Friday, October 21, 2011

Open Field Day

After a summer of hard work in the field, also the reason I’ve been so bad at updating this blog, my counterpart and I finally got to show off the fruits of our labor. On October 6th we invited 60 local government officials, development workers, and community members to tour our Master Farm, ask questions about the agricultural demonstrations, and share ideas for developing agriculture in the community.
The Mast Farmer Program is a Senegal-wide Peace Corps project in which local farmers work with Peace Corps volunteer(s) to set up field crop, gardening, and agroforestry demonstrations. The master farmers are expected to hold trainings and open field days to teach other farmers in the area the technologies on display. The Master Farm will also become a site for distributing improved seed varieties and scions for fruit tree grafting. This first open field day focused on the field crop demonstrations and agroforestry work that took place during the rainy season (June-September).

Over the summer, my counterpart, host brothers, and I planted nearly 1000 trees to establish the windbreak, live fence, alley cropping, and intercropped fruit trees. The windbreak is a stand of eucalyptus, cashew, and acacia trees designed to protect the field from wind; it is made up of three rows of short, medium, and tall trees to capture the wind at all levels. The live fence consists of a variety of thorny species (like Acacia) and Jatropha planted closely together to create a hedge to keep animals (and children!) out. Lines of Pigeon pea, Moringa, and Leucaena separate the garden beds and crop plots; all three species help fix nitrogen in the soil and the leaves that they drop also enrich the land.  Finally, there are guava, papaya, banana, mango and citrus trees dispersed throughout the gardening zone. Yeah, I know, it’s basically paradise… well, someday in the future.
Banana flower
As for the field crop demos, we concentrated on four experiments this year. A sorghum demo showed the importance of thinning and harvesting crops on time; unfortunately, the seed provided to us is an improved variety and most attendees were more interested in the seed than the experiment. The corn demonstration was more confusing because it compared two variables at once: zai hole conservation farming versus conventional farming, and NPK fertilizer and urea application versus manure. The community comprehended the bean and rice demos much better. Four plots of beans compared different methods of pest control: chemical insecticide, organic insect repellent made from Neem extract, sticky bug traps, and the control, i.e. no treatment. The plot treated with insecticide produced the most, but the organic methods were not far behind, offering a cheaper (and safer) alternative to farmers. The rice plots compared seeding on line versus thinning to one rice plant per intersection on a grid (Rice Intensification System). The individual rice plants have more space to produce more tillers, where the grains of rice form; the demonstration showed how to produce more rice from just a little bit of seed.

Overall, the attendees appreciated the Open Field Day and are especially eager to learn more and attend future trainings. Representatives from local government and development agencies were impressed with our work. The Open Field Day successfully advertised the intentions of the Master Farmer project and the opportunities available there in the future. It was motivating for me to see how my work and time invested in this project are (finally) starting to pay off!

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