My vote of Song of the Day... Well, even Song of the Season... Nice!
Thanks to Samuel!
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.
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...
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...
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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
More snapshots of the people we met yesterday:
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?".
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.
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.
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...
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