As one of a handful of volunteers with the opportunity to work with the Master Farm Program, I invite you to come see what we’re up to these days at the farm in the Goudoude Valley. Amadou Sy and I operate one of the few Sahelian ecoregion farms and we’re learning how to adapt techniques to the climate.
The Master Farm program is found all through out Senegal. Peace Corps chooses hard working, motivated farmers to work with volunteers to create a demonstration space where volunteers, and eventually the Master Farmer himself/herself, can hold trainings and use to teach farmers in the surrounding communities. We create field crop, gardening, fruit tree management, and agroforestry demonstrations that we use to train farmers to learn new techniques for their own agricultural spaces.
Our master farm is approximately one hectare, has a well, and is fenced off with chain-link fencing. Our biggest goals are to create and show proper live fencing techniques, windbreaks, alleycropping, composting, integrated pest management (IPM) and fruit tree care and maintenance. When I first installed, the farm was a blank slate. But now we’ve got a few things going.
We’ve started pit composting. Keeping our manure and compost underground and covered allows it to stay moist and breakdown effectively before we put it to use in our garden beds. Anything above ground dries out before the day is up. For now we used to tops of broken water jugs to cover the pit.
We are constantly battling the wind. It picks up midmorning and blows into the evening. Anything without a proper windbreak suffers incredible dessication. We have moringa windbreaks going around our garden beds. Next we plan to use cassava cuttings to create windbreaks for our banana trees. Yay for edible windbreaks.
With all the leftover earth pulled up from digging the well, Amadou made some berms and planted sweet potato cuttings. They were doing really well but unfortunately there was some theft. Amadou came one morning to find a bunch dug up. I don’t think we will ever catch this sweet potato thief. Or the mice either.
We used our old rice nursery beds to create a space for nine square meter vegetable nurseries. They’re sunken and will hold water better. Also they are protected from the wind by our sweet potato berms. Convenient? I think yes.
This month we will start to build up our tree nursery so that we can finish our live fence. We had some mortality last year. But this year we will be ahead of the rains and ready to fill in all of our gaps. We have Parkinsonia going now and we’ll be adding some Acacias, Prosopis, and Ziziphus to our line up. We just finished the construction of our shade structure and will be getting fruit trees going as well.
Pomegranite trees work really well in this ecoregion and so I brought Amadou a bunch from my home nursery. They are thriving and have already started to try to produce fruit. I have Amadou pull all the flower buds off though. A baby tree isn’t strong enough under the weight of the fruit and needs the energy to go into shoot and leaf production for about two years.
This Cold season has brought us a plethora of veggies including cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, onions, turnips, and pepper. Eat your colors people.
PROBLEMS. GOT MORE THAN 99
Water. This has been our issue since day one. Amadou pulls water from dawn til dusk because we have no pump. Our well is 23 meters deep and he is literally exhausted. I found out about a man in Ndioum who constructs hand pumps and we hope to go next week to get one. When I had passed through Ndioum last month, I stopped at the man’s project and tried out one of the pumps. It works well. Amadou and I will be trained how to install it and hopefully we’ll get the farm up and running like never before.
Wascally wabbits. Rabbits and other little bush creatures are digging under our fence and eating our trees and crops. The bush has been decimated by free roaming goats, sheep, and cows. There are no grasses and herbs left for native species that depend on them. So they storm the master farm instead, eating all our hard work.