toward the end of the season, and Kent, my personal favorite, the largest and least fibrous and will not ripen on the tree so they can easily be can and transported and sold at market and will be available long after the other mangos have stopped producing. They can also be consumed within the compound during the first half of the rainy season when foods, especially vitamins are hard to come by.

AGFO volunteers of The Gambia 2000-2002 at our COS conference.

15 December 2002 - Excerpts from the quarterly report.

Kerr Katim Pump
I received the SPA funding to complete the repair of the pump. I had the pumps pulled out too see what parts need to be replaced. Unfortunately we need 17,000D in parts and I have only 10,000. The company that sells the parts still doesn't have the parts we need anyway. My plan is to by the parts for inside the well, then if and when more money comes I will replace the outer parts. (I will be asking USAID for more money as soon as I get the proforma invoice from the pump importer).

Mida Pump
I had a meeting with the Alkaloo of Mida and the Njaba Kunda ward chairman in order to form a village VDC (village development committee). If they form a VDC there are channels to go through to find funding, which are unavailable otherwise. Unfortunately it costs about 600D to register, which is allot of money for a village with only 5 compounds (currently about $26). On Sept. 26th, the alkaloo died so this whole project will be put on hold as the alkalooship will be transferred to another compound. I've talked to Samba a few times about trying to organize a VDC as he is nearly the only educated person in the village, he seems interested, but with the shift in politics in Mida, I don't know what will happen.

Alhadji Yerro Bah was the village head of Mida, a neighboring Fula village. I used to go to his compound to drink fresh milk with pounded millet. He passed away the last night that I lived there.

Extension of gardening practices
This year I saw a huge jump in the number of rainy-season gardens in Kerr Katim. Last year I believe we only had three, this year eight. This is due to the poor peanut prices, and the drought. I distributed some watermelon and bean seeds and encouraged farmers to grow other crops like cassava and sweet potato, which most are already familiar with. I talked up the benefits of using goat manure (as it gets thrown into waste areas now), and possibilities for live fencing with the gardeners.

Extension of tree planting
Tree planting season was over by Sept. and not many trees got planted this year. The drought came on during the normal tree planting time and ended in August when it was then considered too late.

Aladgie Jallow and I in front of his house. Its about to rain hard. Aladgie is a good friend and an intelligent man. He grows mangos and cashews in his back yard to out plant during the rainy season.

I taught a two formal classes while I was at the center, before my home leave. I taught a group of about 35 local farmers in woodlot management and harvesting in two two hour sessions. It was fun, but I was discouraged a little in that the women don't seem to be interested in woodlots or orchards-only gardening. As one woman put it "I'd be happy to tell my husband about this." It was kind of difficult preparing though, since I know very little of the background and the kinds of things they are learning and the philosophy of the program. And my counterpart let me know that I would be teaching around 10pm and I taught at 8am. One of the biggest problems at the center is the poor planning. They usually have a schedule lined up in advance, but often don't follow it at all or don't prepare for things ahead of time. I'm also worried that the center will try to use me to do the work for them-the work that they can do. But the teaching sessions were fine since nobody seemed to have a clue about what they should be teaching.

Livestock enjoy sunning at the beach too.

26 February 2003

I've been here about a month, living at the NATC, teaching the students some ecology, environmental awareness, agro-forestry, and some basics on tree nurseries. I've been working hard at the center, and it takes up most of my time, living there I get sucked into allot of the administrative work (schedules, field trips, getting staff to hold meetings, and keep records), which I really shouldn't have time for. I am looking forward to moving to my new house which has been in the making for 5 months. Slowly, Slowly. I now have a kayak that I take every evening onto the bolong (the Njawara tidal tributary which is right behind the village) and sometimes I go fishing too. Its a nice escape from the heat, which is starting to come now. I've been visiting gardens in the village when I have time away from the center and this is where I would like to concentrate my work time (between teaching staff/students at NATC and gardens that is) . It appears that there are allot of new gardens sprouting up between the village and the rice fields, and some are even replacing the rice fields. The gardeners are mostly women and are starting these gardens with almost nothing and they are working hard. Some of the women own the land, some are on plots owned by men. I have been walking around and drawing maps and taking names--meeting people. I think the reason that people are starting gardening is because of the poor yields in the traditional crops (especially last year, a drought year), poor farmer produce prices, the falling dalasi, increasing inputs and staple food costs.

Mid-March 2003

My house is finished at last and I am so happy to have moved. I live with Siedou Sitibeh a Malian from Segu, who was a family planning extensionist there. He moved to Kuntango, Senegal where he learned gardening while working for Mussa Jah. Sitibeh moved to Njawara two years ago and has started his own compound with a poultry (layers) business. He is hard working and a terrific person. He recently married Marry Jobe, a former long-term student at the NATC and a citizen of Njawara. She used to be a bit of a tomboy, very outgoing, which is rare for a Gambian woman. She is a terrific cook and is working hard in her garden. She is expecting a baby in July.

I've started walking around the village, locating the gardens in the village, making maps, taking names, and other notes. I am surprised at the response of people, they are pleased that I am interested. It has been much much easier collecting information about gardens (so far) than about trees in fields, farming practices, and neem. I heard that the UN gave the Gambia a large sum of money for gardening projects. I would be interested in doing a gardening field trip/training. The biggest problems they seem to have is with a good water source, pest/disease control, and marketing.

My role in Njawara is different, and Njawara is a more "cosmopolitan" village, therefore I believe that people from Njawara view me differently than that of Kerr Katim Wollof. Njawara has more foreign NGO workers. It currently has two Cuban doctors, one Canadian volunteer at NATC, and two Peace Corps volunteers (including myself). In the past there has been VSO and ABSO volunteers. Njawara has a cultural camp, which holds an annual cultural festival which brings in about 100 tourists a year. There is also a music camp, which is a program between the cultural camp and a Swedish college, where students from Europe come for 10 days to learn Fula, Wollof, Jolla, and Mandinka musical traditions and instruments. The program runs from December to April every year. This high exposure to white foreigners has implications for the way I am viewed in the village. Some villagers do not see the difference between a volunteer and a visiting tourist. They certainly are surprised to meet someone who understands the language and culture. Young men (mostly rasta boys) just see me as a foreigner in this village and people think that I am here in the same capacity as the tourists-that I have allot of money and don't do any work in the community; they see me as a ticket to America or for money. Some people will refuse to speak Wollof to me, often people who feel their identity as a intellectual in the village is important, even if my Wollof is better than their English.

The farming system of Njawara is still based primarily on the cultivation of the upland crops: maize, millet, and peanuts. Peanuts are used as a cash crop and for subsistence along with the other grains. In addition to the uplands, Njawara has lowland areas containing rice fields, and a quickly growing number of gardens. Women work the furrows or rice fields in the late rainy season and the rice is usually used for subsistence and usually doesn't amount to more than a few bags per compound. Allot of the compounds have given up rice farming entirely, they no longer have the knowledge or seeds. Some are being converted to gardens. The river provides the community with access to fishing. There are at least eight 12 boats in the village, which are used for firewood and timber collection from mangrove, fishing with nets (carp, ladyfish), hooks, and for sipa (shrimp).

This last year the rains failed us. August normally receives about half the normal distribution (about 400mm) of rainfall, but had almost none last year. Most farmers who normally get 10-15 bags of peanuts have harvested only 2-3 bags. Millet is about the same, and the corn crop almost completely failed. Shelled peanuts now cost D8/kg where last year they cost D4-5/kg at this time. Peanut butter was D8/kg, and now D12-15/kg. Millet is surprisingly low at the moment at D4/kg, the same price as last year this time. I expect, that by June the price will be more like 8-10/kg instead of last year's peak at D6/kg.

25 June 2003

This is the time of year to collect Neem seed. I paid children in the village to collect fresh Neem seed for me at D1 per tomato pot (32oz). I cleaned the fruit from the seed, dried them, and took them to the oil press in Kuntair, about 25km from me. They have a 5hp Chinese diesel engine which powers an oil press. I don't know how to describe the press except that it has a long cylinder that rotates inside the machine that looks much like a drill bit. The press is normally used for cotton, sesame, peanut, and cashew. It costs 1.25D/kg to press, and you get about 1L of oil for every 2kg of seed, plus the leftover cake can be used for animal feed, and is particularly useful for poultry. I pressed 5kg of Neem seed, unshelled, which was weighed at the bitik balance. We got approximately 750ml of oil. I think the processing needs some fine tuning. If we remove the shells and have maybe 20kg, it might work better. I need to contact Action Aid (which had a Neem soap making project here in the '90s).

Gambia made the news around June 9th due to the riots here. Senegal beat Gambia in football at the game in Dakar. Two Gambians were killed at the game and so Senegalese were being attacked throughout Gambia on the next day. In the small village of Kerewan, the division capital, ... [people] drove around in a government vehicle with some other bandits and pulled Senegalese out of their homes, beating and stabbing them, burning their houses. The same was happening in Kombo on a larger scale-taxi drives were pulled out of their cars and beaten, and any business that even looked Senegalese was vandalized and looted.

Time here has been going by very quickly. I have to make an effort every day to focus on my priorities; I'm always getting pulled in different directions. I wake up in the morning and plan my day and when I go to bed at night and think about my day, I realize how little I could get to.

17 September 2003. Excerpts from quarterly reports.

Our compound was blessed with a newborn boy on July 15, Mohammidi Sitibeh which is Marry's first child, which means she moves in with her family for a month to learn how to take care of the baby and to rest. For a while it was just me and Sitibeh doing the cooking. This isn't so bad with all the vegetables we get from the garden and eggs from the poultry. We hired a young man ('strange farmer') to come and help in the garden and poultry and to make soap. Sitibeh's obligations are increasing he has less time in the compound. He learns some skills, eats with us, has his own house, is provided with any necessities, and gets a small monthly payment.

I believe that educating through a business setting is an important way for successful development. Extensionists and educated promoters that work for NGOs usually fail because they either don't actually have no hands-on experience (just school), they just tell people what to do instead and have no successful running business to prove it. (I once suggested to a government extensionist that he should start a small garden for demonstration purposes. He clearly thought this was below him.) Farmers will never believe unless someone is doing it and making money. And they will never believe an unmotivated extensionist straight out of school. That's why it's important to have a grass roots system of extension using innovating and well respected farmers.

In my own compound I have built a small mud brick/thatch poultry house for about 40 broilers. "Toubab" chickens (White Cornish Hens) which are available in Senegal; I bought mine in Kaolack, for 550cfa a piece ($0.95). Many of the students at the NATC have chosen to start their farming projects with contained meat breed production, and many have failed. It is an expensive and risky enterprise to start, actually I believe this system is impractical for a small farmer (there are plenty of places for improvement of free-range local breeds too), so I wanted to do it myself to see where costs can be cut for a better profit, and to have some grilled chicken. I do believe it can be done by an educated small businessmen/farmer with a good location near a market, feeds, advice, and medicine.

Feed is the biggest expense. Commercial feed costs 13,000cfa per 50kg bag ($22.41). I expect 40 broilers will require 165kg of feed for eight weeks. I produced my own feed, using local materials for 675 dalasis for a 100kg bag ($21), less than half the cost of commercial feed. Njawara has a gas powered mechanical grain mill so I can easily prepare the yellow corn and rice polish. Vitamin supplement can be purchased when buying chicks along with the starter feed for the first two weeks. Fish meal is procured from local fishermen and sesame or peanut cake can be had at an oil press about 30km away. They both can be pounded by hand. I would like to try to use millet to replace corn once it is harvested. So far they continue to look healthy and put on weight.

Marketing: Local poultry sells for 30-40 dalasis per bird, usually weighing a kilo or less. However, Njawara is a special place, where NGOs come to do workshops. The village is always short of chickens for sale and everyone knows the big boss men who work for NGOs HAVE to eat meat. I expect to sell the birds to the in the village for 100 dalasi each or ($3). Njawara is only 10km from Kerewan, the divisional capital where there are lots of government workers and NGO workers. If there are any left over there is a good market in Kaolack to sell them, which is better since I can get 1400cfa/kg and I get paid in a strong currency. This should give me a profit of about 50,000cfa over eight weeks including depreciation of the house (about $70). Many people don't make this much from their peanut harvests.

I am also growing some field crops: sweet potato, cassava, and corn. I got the seeds for sweet potato and cassava from NARI, which are improved varieties that I am trying, and will distribute seed eventually. There are three varieties of corn I'm trying; one is a sweet corn hybrid from South Africa. I grew some in the dry season and was very good 7-8 ears per plant. I just sewed the seeds in corners of the vegetable beds as a "windbreak". Growing up in the heartland of corn, its nice to get the real thing again. The two other varieties are yellow corn, one is a variety from Guinea, and looks great, but its getting tall, which makes me nervous with the big wind storms we get in the rainy season. The other is from a friend in Senegal who said it was a good variety. We used bedding from the poultry to fertilize our field, but I think it still hasn't broken down enough and I should add some compound fertilizer.

I also have a small plot of honeydew melon, butternut squash, and sweet corn. So far I've made almost D600 from selling squash, or about $12. I've found that I'm not very good at selling my produce. I sell it too cheap, as I don't try to get more through the bargaining process, and I don't want to bother with taking it to combo. The melon is excellent; I have some every breakfast and dinner.

My counterpart just finished growing 33 beds of a hybrid tomato (called mongal). I helped him find a produce seller in combo so he can get a good price and 'cut out the middleman (banobano)' who are widely hated among vegetable growers. He got D550 per carton, roughly $20 for 30kg. He made about D8000 ($250) over 4 1/2 months of working maybe two hours a day on average. Now he has a nursery of cabbage and bitter tomato and more mongol.

Farm fields are organized into blocks-compounds grow all their millet together in one area to minimize damage from weaver birds. Corn and peanuts are grown separately in other areas. Children go to the millet fields during the day to fend off the birds and will protect each others fields. They are armed with sling shots and wander around the fields generally enjoying themselves being the troublemakers that they are. (I recently got a slingshot which is great for fending off goats from the garden too. I've found that old batteries make great ammunition though I'm sure it's not so good for the soil.) These areas are rotated every other year-millet one year, peanuts the next. Very little land is left fallow, I should get a better idea of this as I interview more farmers, but I would suggest less than 20% of most compounds' land is fallowed each year.

The two most limiting factors of yield in farm fields are adequate/reliable moisture and lack of soil fertility. Only the richest Fula families can use cattle to adequately fertilize their farms (I think this is reflected by the fact that Fulas also grow more corn). Everyone else must buy chemical fertilizer as their horse and donkey manure will not adequately cover their fields. Beets always harps on about timely weeding and this too is a problem with some farmers. Weeding is only performed in sunny weather so that the weeds will wither and die from disturbing their roots. This year the second weeding of millet coincided with a long rainy spell. Nobody likes to work in the rain and "it is useless to weed when it is raining (the weeds wont die)". In some millet fields, the millet never escaped the weeds and are now flowering even though the plants are a foot or two. According to one knowledgeable farmer of Njawara, another problem is spacing. He said that millet should be spaced about .5m x 1m during the first weeding, but most people aren't aware of it. He said that many farmers are careless and don't see the use of better management of crops-that they just try some and don't see the direct relationship between the correct care and a good yield.

I mentioned that goats (and sheep) are to be tied up and cows controlled during the rainy season. The alkaloo announces this by the village crier when the millet and peanuts start germinating and are held until after everyone has harvested their field crops. This usually occurs from mid-June to December. Most sheep and goats are owned by women and it is an additional burden onto their scarce time to be tieing them up. I often see goats tied up in areas close to the compounds where there is almost no good grasses to eat, and the ropes look like they will break at any time. Goats are very profitable and resilient, so nobody wants to give them up despite all the damage they cause. A good goat can produce twins every six months and five goats can buy one cow. It is practically the only way women can save money and is safer than having cash (especially with inflation $1=D36). I recently had a problem with a goat-it broke into my garden and ate two mangos before I caught it. I took it to the alkaloo and had it impounded there until the owner came and paid the minimum D10. Fines are based on the value of the damage, and I could have charged easily D50 for two mangos, but I just wanted to make women in the area more aware of the need to watch their goats more closely. I felt a little bad about having her money however, and gave it back to her.

27 October 2003 - Two photos of kayaking in Njawara Bolong near his village.

31 December 2003. Excerpts from December Quarterly Report.

I sold my poultry (broilers). I spent about 76,000cfa and made 82,000cfa in revenue, for a profit of about 6000cfa or about $10 plus I got to eat two birds. Not bad for the first time with some overhead expenses and delaying the date of sale by more than a month (I was on vacation and then when I got back, couldn't find a healthy horse to take me to Senegal). Using local feed is definitely the way to go, but more research is needed to find out what the best mix is. I wouldn't try this with layers because of the long term feeding might have a big effect on production if there is something missing in the ration (but if it was successful, a huge profit would be made). My broilers had a terrible time walking around; I'm not sure if this is because of a nutrient deficiency, poor genetics, or just being stuck in a small cage with nowhere to walk around.

April 2004.

Year 4 in the Gambia. Working for "Gambia is Good."

One of the first crops sold by Gambia is Good.

28 June 2004. Excerpts from final quarterly report.

Greetings from the Gambia. We are now entering the rainy season here, the first big rains has already arrived and the soil is wet enough for farmers to sow their groundnut seed and to continue sowing their Millet. The rains arrived about a week and a half earlier than in the last few years, which has caught people a little by surprise, last week everyone was out in their fields quickly clearing (burning) their farms to make way for the seeders and plows.

There is still so much to do with GiG [Gambia is Good], and in a way I would really like to stay until December to really feel like the business is launched with everything in place. It could be difficult get a job like this in America with so much responsibility and freedom to create a business in the way I want, with the responsibility of supervising people, etc. In six months I have almost single handedily created and run a business that is actively trading vegetables, selling seeds, training farmers. I'm proud of that.

I have been struggling with what to do about chemical pesticides. We visited Radville farms (the largest exporter of crops in the Gambia), which had a conventional farm (both mango and vegetable) and organic. The farm manager explained how he was having better success with the organic side of the farm with regard to pest and disease problems. We toured the farm and saw okra, French beans, and butternut squash growing in both sides of the farm, and the organic side was great. No pest or disease problems on the organic side at all, then we went the conventional side and the hot peppers and okra were all terribly infested with aphids and nematodes. He said that yields were slightly less in the organic side than conventional, but the costs of production were much lower, and the soil on the organic side had only been farmed for three years and it was still improving. We looked at an area that was being cleared to show us the type of soil they are farming, which was that hard orange clay crap. He has mountains of compost, using peanut shells, reject vegetable, cow manure, burnt oyster shell, rock phosphate, and ??. He applies 30-40t/ha of compost. The farm is fallowed over the rainy season and he sows Macuna perens (velvet bean) as a green manure. They use drip irrigation so weeds aren't too big of a problem, and the compost is top-dressed several times during cropping, which he says helps keep the weeds down. Concentrated liquid garlic is added to the water to deter insects, especially nematodes.

More on the Gambia.

The U. of Pennsylvania - lots of good links.

Stanford U. - more good links.

The Gambia Factbook.

Matt's FW5710 project: Microlivestock.

Back to the Michigan Tech Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Master's International Program in Forestry Home Page.

This page maintained by Blair Orr.

Page created: 2 October 2000.

Most recent update: 28 June 2004.