Journey to the Unknown

“I took a little journey to the unknown. Then I come back changed, I can feel it in my bones. I fought with forces that our eyes can’t see. Now the darkness got a hold on me.”

Meet Me in the Woods, LH

Last December I found out last minute about a something big that was coming to Peace Corps Senegal. It was a training for Behavior Change led by Bonnie Kittle, an independent consultant working with the Food Security and Nutrition Network. I took a chance, signed up, and was able to get a spot. I thought the training would be able to give me some ideas and some direction for my Master’s International research. Furthermore, the training was designed for both volunteers and their respective counterparts and I wanted mine to have the opportunity to attend a western style training. If for nothing else, I wanted Amadou Ka to catch a glimpse  into the window of my world- the west, to experience my culture and pedagogy. I thought it would help him understand me a little better. Soon enough, we were on our way to the Thies Training Center for two weeks of Designing for Behavior Change (DBC).

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I found the training useful for a number of reasons. First, it gave me some really great perspective for how to approach my own research. Second, it provided me with tools and clear steps to follow to successfully carry out my own project. We learned about the DBC framework- choosing a behavior of study, identifying the priority and influencing groups, understanding the twelve determinants of behavior, targeting the specific barrier to the behavior, and designing an effective activity to address behavior change. With this framework comes the Barrier Analysis Questionnaire, which is a series of questions related to the twelve determinants of behavior that are catered to the specific behavior you wish to change or transform.

The behavior I chose was the adoption of live fencing for the protection of agricultural spaces- primarily fields and gardens. This is one of the most important agroforestry technologies underutilized in the region of Matam, Senegal. Why have some farmers adopted and created functional (or semi-functional) live fences, yet many others have not? To identify those barriers may help future agroforestry volunteers and development groups working in northern Senegal to better understand how to help local farmers adopt a crucial technology.

Live fencing is important for many reasons. First, it increases the presence of trees (or plants) in an ecoregion that has experienced severe deforestation and poor land management. Trees can improve air quality, which is important in a country such as Senegal where trashed is burned and noxious gases are released into the atmosphere each day thanks to no system for waste management. Deforestation has also led to incredible erosion problems. Where farmers tend to cultivate fields near the seasonal riverbeds, erosion control from live trees is essential. Furthermore, protection from free roaming livestock such as goats, sheep, and cows can be achieved by live fencing as well as chain-link fencing or dead fencing (using thorny branches), a traditional way to protect agricultural spaces that leads to increased deforestation. Live fences can produce fodder for livestock as well as promote pollinators like bees. But the best part about live fencing is that it can be done for free!

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I have officially begun my Master’s International research project. I used the DBC framework and catered a Barrier Analysis Questionnaire for my chosen behavior: the adoption of live fencing. In the past few weeks, I have been traveling to villages looking to find farmers who have done live fencing. To complete this project I need to interview 90 farmers. The analysis works by comparing the answers to folks who have performed live fencing and folks who have not. What is different between these two groups? Is there a particular barrier or key reason many farmers have not taken on this useful technology? Do they know about it? Do they have access to resources? Is it water availability? There are thousands of questions one could ask. My largest foreseeable struggle will be finding 45 “Doers,” those individuals who have tried it on their own.

Live fencing can be done in several ways. Farmers can use thorny species and weave the branches to create an impenetrable thicket. But the type of fencing I plan to focus on is the use of cuttings of unpalatable species. I have been working in Senegal for over a year and a half and I have seen people struggle to do tree nurseries with tree sacks. Its a lot of work and a lot of maintenance. In a country where there are few jobs, money is scarce and the temperatures hot hot hot, people are tired. I certainly don’t blame them for not wanting to put the energy into nurseries. In my opinion cuttings seems to be the way to go. There’s a reason Peace Corps is designed to put us on the ground, learn local language, and listen to what people have to say!

This is Euphorbia balsamifera. Many live fences in Senegal are created using cuttings from this species. When done correctly, this type of unpalatable fence can be incredibly effective at keeping unwanted livestock out of fields. In my experience so far, this seems to be the largest concern of the farmers. I have found a huge source of euphorbia not too far from my village and I will be able to get all the cuttings I need to provide farmers with when I start my activities upon completion of my questionnaires. Its a busy time for me but infinitely exciting. This is what I’ll be up to for the next few weeks.

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2 thoughts on “Journey to the Unknown

  1. Fascinating to learn about live fencing!!!!!!! You are doing good things, coreybear!!! Love and miss you SO MUCH. I know that you are touching so many lives out there. I can’t wait to give you a big hug and hear all about your experiences. Suerte, amigo! Keep up the good work!

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