Song of the Day: Lisa Hannigan - I Don't Know

My vote of Song of the Day... Well, even Song of the Season... Nice!

Thanks to Samuel!

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Farmers adapting to climate change:
Naakpi Kuunwena from Ghana

Vegetable farm in Ghana

His name is written “Naakpi” and pronounced “Naakwi”, that we understood fast. But it took us much longer to comprehend why Naakpi looked so tired, and walked around with a back bent as if he had a burden too heavy for one man to carry.

We understood even less as we walked through an opening in the earth wall surrounding his farm and stepped onto his vegetable field: This one hectare plot was the largest, greenest and best maintained vegetable field we had seen so far. The cabbage, beans, tomato, peppers all stood in straight lines. A perfectly geometric maze of five inch wide irrigation canals divided the field into small sub-plots devour of any weeds.

All of us stood in awe. The sight of green that lush came as a surprise. So far, during our West-Africa trip for the Adaptation and Mitigation Knowledge Network (AMKN), we had been interviewing farmers harvesting at this time, one to two months into the dry season. Here, in Lawra – Northeast Ghana, it had been no different. But Naakpi still had a green plot. Why then did it not make him a happy man?

“This is by far the nicest plot I have seen so far, Naakpi”, I said, and congratulated him. He looked at me with sad eyes and shrugged: “Give it one more month, and I will loose it all”, he said. He told us the story. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Farmers adapting to climate change:
Joel Yiri from Ghana

Ghana farmer

After his first two sentences, I knew Joel Yiri from Jirapa was the man I was looking for. I had asked Peter Kuupenne, an extension officer from Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, to meet “a creative farmer”. And that is what I found: Joel was a man with a vision.

As we shook hands, and sat down in front of Joel’s house, he introduced himself in perfect English. I asked him how come, and if maybe he had been a teacher. But he shook his head: “You know, over here, you are born as a farmer’s son, so that’s what you do for your life: you farm. Just as your father and your father’s father. But that also includes the core challenge: with the current climate change, we can’t farm anymore like they did. We need to adapt our methods. Our fathers had fertile grounds. The rains were plentiful, and for generations they used the same tools, the same seeds and the same technologies. Our generation needs to change.” (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Farmers adapting to climate change:
Helene Nana from Burkina Faso

Helene Nana on her vegetable farm in Burkina Faso

“Twenty years ago, famine reigned our area”, says Helene. “The men went off to Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Togo and all countries around us. They farmed other people’s lands. But we, the women, we could not move. We had to raise the children. And it was hard.”

“You know, for a farmer, the crop is everything. As the weather changed, as the erosion took our soil away, we were left with infertile land. Whatever small crops we could still harvest, was not enough for our kids. They got sick, many died. Those were very hard times.”

Adama, the chairman from the farmers’ union, had told us how the village succeeded in constructing a dam. “That was good as a drinking hole for the cattle”, Helene explains, “but I realized we could do more with it, and thought about growing vegetables during the dry season. We never did that, I had no experience, but I wanted to give it a try. If you don’t try, you won’t learn, in my opinion.” (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Farmers adapting to climate change:
Ganame Ousseni from Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso farmer

“You have no idea”, says Ganame Ousseni, a cattle farmer in Ninigui in the North of Burkina Faso, “You can not imagine. When I was a small boy, the grass was this high”, and he holds his arm above his head. “We used to hunt wild animals here. We had loads of cattle too.”

But now it is gone. The forest and the grazing grounds. The whole area is barren with a compacted crust as top soil. “What were we to do?”, Ousseni shakes his head, “We had to stay here to mind the crops, so we gave our cattle to nomads passing through. They herded them for us, taking the cows to the grazing grounds hundreds of miles away, all the way up to Mali. At the end of the dry season, when the cattle came back from the migration, we saw we lost more cattle each year. Some were stolen along the way, or were eaten by wild animals. Our herd disseminated.” (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Requiem for Luc

Last night, my nephew posted his last Facebook update after years of fighting cancer.

Tonight is the last night.
It was a privilege knowing you all.

Eva Cassidy, Somewhere over the Rainbow. For Luc.

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Wikileaks in the land of the not-so-free

Wikileaks cartoon

No, I don't want to follow the populistic trend to write something about Wikileaks because it is the talk of the town. Neither am I sure if publishing classified political correspondence is really whistleblowing, contributing to reveal abuse, miss-use, corruption or misappropriation - what the original intent of Wikileaks was. Apart from most of what was revealed, does not really come as a surprise to those living with their eyes and mind open in This Brave New World, dominated by the Coca-Cola's, Monsanto's, Cargill's and McDonald's and all other Fine American Products.

However, I do regret the concerted efforts to gag Wikileaks by no matter what means. Be it Amazon Web Services, which hosted Wikileaks for a while, banning the site from its servers, under alleged pressure from the US government, ditto action by EveryDNS, its US-based DNS server (though said because they could not handle the DDOS hacking attempts) and today the blocking of their fundraising through Paypal, the US-(surprise!) based electronic payment service.

And if it would only stay at that level,... but it did not. US' finest, Sarah -OMG- Palin chipped in by saying Assange should be "hunted down like the al-Qaeda leadership". Include also the public call for Assange's assassination by Flanagan, an senior advisor to the Canadian PM, and it leaves me with many questions.

Where does that leave us with freedom of speech? Is that only valid if we say what "those in power" approve of? Are the main stream media that controlled, for independent whistle-blowing sites to become this popular, and -in my opinion- a public must-have? And if things are leaked, to what efforts will the governments go to stop the leaks. ...As if with the current social media, they could ever stop them...

Update Dec 6 2010: All of that was written before Wikileaks today's publication of worldwide installations the US considers critical to its security and the public health of US citizens. To me, this is no long whistle-blowing, but a cheap way of targeting a state by revealing classified information.
If anyone (within a government, company, organisation) would publish any document not meant for the general public, claiming to whistle-blow or hiding behind freedom of speech, then we're in for an interesting twist. The right to freedom of speech, also comes with the obligation of using common sense, respect and ethics.

Cartoon by Samir Alramahi/Toonpool discovered via The Rag Blog

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Farmers adapting to climate change:
Ganame Adama from Burkina Faso

farmer in Burkina Faso

“My grandparents grew crops without any fertilizer, and had no problems. But with the 20 hectares I inherited, the yield was not enough to even feed my own family”, sighs Ganame Adama. “The forest was gone; the fertile soil was taken away by the waters gushing over the land during the rainy season. A hard crust was everything we were left with. We had to find ways to use that water.”

The people from Ninigui, in Burkina Faso’s north, looked for advise from other farmers who lived through similar challenges. They learned how to build small dams, called ‘diguettes’, ‘digues’ or ‘digues filtrantes’ to break the water flow and block the fertile ground from running off: Using a simple long tube, filled with water, they mark ‘contour lines’ with sticks: areas on their flat plots which are at an equal height. Then they stack rocks, only half a foot high, following those contour lines.

“These dams break the flow of the water as it gushes off the plains. While the rain water slowly seeps through one dam, the soil carried by the water, sinks to the bottom, forming strips of fertile land. The water leaking through one dam is stopped again by the dam on the next contour line, about twenty meters further down the slow slope. And again on the next, and again. Each time, a fertile strip of land forms between the lined-up rocks”, explains Adama. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Ninigui: A war against… erosion and desertification.

barren landscape Burkina Faso

In the north of Burkina Faso, about one hour’s drive from Ouahigouya, the trees change into low scrubby bushes, the grass turns yellow, and as we drive on, it eventually disappears. The dirt track dissolves into a rocky river bedding, climbs up a steep ridge and levels on a plateau. We stop for second, and take in the scenery.

The landscape is barren. The soil is a dark brown crusted gravel, often bereaved of any vegetation. Houses are grouped together, with the mosques and low mud grain stores sticking out. Here and there a group of kids walks to the school at the edge of the village. A large troop of cows, herded by two nomads, kicks up a cloud of dust.

Ninigui feels like a border town. A village on the edge of the desert and on the edge of survival.

Ganame Adama, who heads NAAM, the local farmers’ union, takes us to his field where he just harvested his millet crop. “Look around you”, he says, “All of this used to be forest. At the time of my father’s father, they hunted wild animals here. They grew a crop without using any fertilizer. They had crops every year without much effort.”

As the forest was cut for firewood, gradually the rains carried away the thin top soil. To make matters worse, the rainy season shifted: it started later, lasted shorter, and came in repeated violent squalls, often causing flooding as the barren ground was no longer able to absorb the rain.

“Rains just gushed over the ground”, Adama explains, “In the hills, it dug out ravines, emptying into the flats. The water would just carry away whatever we had sown. It was no use to apply fertilizer neither. Each time it rained, everything was carried away.” (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Kids in Ghana -
Smiles worth a thousand words

Ghana kids in a school

Two weeks ago, we were driving in a remote ares, near Jirapa, on Ghana's North-East border with Burkina Faso. As we slowed down to negotiate a series of mudholes, I saw a car coming from the other side with a familiar emblem on the side. I waved them to stop.

They were a WFP team on their way to check one of their school feeding programmes. I guess they were as surprised to see me there, as I was to meet them, in the middle of nowhere.

We followed them to the school, and took the opportunity to shoot some pictures and do a video interview with the school in the background.

Some of the pictures. I just loved their smiles...

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

Ghana kids in a school

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Kids in Kenya

During the interview tour in Kenya, I had little time to take pictures from the people other than the interviewees, but I could not resist some of the kids.

We were in pretty remote places, so three muzungus with all kinds of equipment talking to their mum, grandma or neighbour stirred up quite some interest amongst the youngsters. And in turn, the youngsters stirred up my interest.

Kids in Kenya
A girl minding her baby sister.

Kids in Kenya
This little girl was too shy to come from behind the tree,
but still wanted to see every bit of what was going on.

Kids in Kenya
Two sisters.

Kids in Kenya
These two boys were fascinated by the video camera.

Kids in Kenya
Not sure of those muzungus!

Kids in Kenya
Serious face

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Farmers adapting to climate change: Emily Marigu from Kenya

Farmer in Kenya

Anyone doubting the effect of climate change, and how farmers can adapt continuously to changing weather patterns, should talk to Emily Marigu Ireri.

We met Emily, near Meru, eastern Kenya, where she farms a five acres plot, 1,500 meters high on the steep slopes of Mount Kenya.

She describes how, in recent years, the rains are more erratic. At the beginning of the rainy season, often it would only rain for a few days, and then stop, sometimes for weeks. “Often seeds would start to sprout during those first rains, but then they would dry up”, Emily explains. She takes us to the bottom of the valley just below her fields. “By this time of the year, this small stream would normally be a river, but now, it hardly irrigates the fields around it. A few miles from here, the river is dead, water is just absorbed by the soil.”

“But it is not only the erratic rains that makes the life of farmers difficult“, Emily explains. “Here, so close to Mount Kenya, we also used to get misty drizzle in May and June. From the time of my father’s fathers, we used that moisture for a crop in the middle of the year. Now that drizzle does not come anymore. I don’t know why, but nowadays, we can only get one harvest a year, in the rainy season. Now is the time for the rain to come." (...)

Read the full post on the CCAFS blog...

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Glory sings Halleluya

We met Glory Kinya Gitonga during our Kenya tour. We were interviewing her mother-in-law about the way she adapted her farming techniques to cope with climate change.

Glory said she wrote songs in her native Kimeru, and asked if we could videotape one called "Halleluya".

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Glory Kinya Gitonga performing "Halleluya" in a cappella!

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An update from the African dust tracks

Mali village chief
Mali village chief

We did not have too much connectivity during this trip, so could not post regular updates. I will catch up during next week.

During this trip, we interviewed 17 farmers and people who assisted farmers to adapt to climate changes.
After over 2,000 km, half of it off road, I am writing this from Ouagadougou while we are waiting for the flight back to Europe.

Next week we will start editing the videos.

I still wanted to share some pictures from this trip.

Mali nomad with his cattle
A nomad in Mali with his cattle

Cattle keeper in Ghana
Yousif in Ghana spoke about the difficulties to find grazing grounds for his cattle

Jumuo and his fruit trees in Ghana
Jumuo in Ghana described the way the shortened rains had insects attack his fruit trees up to the level they would no longer bear any fruits.

Naakpi and his vegetable garden in Ghana
While Naakpi stood in front of his large green vegetable field, he told us how most of it would be lost, as the rains had stopped, and the water level was too low to continue irrigating the crop.

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On the road once more

Kenya road pub

I am on the road in Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso for a new series of interview with farmers on the impact of climate change on their daily life.

Looking forward to see the differences with Kenya.

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Interviews with farmers in Kenya:
the positive vibes

Peter interviewing farmers in Kenya

I am back in Belgium for a few days to work on the post-production of the video interviews we shot in Kenya two weeks ago.

We had a team of three: Bart -the cameraman who also does the video post production-, Jan -the radio reporter from the VRT who did a series on climate change and myself. Plus a local NGO contact and two drivers.

The goal of the interviews, which will also be done in West-Africa and several Asian countries, is to take a snapshot how the farmers in different countries experience the changing weather patterns, and how they adapt to them, or even mitigate the climate changes they anticipate.

Peter interviewing farmers in Kenya

Every farmer we spoke to highlighted their dependency on the rains, and the more erratic rain patterns nowadays. They also battled with high prices for the seeds and fertilizers which, paired with a lower price for their produce, resulted in a deflated income.

A combination of past inefficient farming techniques and the introduction of foreign seeds and aggressive pesticides often depleted the soil and caused the introduction of new pests which needed even more chemicals.

It was interesting talking to the older farmers, and their stories how things gradually changed. "Twenty years ago", said sixty years old Andrew, who also used to be a teacher, "Twenty years ago, we planted seeds without fertilizers. We had no pesticides. And yet, we had a high yield. We could use the seeds from our harvest for the next year's crop. Water was available everywhere. Forests were dense and plentyfil. But now, you will not yield any crop without pesticides and artificial fertilizers. We have to use hybrid seeds which are more drought resistant. The seeds from the hybrid plants themselves are worthless, so we have to buy new ones every year."
But he said so in a "tone of fact", not as a complaint. It was a statement.

And still they all cope: Some change the crops they grow or the type of seeds they use. Others resort to small-scale irrigation, mulching -covering the seedlings with clover-, or conservation farming... They brought up creative ideas on how to avoid erosion, conserve the manure from running off the fields and collectively advocated on planting more trees both for the fruits, the timber, and... the carbon credits.

Cameraman Bart

Each interview lasted about three hours during which we took ample time to get the farmers at ease, even though each of them was quite outspoken and not camera-shy at all. Each had a story to tell. Not only about their farming, but also about their families, how the men went off to work in the cities, and the women are left to the farming. How all too often, the grandparents are left with their orphaned grandchildren, as if a whole productive generation was decimated.

Jan Gerits in Kenya

Still, each and everyone of them smiled. There was more laughter than complaints in the air. Each had taken an active role in determining their destiny, even though they had far less control over "life" than anyone in more developed countries...

I left one week of Kenya feeling respectful for each of the people we met, whose lives briefly crossed mine. And at this moment, I am trying to put that respect into the videos we are producing.

Ruth, Cheleste, Emily, Edward, Julia, Anastacia, Margaret,.. you will soon get copies of the pictures and the finished videos. As promised!

PS: Some of the output of these interviews is reflected in short blogposts. The first one is already out on the CCAFS blog.

First two pictures courtesy Jan Gerits.

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Mobile phones for farmers in Africa:
Myth or reality?

Kenyan shack by the road

My first trip to Africa, goes back to 1994: Angola in the midst of the civil war. I "left" the continent end 1999, moving from Uganda to Kosovo.

Through my five years in Africa, I travelled extensively throughout. I was a first-hand witness of the mobile phone networks rolling out in different countries. From the old AMPR system and 2 kg mobile phone/walkie talkie bricks in Congo (then Zaire), to the new generation MTN-types using the latest technology, huge bandwidths, and connectivity of "a certain reliability".

Still by the time I left, end 1999, mobile phone connectivity was still pretty much limited to the capital cities. Even though, in just a few years, GSM had completely taken over the old 'copper' landline market in African cities, it seemed there was quite a hurdle to get the connectivity "upcountry".

Not only was the support infrastructure - electricity, security - often lacking to spread mobile phone towers in remote areas, but it seemed like the companies doubted if there was a real market...

That was back then, in 1999.

Since then, I have always been very reluctant to join the highly enthusiastic crowd propagating mobile phone technology as one of "the" key means for rural farmers to be "informed". "Informed" about the weather forecast, seed fertilizer and crop prices, and agricultural support.

I still remember saying "those farmers hardly having ends meet, without electricity in their homestead, often illiterate, ain't gonna use mobile phones"...

And then, last week, during my first trip to Africa in 12 years, we are in Karurumu village in Central Kenya.

View Larger Map

Karumu is about an hour's drive from the nearest provincial town. In other words: Karumu is, euh... remote. Here are some of the notes in my mind:

Kenyan couple

We are sitting in the shade of a mango tree, on the yard of Celeste's farm. Celeste is 88 years old. He fought the English colonizers "way back when". He has 10 kids. He says he can't remember exactly how many grand children and grand-grand children he has.

Celeste speaks slowly and stresses every word. We are listening to his story of how he built up his farm from nothing to the 30 acres it is now. How he was blessed with his children. Some who lived on his farm. He points out a house, a few meters further up. The house is locked up. It belonged to his son and his daughter-in-law, a doctor. Both passed away. Celeste and his wife Julia are now taking care of their grand children.

interview team Kenya

We are pulled into the story of Celeste and Julia, a story which is so common in Africa: children being raised by their grand parents. A generation being wiped away. Bart, our camera-man, keeps the focus on the sound and the ever changing intensity of the sun. Jan, the radio-reporter, is taking mental notes on what he would like to discuss further with Celeste. I am sitting on a stool, with Julia, Celeste's grand-grand child on my lap. Julia is fascinated by the sound an elastic band makes when you pull it like a guitar string.
In short, we are all pulled into the story, into the moment.

And then, all of a sudden, a mobile phone rings. Celeste, 88 years old, farmer from Karurumo village in Kenya, stands up, says "Excuse me", reaches into his pocket, pushes a button and starts talking into a Nokia.

Kenyan farmer with mobile phone

It is the driver of one of his five trucks. He is held up loading fertilizer on a farm a bit further up.
Celeste calls the driver of his other truck, informs him of the delay and orders him to pick up a load of firewood from another farmer.
As he puts the phone back in his pocket, Celeste, 88 years old, farmer from Karurumo village in Kenya, sits down, and continues his story about the price of fruit tree pesticides and the market price for a bag of maize. As if it all was the most normal thing in the world.

The picture of Celeste, answering the phone, stays with me. The sur-reality of a mobile phone ringing in the African bush.

Have I really missed a lot during my 12 years absence in Africa? Driving around for five days in Kenya, I think not. The overloaded trucks are still the same. The accidents are just as grave. People still die needlessly of diseases we find common in "The West". Nothing changed except one thing: Mobile phones are now everywhere. Farmers call each other with information, with questions, they are more informed, and stay 'connected' to each other.

I will be curious to see if I find the same giant leap into rural connectivity when travelling through Mali, Ghana, Niger, Burkina and Senegal in November.

One thing is for sure: I will not make fun anymore of those enthusiasts saying the mobile phone connectivity makes a big difference for rural farmers!

Picture interview team courtesy Willemijn Drok

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About reforestation and conservation farming in Meru Kenya

Today we did our last interviews in the neighbourhood of Meru, right under Mount Kenya.

Every single interview reveals new material, lets us discover new angles, and stories. More over, every single moment, we meet beautiful people, with a spank in their eye and stories to tell.

I have been amazed how little problem people have to stand in front of a camera team and start talking. Shows how proud they are of their work.

A couple of pictures from today's trip:

Edward is a retired teacher, who has also been farming since he was a little boy. He talked about the pests introduced with the cotton culture, and the way he is now planting trees to conserve the soil, protect his shamba from the wind, for the fruits and as an income by selling fire wood.

Edward Kenyan farmer

On Margereth's farm, we found a dozen women who showed us everything about "conservation farming", a technique which requires less efforts to plant, weed and irrigate, and at the same time, has a higher crop yield and is kinder to the top soil than traditional planting.

Kenyan farmer

Kenyan farmers

More snapshots of the people we met yesterday:

Kenyan women

Kenyan girl

Kenyan child

Kenyan farmer

Kenyan farmer

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Second day of farmer interviews in Kenya

Today, we did a second row of interviews in Emru Kenya, trying to understand how farmers cope with climate change.

We interviewed Ruth, a widow who was looking after her grandchildren, trying to find inventive ways to adapt to the shorter rainy season. I told her my first girlfriend was called Ruth too. She teased me "You should have married her, why did you not?".

Kenyan woman

I felt privileged to spend several hours with Celeste, with a blessed age of 88, and his wife Julia. They proudly welcomed us in the warmth of their farm, the largest I have seen so far. "I inherited nothing. Everything you see here, we worked for hard, with our bare hands", Celeste said.

Kenyan old couple

And we had another day on the fields. Women are forming cooperative groups cultivating a common piece of land. As we arrived, they were sowing potatoes.

Kenyan farmers preparing the fields

selecting potatoes

seed potatoes

Kenya - planting potatoes

Kenya - applying fertilizer

Some of them proudly showed a harvest of sweet potatoes, as one of their ways to adapt to the frequent droughts. They told us that root vegetables were far more resistant to the dry spells than other crops like maize or beans...

sweet potatoes

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