Fissel farmers don’t pick up straw after harvesting, a method that protects land from heat

    | August 18, 2008

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    This week’s featured script was written by one of FRW’s own subscribers, Mariama Sy Coulibaly from Radio Convergence Panafricaine in Senegal. Ms. Coulibaly was one of 15 winners of the Farm Radio International-CTA scriptwriting competition: “African Farmers’ Strategies for Coping with Climate Change.” Her script explores methods that farmers in Fissel, a rural community in the Thiès region of western Senegal, use to cope with more frequent drought. These include focusing on small plots so that land and water are easier to manage, growing drought-resistant crops such as millet and cassava, and planting trees close together on the edges of fields.

    Over the next two weeks, we will feature prize winning scripts from two other FRW subscribers, Kwabena Agyei from Classic FM in Ghana and Joshua Kyalimpa from Opsett Media/African Farm Radio Bureau in Uganda. All 15 winning scripts on climate change adaptation are featured in Farm Radio International script package 84. This package has been mailed to Farm Radio partners and will be posted online.

    Notes to Broadcaster

    Rainfall deficiencies in some areas of Senegal go hand in hand with harvest shortages. Fissel, a rural community situated in the Mbour department in the Thiès region near the peanut-growing zone is no exception to this rule. To adjust themselves to this fact, the farmers introduced growing methods to deal with climate change. At the “9e édition de la Foire Internationale de l’Agriculture et des Ressources Animales Fiara” (9th edition of the international agriculture and animal resources fair) that was held at the end of February in Dakar, we met Ousseynou Gueye, program head of the Fédération des organisations non Gouvernementales FONGS Action Paysanne de Jig–Jam / Fissel (federation of non-governmental farmer action organizations or NGOs of Jig-Jam / Fissel) who was representing his community at this fair. Ousseynou explains to us the methods used by the farmers in his locality. Moreover, he finds the aid granted by the government to revive agriculture in this zone affected by drought since the 1970s to be extremely inadequate. We also hear from Sidi Bâ, the political adviser for the “cadre de concertation des producteurs d’arachide” (a group of peanut producers) in the regions of Kaolack and Fatick Tamba.

    Host: Mr. Gueye, what kind of difficulties are farmers in the rural community of Fissel facing

    Ousseynou Gueye: We are facing three major difficulties. The first is the poor condition of the soil. As you know, the soil has been worked for years, and nothing has been returned to the soil. In other words, the fields are no longer fertile. Also, the trees have disappeared. This is due to human activity as well as the work of nature. It is also very difficult to find quality seeds. Our equipment is also in need of repair. These are the difficulties that farming faces today in the rural community of Fissel.

    Host: Do the farmers receive aid from the government in order to help them with their work?

    Ousseynou Gueye: The seed that is given to producers by the government is not quality seed, nor is it given in sufficient quantity. Farm inputs are almost impossible to find, even though they are subsidized by the State. The State also subsidizes agricultural equipment, but it is far too little. In a rural community, the arrival of thirty machines, thirty hoes or twenty carts represents next to nothing for a population of thirty to forty thousand inhabitants. Nobody says that the State is doing nothing, but the State must get more involved in boosting agriculture in this zone.

    Host: We are seeing changes in the climate much more often. How are you able to farm normally under these circumstances?

    Ousseynou Gueye: As far as climate change is concerned, we have two possibilities to cope, and we are doing both. First of all, families can work a small piece of land, on which it is easy to manage the land and the water well. When families farm this small piece of land, they can harvest enough food for the family even if the cash crops they grow on larger pieces of land fail because of climate change or other problems. The second solution is reforestation. You are aware that all of our forests have disappeared. We really have to think about reforestation. We do have a method for reforestation. We plant trees close together around the edges of the field. These trees protect both the soil and the crops from heat and the wind. There is a third solution as well. After the harvest, we do not pick up the straw. We leave it on the ground to protect the soil from heat.

    Host: Fissel is located in a very dry zone. What kind of crops do you grow?

    Ousseynou Gueye: In this zone, we grow millet crops that can withstand these conditions. There is also the peanut, but that is disappearing slowly. It is disappearing because there are a large number of producers who don’t have a lot of seed. We also have alternative crops such as the watermelon, bissap (Editor’s note: Hibiscus sabdariffa, probably better known as rozelle in English speaking West Africa), and cassava. Cassava can grow in this soil, as can the sorghum plant that also likes hard, dry soil.

    Host: You also practice “culture sur table” (growing a crop on top of a table).

    Ousseynou Gueye: “Culture sur table” involves taking a table 4 metres long by 2 metres wide, and covering it with sand and livestock waste. It’s easy to water, and you save time. You put the table in the shade. In that way the plants are protected from the heat even though there are plants that need heat. But the sun’s rays that come through the trees arrive directly on the table. This kind of farming allows us to have a good diet, especially with vegetables.

    Host: We will now hear from Sidi Bâ, the political adviser for the “cadre de concertation des producteurs d’arachide” in the regions of Kaolack and Fatick Tamba. Mr. Bâ, how do you think farmers will manage in the face of climate change?

    Mr. Bâ: Many people focus on population growth and climatic hazards as the causes of the Senegalese agricultural crisis. To this, you can add the technical delays that farmers face and their lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Some blame the State for interfering in the market.

    All these reasons are real, but they are not the main reasons for the crisis. Drought is not a new phenomenon in the Sahel. Droughts are not more frequent today than they were during the last three decades. Although Senegal has experienced a significant drop in total rainfall during the 1970s, there have been no declines in the past 20 years.

    Host: This is rather surprising. What accounts for the changes in rainfall that farmers have seen?

    Mr. Bâ: The distribution of rainfall has become more erratic, and this has affected certain crops and varieties more than others. We should also consider the human contribution to climate change. Some scientists say that the massive deforestation in West Africa since the beginning of the century is strongly to blame for the increasing strength of droughts. We must also say that the effects of drought, such as soil erosion, are more dramatic than in the past. This is because drought and other climate events are acting on environments in which many ecological balances have been disrupted by modern systems of agriculture and raising livestock.

    Host: Mr. Bâ, what methods are being used to deal with climate change?

    Mr. Bâ: The systems currently used in Senegal are in part traditional and in part modern, depending on the region and the crop. Many scientists are turning today to techniques such as: fallow, improved fallow, the use of organic fertilizer, seeds which are suited to specific farming areas, crop rotation, crop diversification, integration of livestock and forestry with agriculture, efficient management of water, use of plants as green manure, use of stone lines, strip cultivation along the contours of slopes, and recycling the remains of crops.

    Host: Mr. Bâ, what are the consequences of these difficulties we are experiencing in the rural areas?

    Mr. Bâ: It leads people to migrate to urban areas which, today, means a transfer of poverty since the chances of finding adequately paid employment in the cities are very limited. Even if this migration can reduce pressures on the environment, and possibly increase family incomes, it reduces labour in rural areas. This leads to declining farming production and a vicious cycle that could end in the destruction of the agricultural sector.

    Host: Thank you, Mr. Bâ. Listeners, you have heard what kinds of methods are being used in farming to cope with climate change. Mr. Gueye has talked about some of the crops and some of the methods that he uses as a farmer. Mr. Bâ has mentioned other methods, and has reminded us of the consequences of continuing difficulties in the agricultural sector in Senegal. We hope that these words will help you understand the importance of adapting to climate change, and will inspire you to take positive actions. Thank you for listening and good-bye.

    Contributed by: Mariama Sy Coulibaly, Journalist, Radio Convergence Panafricaine, Senegal.
    Reviewed by: John FitzSimons, Associate Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Canada.

    Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)