This blog reflects my personal ideas and does not represent any position of the US government or the Peace Corps.

Friday, December 21, 2012

America Fresh

I have just returned from a quick three-week trip stateside. The goals of the trip were to see as much family and friends as possible as well as to fatten up a bit before going back into hiding in the Senegalese bush. As my host family and village like to tell me frequently, I returned home to breast feed at my mother’s side (sorry for the visual). Upon returning, it appears the trip was a success. Even three weeks since my re-entry into the country, I am still receiving comments like “wow, you are looking chunkier these days” or “your skin is so vibrant now” (all a result of eating American foods in wide varieties and failing to be exposed to the sun on a daily basis). Overall, the trip was amazing. It was wonderful to see family and friends and even more so to realize the support that I have from everyone. I am so lucky and must thank you all so much.

FMNR in action! (No age limit)

Saliou, a farmer from my village

Now in Senegal, I have begun my second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer…also known as…time to hunker down. The days are quickly passing and the project ideas, continuously popping into my head. Most recently, I attended a week-long training in the city of Thies. This training invited approximately forty Master Farmers from all across the country, including two from my village in particular. I’m not sure if I have introduced this program yet on my blog but it is something that I have worked extremely closely with in the past year. The Master Farmer Program chooses respected and experienced farmers in communities all across the country, primarily in rural areas where farming is the main source of income for the majority of families. Peace Corps brings these farmers to our training center in Thies and teaches them numerous farming, gardening and agroforestry techniques (farmers will usually attend at least one training per year). All techniques hope to improve the current farming/gardening practices in Senegal by stressing the improvement of soil structures, since most have been ravaged from years of farming (fertilizer abuse) and deforestation. Overall, we, as volunteers, then work to help these farmers bring these techniques back to their respective communities and demonstrate them in an enclosed space. One highlight of this training was two days spent at a local reforestation project which introduced to both me and my master farmers a technique known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). In an effort to reverse desertification, FMNR teaches farmers to utilize and care for naturally occurring trees within their fields, as opposed to clearing them each start of the raining season (resulting in multiple issues including erosion and decreased soil quality). Fostering the natural growth of trees throughout a field can increase a farmer’s or gardener’s overall yield through increased soil fertility, water infiltration and retention, biodiversity or even shade (something we all love here in Senegal).

more pruning...

After this training and a small break for Christmas, I cannot wait to jump back into things in village. This past month, villagers have finished harvesting their peanuts and due to a particularly rain-filled rainy season harvests are proving prosperous and pockets slightly happier. They are now amidst the home-improvement season, as field crop stalks (millet, corn, sorghum) are abundant and being used to replace old, falling fences and dead weeds are being collected for roofing materials. As for me, aside from plans to continue extending some great techniques like FMNR at the Master Farm, I have hopes to start a small school garden at the elementary school (including not only nutritional vegetables but just plain pretty flowers…fun for the kiddies). I have also recently received funds to start a women’s garden in a village approximately two kilometers away from my site. This group of women have been struggling to garden in both the rainy and dry season as they lack a properly protected space to do so (with goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys and chickens running rampant, you can imagine it’s nearly impossible). Their efforts during the rainy season, as well, have been confined to seasonal ponds, however, when large rainstorms hit these efforts are often destroyed by flooding. So, let’s hope all goes well!
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saliou, Omar and I at the end of the
 training this past week.