Friday, June 23, 2006

Projects (continued)

Experimental Demonstration Fields
Another project involving ICRISAT ( ). I will be testing 4 pearl millet cultivars, 3 new varieties and the local one, each in its own 10 meter by 10 meter plot. With the help of the government agriculture agent in my market town, Gidan Iddar, I will (hopefully) find farmers in my area who wish to participate. Together, we will submit our observations for scientific exploitation. The possible benefits to these varieties (openly pollinated, of course) are 1) a shorter cycle, 2) greater yield, 3) more disease resistance. Also, this field will give me the opportunity to practice making zai holes and demi lunes, two popular and simple techniques used to tranform hard pan soil into a magical, fertile, Sahelian wonderland.
A Pepiniere
"By and by the boldest stole out of his covert,
to see if time were there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
mixing fresher air"  
-Emily Dickinson
I cannot exalt trees enough. Just like a picture says a thousand words, a tree solves a thousand problems. In what is quickly becoming desert, tree cultivation provides solutions to a multitude of problems facing Niger today such as the rapid wind and water erosion of arable land, lack of nutrients in the soil, the vitamin deficiency experienced by most of the population, and even just not enough shade.
The people here have an intimate relationship with their landscape and I'm nothing short of amazed when a four year old names the tree I'm pointing at and tells me its uses. Heading towards a bigger city last month, I asked my chief if I could bring him back anything from the city. He said trees. How lucky am I? Of all the things to want, he wants me to bring trees, grafted mango trees. So it's decided. I'm going to start a small scale tree nursery.
We will seed mangoes, ta'makka (moringa oleifera), date palms, and limes. The kids will help me fill the pot plastics with compost and sand and on August 3rd, Nigerien Independence Day, where the tradition is for every person to plant a tree, we will be able to distribute trees to everyone in Gidan Aduwa (my village). By the way, "aduwa" is the local name for Euphorbia Balsamiferous, a tree! That's the good news; the not so good news is that this tree produces a poisonous milk  that has been known to be used for criminal purposes. So the translation of the place I will call home for the next couple of years is "home of the poison milk tree".
If this is a success, we will think bigger at this time next year and maybe plant some gum Arabic (acacia Senegal). 90% of commercial gum Arabic comes from this tree, indigenous to the Sahel, and is used as an emulsion stabilizer in products ranging from (ironically) toothpaste to hard candies. 

Thursday, June 22, 2006


A Tomato Nursery
Throughout most of Niger, people tend to divide production of food into two main categories: cold season garden crops and rainy season staple food crops. The rainy season begins in June and lasts through September. The cold season spans December through February. In my region, during the cold season, the farmers focus on the production of cabbage and onions. However, in recent years the onion market has become flooded, driving the price down. Farmers are having to sometimes double their inputs in order to gross the sales of the previous year. In order to address this problem and for reasons both environmental and nutritional, one of the goals of the agriculture sector of Peace Corps in Niger is to encourage crop diversification. Although tomatoes aren't a part of my villages garden repertoire, they are a popular sauce ingredient, are often dried for later use, and can be found in the bigger village of Gidan Iddar, 5k away.
ICRISAT ( ) the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics, has developed a variety of tomato which produces fruit during the rainy season. This variety, called ICRIXINA, is an openly pollinated variety, which means that the seeds of the fruits in the next generations will be viable. These tomatoes will give fruit in September, considered by all here to be the most difficult time of the agricultural year because just prior to harvest, grain stores are nearly, if not totally depleted, and access to fruits and vegetables is limited. The small scale production of tomatoes in Gidan Aduwa (my village) will not only diversify their diets, but create a marketable product, if there is surplus. Oh, and I get to eat salsa all summer long.
The World Wise Schools Program
The aim of this program is to satisfy the third goal of the Peace Corps, which is essentially to share Nigerien culture with Americans. I've found a teacher of a 4th grade classroom of 16 students in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. After Labor Day we will begin correspondence. If you are, or you know of any teacher (any level) who would be interested in establishing a formal or informal link between their students and I with the goal of cultural exchange, please post a comment and I will respond as soon as possible.
AIDS Bike Ride

So towards the end of November, while most of you are working on your second helping of sweet potato casserole (and I say that with the utmost envy), I'll be lubing up my green Trek preparing for the annual AIDS awareness bike ride. We will cover just under 200 kilometers in the week, ending on December 1st, World AIDS Day.  The mission of the Bike Ride is to inform Nigerien men, women, and youth about AIDS transmission and prevention, to stress the importance of testing and treatment through the testimony of HIV-positive Nigeriens, and to attract attention to the hard work being done by countless Nigeriens and members of the international community in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Niger. And you don't even have to let go of those holiday pounds in order to contribute to the cause, just send your donations of bike parts, energy foods, etc. to:

 Corps de la Paix - Attn: Natalie Beck and Becky Hartz - BP 10537 - Niamey, Niger - West Africa



Thursday, June 15, 2006

You might be in a bush taxi if...

...your door is tied shut with an old seatbelt
...someone's child just peed on your lap
...actually, peeing yourself sounds like a good idea
...a snot rocket (courtesy of the driver) just hit your cheek
...a chicken keeps eating bugs off of your arm which is jammed between your body and the only fat woman in     Niger
...when the driver decides to pass trucks you begin making promises to God, even ones you can't keep notice that the mile (or kilometer) markers, oddly enough, are shaped just like tombstones decide that walking 20k uphill, against the wind, through deep sand in 100 degree weather was a better     idea're praying for unconsciousness
...the fumes from the gasoline in the backseat being illegally transported have rendered you unconscious