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

Sunday, September 1, 2013

C'est la vie!

I often imagine the life of a subsistence farmer in Senegal or other developing countries to be one of the most exhausting. Not only does it require an extreme amount of work performed solely by hand (no heavy machinery here) but it also depends entirely upon the rains delivered by Allah. I just want to take a moment and describe the process of farming here in Senegal, keeping in mind that during only a three-month period, these families MUST cultivate enough to eat from for the entire year.
The seeding season begins: horizons dotted with machine seeders
Farming work begins even before the rains, around May and into early June. Traditionally, and something we have been fighting consistently here as Peace Corps Volunteers, farmers hand rake and clean up all of last years crops residues or weeds into small piles. Bushes or trees are hacked down as well and the piles are left to dry in the sun. Once dried, they are burned, continuously depleting the soils, ruining its structure, and killing beneficial organisms. Fields must be clean, according to all farmers here, though clean does not lead to healthy soils.
One example of a machine seeder.
The rains usually start slowly in the end of June or early July (this is specific to my region and often differs in other regions of Senegal by a few weeks). As the rains become more consistent, the rush begins. All crops that are planted here in Senegal have at least a three-month maturation period and there is never a guarantee that rains will last for that long (there have been years where they fall short, and there are no large scale irrigation systems to supplement). Thus, once the rains start and the soil is wet enough, the race is on to seed all crops (peanuts, millet, corn, beans and rice) as quickly as possible. Usually, seeding will begin in early to mid July. (Note: Farmers always want to seed a lot, though it is a careful balance between seeding too much and not being able to care for the fields with little man power or seeding too little and not having enough for your family to eat.) Every year I have found that one morning I simply wake up after a large rain to a horizon dotted with small seeding machines pulled by two cows, a donkey or a horse, making consistent lines traversing the slope of a field. These animals quickly become exhausted. They have gone the entire dry season eating old, dried up weeds with little nutrients. People in Senegal often grow peanuts not only for the nut, but also for the hay and save it throughout the dry season to supplement these weeds. Supply, however, dries up quickly. With little legitimate food in their bellies, these animals now must pull a machine each morning and evening for hours. They quickly become emaciated.
After a few weeks, the seeding period is over and the nervous wait for germination begins. If rains are inconsistent, problems can easily arise. This year for example, we had very little rain at this time. Plants would often germinate and die from lack of water and extreme sunshine. Those that survived were subjected to an array of pests (with little rain, natural weeds failed to survive in the bush and thus a large population of pests—primarily grasshoppers—turned to the delicious crops in the fields). Farmers were forced to reseed and reseed, sometimes up to three times. You also have to imagine, that with little weeds germinating, there is still close to nothing for these farm animals to eat and yet they are continuously required to pull machinery and seed the fields.
The fields post seeding. 
In August, rains start to become frequent (every couple of days), plants that will germinate have already done so and the weeding period begins. Farmers weed between lines with a plow pulled yet again by two cows, one horse or one donkey. This eliminates the weeds between crop lines but not within them. Now, entire families head out to the fields, bent over long lines of crops to weed in between each plant (before, work requiring machines is performed entirely by men or boys). If your family is large (maybe 10 individuals or more), your lucky, as you can take a team out to the 2-3 acre field and hand weed it in about 4-5 days (I have little knowledge of farming in the states, though I imagine it would take someone 4-5 days to weed hundreds of acres). Families will work every morning and afternoon to do so and the women must still continue to take care of the house—cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning, pulling water, taking care of the kids etc. etc. Hence why, in rural areas such as this, there is little incentive for family planning, the more help the better. 
Weeding season begins, machine weeding between lines.
(two cows, one horse or a one donkey)
The weeding period will usually last until the end of August, once over, it is a waiting game for crops to ripen. As they ripen, families go out in teams once again to bring in the goods. Beans are the first ripen and become a much-needed source of nutrients to diminishing food supplies. Then corn, which is usually eaten as a burnt treat. They will then continue on to harvest rice, millet and peanuts. A portion might be sold to buy other forms of food or to improve the house (as it now suffers from exposure to lots of water), while a larger portion will be saved for food and seed for the following year.
Another weeding example. 
After reading about all this work performed in the fields for farmers to simply get enough food for the following year there is still more to think about… All the funds and food derived from last season is on its last legs during the exact time when farmers need it most. Imagine, working morning and night and not getting enough to eat, or not eating anything of value. This is the life of a subsistence farmer in Senegal. 

Another weeding example (horse). 

Hand weeding within lines, a family effort.
More hand weeding.
The final result. A clean field of peanuts.
The most recent celebration of Korite! The end of Ramadan, and
my third time experiencing it in Senegal.

1 comment:

  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Senegal? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Senegal in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez