In conjunction with National Cooperative Month, we will be featuring a series of posts detailing the recent work Farmers Union members have done in western Africa through the Farmer-to-Farmer program. Erin Schneider, a Wisconsin Farmers Union member, recounted her time abroad.

By Erin Schneider

Rain, heat, traffic, frogsong, coupled with the steamy smell of ocean and fish, greeted our descent into Dakar’s soon to be flooded streets. I have landed, usurping my temperate cool for tropical steam, traveling deep into the belly of Baobabs, fonio fields, and jujubee fences. I had to keep reminding myself that I have arrived in Senegal, Africa. Once outside of Dakar’s riverine streets and metro limits, the landscape opened up revealing a lively, generous, culture amidst expansive skies.

Yes I saw wild monkeys, sampled nandom fruits (which taste like kumkwats), slept soundly under thatched roofs, awoke to the calls of Abyssinian rollers, got held up in ‘traffic jams of grazing goats’, blazed new roads in the bush en route to farms, was startled by lizards jumping from roofs, haggled for market wares in Woloff and French, swam under waterfalls at Dindefello, attempted to balance baskets on my head while walking, learned new harvest songs and dances, sampled amazing peanut sauces, gumbos, and rice dishes (despite my stomach flora’s occasional protests), rested my eyes under giant Baobab trees, felt very white, and had an amazing time traveling across the country to the far Southeast reaches of the mountainous Kedougou region of Senegal.

But why was I really here, on the other side of the world, away from my farm in the summer, in the middle of the Sahale during the rainy season?

Formally, I was a volunteer with the National Cooperative Business Association’s – Cooperative League USA (NCBA-CLUSA), Farmer to Farmer Program. Funded through USAID, the program provides an opportunity for American farmers and agribusiness professionals to assist farmers in Senegal and Zambia. CLUSA draws upon a pool of volunteers knowledgeable in agriculture, cooperative development, finance, insurance, energy, technology and housing. I co-own a farm in Wisconsin and work as a facilitator, and coordinator with the Organic Tree Fruit Association. On this assignment, I was wearing my farmer hat, and informally, I was fulfilling my inner nomadic calling and life-long interests in learning more about agriculture in other countries and cultures.

I was also intrigued by the farmer – to- farmer training model. Extension services and groups in the U.S. such as Annie’s Project and the Rural Women’s Project, have women farmer programs which provide value, yet only 36% of women growers use these services and networks. In Wisconsin, for example, most farm women get information through farmer – to – farmer exchanges (Lezberg, 2010). Similar trends exist in Senegal. Less than 10% of farm services reach women, despite women producing 20% more efficiently when targeted for such services. When programs and services are grower-driven, based on community needs rather than relying on outside experts and use agriculture models of diversity as tools for food security, the results are favorable for women. These include; farmer buy-in, production/business volume met along with preserving landscapes/land tenure for future generations. So traveling across the world to learn and share techniques with other farmers with their grower association, KEOH, seemed like a no brainer. I was also excited to learn and help out where I can and grateful to NCBA-CLUSA and the National Farmers Union (NFU) for the opportunity to participate.

Tomorrow: The Assignment: Project in support of Organizational Development, Horticultural Techniques with KEOH; Kedougou Region, Senegal.

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