Intrepid Trails

Adventures of Bike Bums exploring the world somewhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Deforestation Blues...

Why to Not Buy that Mahogany Desk
As many of you may know I am working for an environmental NGO here in Gambia called the Stay Green Foundation.  As the name suggests we are doing our best with our staff of 6 and miniscule funding to prevent a dirt poor, overpopulated country from rapidly and irreversibly turning itself into desert.  It's not easy.  Gambia has been free from colonial rule for about 40 years now but the real, and sometimes uncomfortable, truth is that most of the developing world is under another (maybe more destructive) form of economic colonialism.  The gaping maw of America/Europe/Japan/China/India is simply consuming the world--its forests, its fish, even its people thru people trafficking.  Add to this the fact that extreme overpopulation and a dangerous mishmash of powerful new technology (pesticides, chainsaws, and yes, even vaccinations, food aid, and roads) are seriously taxing beneficial cultural traditions and the resource base...and basically the developing world is teetering on the brink. 
It's very hard to realize this sitting at home, living a "normal" life, "just buying stuff".  Think about it for a minute.  Possibly not a single person that will receive this email can regularly and definitely identify where the resources they consume daily come from.  That is insane!  We are all willing yet blind participants in the devastation of much of the world.  How is it that America, with its population of 300 million and the highest resource consumption the world has ever known can have national parks the size of entire states, hmm?  It's because we (the developed world) siphon up the world's resources with our endless materialistic hunger, while people here experience real hunger.  Where does the wood that your house/desk is made from come from?  Could it be Vietnam which lost 51% of its forest from 2000-2005, Indonesia (2nd largest rainforests on earth), which is estimated to have no virgin forest left by 2020, or maybe even in Gambia...1 km from my house.
African Mahogany, Kahya Senegalensis, Kahe in my native tongue here, is truly a King of Trees.  A massive gorgeous behemoth more than 150 feet  tall, maybe 9 feet in diameter, and with a crown as wide as it is tall.  They are simply confirmation that the universe is an incredible place to live.  So, you can imagine my shock when two days ago I saw 2 of these legally protected trees crumpled and broken on the ground less than a mile from where I live.  
Then next day the director of Stay Green told me he had a run in with the loggers.  He had asked to see their permit, which happened to be for 1 mahogany only.  Furthermore, it is illegal to fell protected trees here if there is not at least 3 of the same species within 200 meters.  These two trees were standing in the middle of a vast barren field of sand...not quite a forest.  He brought the police, documented everything with photos, and alerted the divisional forestery officer, and even the National Minister for the Environment.  The next day when we returned to the police station to see what had happened, the police chief, the logger's boss, and the forestry officers had "negotiated to reach an understand"--he paid a bribe and got off.  Curiously, the National Minister for the Environment wouldn't answer my boss' calls as well.  The logger's boss had offered the village that owned the land a small amount of mahogany to help them build doors on their mosque in exchange for their permission--yet one tree could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars once brought to the US, China, Russia, etc.
Please think about this next time you buy wood of any sort and only buy it if it is Forest Stewardship Council Certified.  Or better yet, don't buy it at all.  Our seemingly annonymous actions threaten life in many countries. 
The other shock I had recently was to realize the scorching speed of deforestation in my area thru a conversation with a friend. My village currently has 18 family compounds and sits in a vast area of parched fields with about 1 tree per acre.  Ten years ago we had 3 compounds and you could hunt gazzelle on the edge of the village.  I barely see a squirrel these days.  Our "forest" is a line about 200 feet wide and is used by several villages of which mine is smallest.  We eat fruits from the forest, we cook all of our food with its wood, and all of our animals (which represent nearly all of our wealth most of our minimal protein) rely on leaves in the bush to survive thru the 8 month dry season.  When all the trees are gone, people will have to move...but where?  This country cannot survive if its trees are sold off for the world's rich to adorn their houses with, because it cannot even survive its own internal pressures.  
Think about it--a village increasing 6 fold in 10 years!  But that is what happens when every woman has 8 children.  It's easy to say its their fault for overpopulating, but intil we decided to vaccinate their children to every disease known to man, they had to have 8 so that 4 would survive.  The other source of all the new people is environmental refugees.  I have only met a small handful of people in my area who originally come from Gambia.  Everyone else is from Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso--areas that once looked like the Gambia does today, until all the trees were cut, the rains stopped coming, and the thin topsoil blew away into the ocean.  
Where I live is naturally a near rainforest of soaring Mahogany, Teak, Rosewood, Ebony, Baobab and about 20 other varieties of trees.  In a generation it has been transformed into a near desert.  Trees are cleared for fields.  Immense downpours come in the rainy season and their force is not broken by tree canopies but instead washes away the soil.  The dry season comes and great fires come and burn all the fields killing baby trees and leaving something very similar to the sand of a volleyball quart behind.  
I don't know where the family I live with here will go in 15 years when there is no rain, topsoil or trees.  Probably they head south, and probably the story of modern Africa will repeat itself and there will be deforestation, drought, and now that there is nowhere left to migrate, ethnic conflict and war.
They have enough problems on their hands right now.  Do you really need that desk?...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Gambia Greetings

Greetings Friends and Family,
It has been a long long time since I have updated on my life here in The Gambia--that's right, Africa's only country with a President who can alledgedely magically cure AIDS-- so I figured I would do just as much.  It's now January--the cold season--which means my homestay family cuddles up to the campfire every night wearing near-arctic gear and shivering, trying in vain to escape the harsh 65 degree cold.  The rainy season ended a couple months ago and the world is slowly submerging itself into the dry stillness that will rule this country until it is shattered by the first thunderstorm of the monsoon next June.  The harvest is in, and although it is not very good (it never is, what with climate change induced drought and over-farmed soils), for now food is relatively abundant and people are selling their peanuts to buy provisions for the year. 
The biggest news in my life is that I have transferred sites, about a month ago, to work with a really cool local Gambian environmental NGO called the Stay Green Foundation.  I am now getting to work on almost exactly the projects that I want to work on here, and that I think are very important.  For the next 11 months I will essentially function as an extension worker representing the NGO in somewhere between 5 and 8 villages.  I will be educating people on the dire problem of deforestation and then (hopefully) mobilizing them to take action to save their livelihoods by planting woodlots and agroforestry trees to provide for the fuel and building needs, as well as to improve their soil fertility in their fields.  About 80% of the Gambias energy comes from fuelwood, driving what is really a crisis of deforestation.  About 50 years ago 80% of this country was covered in a closed canopy forest of massive trees.  That number has dropped to between 8 and 18% presently (reliable stats are hard to come by).  It's so miniscule that I have never once seen an example of what the Gambia naturally looked like.  With the population expected to double in the next 25 years, while rainfall decreases, its hard not to predict disaster as people further outpace the natural regeneration rate of the 2 things they rely on to live here--forests and soil.  Hence my job.  I am psyched about it.  It is really difficult to get people to understand the threat of deforestation (the trees have always always been there, why would they be gone later?), but around my new site, people are acutely feeling the shortage already.  Talk and action are not the same thing, but the way people talk they are ready to do something about it.  
Aside from training villages to establish woodlots I will be working to help set up a large agriculture and forestry training center that the NGO will use as their training base from now on.  It's a very large project, and I will really only get to help lay the foundations this year.  But, I have a lot of freedom to set up demonstration projects (on proper tree species and spacing for woodlots, new fruit tree varieties, etc.).  All in all its exciting.  In my new site I actually live with a family that speaks the language I speak (not the case in last village) which makes things more comfortable.  But, the dialect is so different that for the first week or two I had no idea what they were saying.  My new site is also close to the ocean (only about 4 miles in a straight line) so the weather is a lot better with a constant cool sea breeze.  The food situation is a lot better too.  Out of a sense of white guy guilt, I didn't supplement my diet in village last year.  I didn't realize how much this was affecting me until I went to Morocco for vacation and got healthy again.  Malnourishment is a horrible and insidious problem.  Not that I was nearly as bad off as my family.  Every couple weeks I would leave village and eat a hamburger.  But, it was actually a mind opening experience.  When you are living on only simple carbohydrates and no vitamins, you dont want to improve your life.  It's often baffling to us development workers, why locals dont work harder to improve their lives.  But, the truth is when you are hungry or have malaria you just want to sleep.
I am working on another reforestation project as well.  The idea is to pay people a small amount for each healthily outplanted seedling that they raise and plant around their farms.  This year it is just a pilot project.  But, hopefully if it is sucessful, next year we will sell the idea to local tourism operators so that tourists can offset the carbon from their flights through tree planting in Gambia.  It's an awesome project and I really really encourage any of you out there to donate if you can.  Even if it is a very small amount.  To do so, go to www.peacecorps.gov
.  Click on "donate now".  Then "help fund volunteer projects".  Then "Africa".  Then scroll down to Gambia and click on Stephanie Rayburn's "reforestation" project.  Like I said, any amount helps. Thanks!
Alright folks I have to go.  Hope this finds you all well.  West Africa says hello.
Cam
ps-in about 11 months I will have 7grand to blow on checking off things on my lifetime "to do" list...so if anybody has any ideas....
pps-
 
 

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fwd: Steph's Trees for Fuel project

Hello friends and family.  Below is a email from my special lady over here talking about her reforestation pilot project that she will be working on for the duration of her time here in the Gambia.  I am just now switching sites, moving 300 km across the country to work with a really cool environmental NGO called the Stay Green Foundation and will be working on the pilot project with Steph.  Any donations you guys can give to fund the project will definitely be put to good use.  As for the concept of paying people to plant trees, if "Why should we pay people to help themselves?" pops in your head, please consider the fact that we all the time pay people to do things that are in the public interest in US.  It's called government services, but over here with a non functioning goverment they don't have that luxury.  The project model is based off of Kenya's Greenbelt movement, the founder of which won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago.  I hope this finds you all well and happy.
Cam

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Stephanie Rayburn <stephrayburn@gmail.com>
Date: Nov 10, 2007 11:38 AM
Subject: Steph's Trees for Fuel project
 
Hellooo friends and family!  Salam malekum, peace to you
 
I'm excited to announce my "Trees for Fuel" reforestation pilot project, to be carried out in several villages in my district!  I have signed it up as a Peace Corps Partnerships project, which means everyone can go to the link and glance at the proposal and if you want, contribute ANY amount right then and there.  It got accepted as a project right before I left on vacation a few weeks ago and I'm so happy to see now that I got back, that random people already contributed $200.00- people are amazingly generous when it comes down to it!
Most of you are my friends, "poor" college kids and the like, with a few professors and family members in the mix and I KNOW you don't have much money to spare. No worries.  But please, if you know others with charitable tendencies or interests in rescuing this planet's forests, please pass this link on.
 
 
This is why I'm so excited about this project:
Driving a few hundred kilometers through northern Senegal to the airport a few weeks ago I saw the shocking picture of desertification in full for the first time.  The parkland of The Gambia, sparse but still treed, unfolded mile by mile into a devastated washed-out waste land.  It's not fair to call it a desert, conjuring up pictures of lizards and cactus, red sand dunes and canyons, wolves howling at the moon from atop mesas.  This was a man-made expanse, stripped of its layers of life down to a nutrient-void greyness, dotted only occasionally with an angry little shrub inevidably snagging some shred of plastic trash. Yikes. Senegal has electricity; power lined cut through the desert scene in all directions.  Yes they are "developing," but at what cost?
 
The Gambia in in trouble, but it's not a desert yet.  And the institutions are in place to inform people that desertification is a real scenario, that planting trees will keep their wells wet and the rainy season long.  The time is right to make it "cool" to plant you own trees for firewood- the concept of planting mangoes and cashews caught on beautifully and it's just a small hop to making fuel wood tree propagation a practice.
 
So- thanks guys for listening!  Pass on the link to all who might be interested and help us if you can.  Feel free to email me with any questions.  Take care- peace only to you and your home people! (:
 
-Stephanie

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rainy wonderworld

So...no emails for a few months there.  Sorry bout that.
Everytime I have had the opportunity to sit down in front of a computer to send an update out there into your cyber realm, the words have just not come.  The simple truth is that words are too small to contain any experience, much less one as conflicting as being a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia. 
The rainy season has come and is slowly tapering off, leaving us here to dry out for a few months before slow-roasting this strip of land under the African sun for many months.  The rains came with a bang.  Specifically a bang of lightning as I sat in a bar late night with a few friends during the first big rains.  As our bellies filled with 3rd world quality alcohol, the streets flooded and washed a 9 month dry season worth of trash, donkey crap, and dust into the bar, filling it up above ankle level.  The music never stopped.  As we walked back to the peace corps house to sleep, the streets were torrents of the sweet chocolate milk of the developing world.  Lightning exploded everywhere and rain drops the size of marbles lobbed into our eyesballs.  We shouted and whooped our drunken thanks to the clouds  It was lovely beyond description.  I cannot describe the thrill of the first rain in 9 months.  That was 2 months ago.
Since then, the desolate sun-burnt landscape has truly transformed itself into a sparkling green wonderworld of chirping birds and grasses that grow 2 inches a day with clouds swooping playfully above us all as we come out of hibernation.  Humans aren't the only ones out of hibernation either.  I hear hyenas more frequently.  My very hard core deaf uncle beat to death a 9 foot python with a sitck, and I had to chop the head off a deadly pit viper because my (also very hard core) surrogate grandmother was chasing it around the women's garden with a log trying to whomp it into submission. 
It's work work work time.  Rural Gambians have difficult lives in many ways, but they do have the increasingly rare pleasure of being some of the very few people left in the world that just work 3 months of the year and spend the rest of the time relaxing with family and friends.  There are more than enough calories to go around for almost the entire year, even in the poorest communities.  The problem is the near total absence of protein and vitamins, especially this time of year--the Hungry Season.  As unpleasant as it is to live almost solely on white rice (malnourishment is exhausting and crushing to your inspiration), it is a really liberating experience actually to see how unhealthy of a diet you can live on.  I could of course do more to supplement my diet here, but I struggle with so many ethical dilemmas in my work here that I have yet to broach the issue of how I could lock myself in my hut and eat something while my family would be sitting outside hungry.
 
But, it's not all exciting snakes and lovely green grass here.  I have had a lot of challenges for the last several months.  I have emailed a few of you about this.  But, basically, the long history of well-meaning (but completely completely misinformed) white people coming to the Gambia as tourists or NGO workers (which are not much different from tourists) makes this an extremely difficult place to be a white person.  I should add that the situation in my particular region, as one of the very poorest and least developed of the country, is a lot worse in this respect than anywhere else I have been in country.  50 years of radio, tourists, and NGO workers telling people they are poor has really affected the way they percieve themselves and this country.  It is very difficult to explain or understand even for myself.  But, the end result is that in a large proportion of my interactions I am transformed in their eyes into an object to either get US visas, money, my bike, whatever I happen to be holding that instant, from, or as an object for people to take out some of their frustration about their lives on.  The longer I am here, the more I understand why things are this way, but, honestly, the more hurt I am by this also.  On the other hand, the more developed the area is, the less I experience this.  It all comes down to people's lack of cultural self-esteem.  Sadly, in my village they do not view themselves as the last proud hold outs of a world where we all had rich cultural traditions, where we worked the soil with our hands and earned our keep.  They view themselves as the only people in the world locked out of the party that the rest of the world is having (it is commonly assumed that anywhere outside Africa is fantastically rich and people never work).  The more developed villages have a much better sense of self-appreciation, feel less helpless, and finally, I think, come to value (but not practice) their cultural traditions more.  So, hurray for small scale development.  The sense of hopelessness in my village is a much greater problem than all others and is best addressed by this.  And, thank god for Peace Corps as well.  I have changed from a serious skeptic to a devout believer since I have been here.  The idea that any change can be effected in these villages by people who know neither the language nor culture, and do not even live there (NGO workers) is absurd.  All in all, it is an enormous challenge to be here, but one very worthwhile.
My projects have gone quite well this year.  We transformed a bare stretch of ground into a well-fenced hectare garden with 2 wells, a live fence of spiky plants (cause termites will eat the posts on the barbed wire fence) around it, and rows of food-producing, soil-enriching trees to provide shade in the hot season.  I worked with about 15 different people to plant cashew trees, ranging from as few as 10, to as many as 350.  These should supplement the meagre income they earn from environmentally destructive peanut farming, for some people (hopefully, but nothing is for certain in this world) eventually quintupling their income.  And I work as a facilitator in a NGO sponsored Skills Center, providing ideas, tech support (ie. being able to write), motivation, and whatever else I can come up with.  I have a lot of other small projects as well.  My favorite is trying to increase the deliciousness index in my family compound by planting 12 different kinds of fruit trees with my host this year.  As I said, the work is difficult, frustrating and often misunderstood.  Most people do not understand that helping them to learn a skill or grow a new food source is better than me just handing out money or visas (as white folks are percieved to do).  But a few people really get it.  They work hard and sacrifice to make their's and other's lives better.  They inspire me immensely, and every so often when the difficulty of the job is turning me into someone I do not want to be, they will do or say something that floods me with relief and patience, and I am led by example, right back on track. 
I hope this email finds you all well.
Peace,
Cam

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Photos

hello folks,
Still here in The Gambia living life.  I want to try and write a longer email soon to let you all know what I have been doing, but...I am lazy and sometimes things are great here and sometimes quite frustrating.  It's difficult to write an email that could sum it all up.  But, in the meantime you can take a look at my girlfriend's blog which has a link to some photos we took in my village to get a better idea of what things look like over here.  Hope you are all doing well.
Cam

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Donkeys and Development

I thread my way through the cracks and potholes of the driveway to the  International  Trypansomiasis Center to the  ("run down" by US standards, but highly developed by local standards) building at the back where 20 people from my village and surrounding villages are gathered for a 28 day "development" (still don't know what that means) crash course.  I walk in and loudly interrupt the proceedings to exchange several greetings that serve to totally disrupt the flow of their work but more importantly cement interpersonal relationships.  It's the polite way to do things.  The women giggle into their veils and murmur "Bakary, welcome" while the men clasp their hands in the air and my friend Musa shouts "Bakary we are study!"  We are all surprised by the situation.  These people who I am used to lounging with under the shade of mango trees or working in the fields with are sitting at desks grasping pens awkwardly with notebooks strewn about.  Seeing as how 80% of them are illiterate I am a little baffled by the notebooks. 
I have come to greet my people--some of whom I know very well and some of whom I can't remember the name of.  Two days ago they began this course, funded by a swedish NGO to teach them the very very basics of development work and concepts.  They want to teach them basic numeracy, people management, and needs assessment skills.  The idea is to take some of the actual development responsibilities away from NGO's and institutions like Peace Corps and give it to the locals who will benefit.  Help people help themselves basically--an idea I heartily applaud.  I sit and watch as the facilitators go over the rules of the class that day:  no smoking inside, only one person talks at a time, do not insult others ideas, no spitting on the floor, etc.  They are all rules that would be familiar, even obvious to a US High School student, but that are not the way meetings take place here.  Village meetings, in the shade of an old tree, are more focused on everyone getting their say in (sometimes simultaneously, sometimes without everyone listening) and everyone feeling satisfied at the end, more than resolving any particular situation.  I feel a quick pang of guilt seeing them fitting themselves into a more western model, wondering if this is just another step in a long sucession of cultural colonialism.  Then again...their traditional way of life is no longer remotely sustainable, economically or environmentally, so maybe the way forward is dangle their feet into that stream of (western dominated) globalization--a stream that often moves too fast for traditional peoples and leaves them awkwardly floundering between their origins and wherever it is they thought it would take them.
I push these thoughts to the back of my mind and ask the facilitator if I can have a word with my friend Musa.

We step outside and exchange some more of the never-ending greetings.  I can see concern on his face so I quickly allay his fears with a handshake, a grin, and the words "You will have a donkey this year."
Musa supports two wives, 5 children, and an old mother.  He is a poor man and has no livestock with which to plow or plant.  As a result he could only plant last year when donkeys were available to borrow.  As a result he only had enough food to last for about 4 months of the year.  Since then he has been selling his few meager possessions to keep his family alive on an all rice diet--the perfect recipe for malnutrition.  Even months after his food has run out he spends nearly all of his free time working, unpaid, on community projects.  I have never bothered to ask him why, as I realize he is one of those rare people with an impeccable, ingrained sense of the value of sacrifice.  About 1 month ago we wrote an application to the Horse and Donkey Project NGO, which provides donkeys, and sometimes plows to poor farmers who cannot afford their own.  Somehow the application was lost in the mail.  I went to their headquarter and talked Musa up enough that they agreed to give him a donkey and a plow on the spot. 
The whole experience has left me pondering global inequities---their drawbacks, their immense power to good, but generally the lack of greater justice inherent therein. 
Here is  how Musa got his donkey:  A man in the UK saw a poster at a horse show offering the opportunity to sponsor a donkey in the Gambia.  His small act of generosity--a gift to a man he had never met in a country he would never visit in his wife's name that cost him the equivalent of maybe 5 hours of work (he stipulated that the donkey must be named "Poppy")-- was sent thousands of miles south.  The UK volunteer who runs Horse and Donkey put in some of her time to do the necessary paperwork, in exchange for a feeling of time well spent and intercultural experience.  And I showed up, fluent in the language and the customs of the powerful, using a small part of my time and influence on Musa's behalf to lobby, successfully, for him to have a donkey and a plow.  Three rather small acts of generosity from a class of people in the top 5% of the worlds powerful and wealthy that will mean a world of difference and possibly the first step out of abject poverty for a good friend and a great person.  It would take Musa at least 2 months labor to earn enough money to get a donkey, in the unlikely event that he could find work. 
So...do not be afraid to donate.  It can end up making a drastic impact on someone's life who you will never meet, and mildly assuage inequitable world we live in.  On the other hand, handouts given by uninformed people, and even NGO's and the UN (how many millions of people does the World Food Program keep dependent on food aid each year without addressing the underlying problems?) create a destructive and pathetic cycle of dependency, crushing locals self-esteem, and ensuring people will not work to help themselves.  Approach aid and donations with caution.

So...what else have I been doing?
Mostly working toward starting cashew orchards.  I am working with 20+ individuals on a scale ranging from each person in my woman's association owning 2 cashew trees to a man that is starting an orchard of 1500 trees.  It's a new idea and a new technology in this region of the country (just now taking off in the capital) and in my area, far from the road, markets, jobs, NGO assistance, etc., one of the only alternatives to farming peanuts for almost no money on ever more degraded soils.  There is the added benefit that cashew are at least better for the environment than peanuts.  They obviously provide no habitat, but their benefits in soil conservation far surpass farming.  And in a country that is only 7% covered in forests (compared to 50% thirty years ago), any vegetation to stave off desertification is better than none.
I have worked as an intermediary between the villages and that NGO doing the basic development worker training I referenced earlier.  I started a tree nursery at my local school yesterday.  I've worked some with mango propagation.  And finally, I am working with my woman's association to hopefully get this garden off the ground before the rainy season starts in just a couple weeks.  It is very difficult to mobilize any group of 45 people to do communal work.  Especially in an unfamiliar language and culture, and when the work is a new idea to begin with (gardening). 
But, things are coming along, slowly slowly.  The rains are coming and I am excited about that.  Saw some lightning and rain drops a few nights ago.
Hope all is well.
Cam

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Under the Mahogany

Our shadows slide forty or fifty feet stretching out to the foot of the giant mahogany tree we have been sitting under all day, chatting, arguing, clapping, laughing, and drinking cup after cup after cup of thick sweet attaya (green tea).  A government representative has come to my village and seems to actually be planning on doing something positive to help out this area, which may be the poorest in the country.   Representatives from about 9 villages have come to have come to this meeting to figure out where to put the new health clinic and the two new solar powered wells in the region.  All of this "development" may prove illusory--every election cycle reps come and promise things that will never ever happen.  I'll believe it when I drink from that well and walk into that clinic.  The meeting lasts about 6 hours.  Six hours of old grizzled men with eyes clouded by cataracts standing and shouting for their village to have all the new developments.  Six hours of dignified women wrapped in crimson head scarves making the comprimises (in 3 different languages) that allow everyone to leave happily at the end of the day.  One must stand up for one's tribe and one's village, but one must also compromise.
My patience has grown.  In  the past I could never have sat under a tree for 6 hours understanding only 40% of what was said.  But, I want to be there.  I want to stay because it increases my presence in the whole area and gives me the credibility I need to get stuff done.  As a payoff when the meeting ends, the government rep and I exchange numbers, project ideas and make vague plans to work together later.  In a more tangible development a villager from 10 miles away, and I make plans to start a cashew and mango orchard.  Once again, when I am eating a juicy mango by the river, I'll believe it.  I try to hedge all my bets here by agreeing to work with pretty much anyone that has an idea, or any one that will listen to and accept this strange white man's rants about the desert dropping south, the invisible particles in the soil that make your food grow washing away, or the fact that the next generation's farms will be half the size they are now because of overpopulation.  If 5% of projects get going it will have been a huge success.
When the 104 degree heat dissipates slightly, I hop on my bike and head over to the closest village.  My shadow has stretched out to 80 feet as the sun hangs petulantly over the edge of the land.  A dust cloud of topsoil swirls above like a brown daytime Northern lights headed off toward the ocean.  I had delivered some seeds to the women in the village a week ago and was anxious to see if they had been planted.  Success!  I arrive to a scene that is every development workers dream.  10 women and children are hand tilling the soil with the same trustworthy hoes they have been using for 2000 years.  Dust kicks up from their work, refracts the burnt red of the evening sun and encircles the women in a spiral.  We talk and laugh.  We make tenuous plans to plant massive amounts of fruit trees in a village that for the 50 years of its existence has only planted one.  My friend in the village explains how villages of only 5 households are best because the people are all "One".  They all had the same grandparents.  I contemplate trying to explain basic genetics and that it is good to toss some new genes into the pool.  But, a little girl grins, crumbles a clod of wet earth between her hands and explains that to me that she likes to garden.  I grin back, shake hands and ride back to my village watching our 100 foot shadows glide across the earth.