I returned to Boston from Ouagadougou, after 27 hours in transit. Stephane and I will have much more to relay from this exciting visit. This post relays a number of additional observations, as well as still and moving images, from our 31 January – 1 February visits north of Ouaga (the towns of Dori, Kaya, Kongoussi and a small village 10km west of Kongoussi) with farmers who’ve developed techniques for promoting natural regeneration of trees on the edge of the Sahara Desert. A video mapping the trip can be found in my 3 February post. See the entire Burkina video album containing 25 short segments.
The importance of natural regeneration of trees became even more clear during our visits. Natural regeneration employs techniques to promote natural growth of trees sprouts by preserving the scare water resources, applying natural fertilizers (like animal manure), stone banding, pruning appropriately, — all techniques that use available resources. The Web-alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA), the Web Foundation’s first project, aims to accelerate significantly the distribution of these techniques from the farmers who know how to do it, to those who do not. Regeneration based on sprouts works better than planting seeds or seedlings. Without the innovative techniques, the sprouts simply die in the harsh sun of the Sahel. We hope to give farmers — through novel use of mobile phones, voice, the Web and community radio — more effective access to information on farming techniques, weather, and market prices, and new ways to communicate with other farmers.
The important role of “promoters” was also highlighted last week. In the US, promoters might be called agricultural extension agents. Our partner, the Africa Regreening Initiative (ARI) created a network of promoters (like Sophie, left), who now cover about 103 villages in Burkina. Enabling promoters to make better use of the Web could help them to collaborate with each other, and communicate with farmers — allowing them to cover more territory with more comprehensive information.
As a slight aside… Products from the shea trees (karité, in French) are typical of those being promoted across the Sahel.. The tree is a source of fruit, derived butter, ingredients for medicines and so-called anti-wrinkle creams, and useful wood. Shea butter is one of the few and growing exports from Burkina.
Below are three short videos from the longer set of clips. The first video here captures the conversation between our tour lead, Chris Reij and Sibiri Sawadogo, one of the innovative farmers. They discover that they own the same mobile phone, and discuss how Sibiri uses it to support his growing farming enterprise. In the second video, Chris explains the use of two particular agro-forrestry methods: stone banding (place rocks in tight rows perpendicular to the slope of the land to slow water run-off) and zai (digging holes around sprouts of trees, and filling holes with manure to both trap moisture and fertilize). The third video is part of a discussion with Sophie (picture on left), who works with our W4RA partner, the Africa Regreening Initiative. Here, interpreted by Chris, she talks about the availability of wireless Internet in the field, for those with a laptop, a way to charge it and a GPRS modem. The availability of content useful for her job is, however, very scarce.