Improved Seed Extension Training
Sustainable Rural Agriculture and Urban Agriculture Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Senegal extend improved varieties of field crop seed that are developed by Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (#!ISRA#) to farmers all across Senegal. In order to maximize the potential of these improved crop varieties, certain practices should be followed. For this seed extension program, PCVs typically give each farmer 2 kilos of seed at the beginning of the rainy season and then work with the farmer throughout the rainy season to make sure he/she uses the practices applicable to that variety to ensure he/she will have as high a yield as possible. At the end of the rainy season, the farmer is expected to give the PCV 4 kilos of seed, which is then used to extend improved seed to twice as many farmers the next year. The second PCV in Kayemor is extending seed to 100 farmers in the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor, so she held a 2-day training to more effectively and efficiently train the farmers in the practices they should follow as well as other important agricultural practices, such as 2x2 meter plots for yield calculations and seed saving techniques. She developed a village relay system to streamline communication with the farmers in the program since they are spread across the 23 villages in the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor. The training was a huge success and the farmers are looking forward to the first good rainfall so they can plant their seed and start the process of improving their food security.
Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), the primary agricultural research institute in Senegal, develops improved varieties of field crops in Senegal. These improved varieties are designed to have better yields than traditional varieties because they are disease, pest, or drought resistant, grow better in depleted soils, and/or reach maturity faster and thus allow for multiple harvests in one season. Thus, by planting these #!improved varieties# rather than traditional varieties, farmers and their families are able to increase their #!food security#. Peace Corps Senegal obtains seed for these improved field crop varieties, and #!Sustainable Rural Agriculture# and #!Urban Agriculture# PCVs extend them to farmers throughout Senegal. In this program, the PCV gives, for example, 2 kilos of improved seed to a farmer at the beginning of the rainy season and, when the farmer has harvested the crop, he/she will give the PCV 4 kilos of seed, which the PCV will store during the dry season and give to two new farmers at the beginning of the next rainy season. In this fashion, the PCV is able to double the number of farmers receiving improved seed each year, though some crops inevitably fail so it is often challenging to realistically double the number of farmers in the program. Throughout the rainy season, the PCV visits the farmers’ fields on a regular basis, providing technical advice regarding crop spacing, thinning, weeding, soil amendments, and integrated pest management. The PCV records this information, plus the size of the farmer’s harvest at the end of the rainy season, in a field crop journal, which is then used to write a report to be shared with ISRA in an effort to help them assess the quality of their improved crop varieties.
In order to maximize the potential of these improved crop varieties, certain practices should be followed. For example, each variety does better in certain soil types, with a certain plant spacing and density, and with certain soil amendments. Thus, each farmer receiving seed for the improved varieties needs to be trained so they know about and are able to carry out all of these certain practices. Most PCVs extend seed to about 10-25 farmers each year and are, therefore, able to personally train all the farmers they are extending seed to, either in small groups or individually. However, this is not the case in Kayemor, a village located in the department of Nioro du Rip in the Kaolack region. Kate Ballentine (2007-2009), the first PCV in Kayemor, extended seed to 25 farmers her first rainy season in Kayemor and, because of a near perfect seed return record and the addition of an improved variety of sorghum, 50 farmers her second year. When the second PCV in Kayemor, Danielle Stoermer (2009-2011), began planning for her first rainy season, she quickly realized she would be extending seed to 100 farmers through the 23 villages in the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor and decided a formal training for all of these 100 farmers would be the most effective and efficient way to ensure they had the necessary information to maximize the potential of their improved seeds. She also decided that a “village relay” system should be set up so that one farmer in each village would act as the relay between the PCV and all the farmers in his/her village, relaying information between the farmers and the PCV and showing the PCV around to all the fields when she visits the relay’s village.
In the same fashion as the previous years of seed extension, several prominent farmers and development specialists in Kayemor worked with Danielle to select the farmers that would receive seed this year. A handful of farmers were selected from each of the 23 villages in the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor; farmers were selected based on their knowledge, experience, dedication, and motivation.
Danielle worked with Peace Corps Agricultural Technology Trainer Youssoupha Boye to plan the training. They decided that splitting the training into two days, so one group of 50 farmers would be trained one day and the other 50 farmers would be trained the next day, would be most effective. Since the training would last all day both days, Danielle applied for a #!Small Program Assistance# (SPA) Grant to cover the cost of making lunch for all the farmers. Youssoupha and Danielle designed the training to make it as participatory as possible, so that the farmers would be more engaged during the training, share their knowledge with each other, and gain confidence in themselves and their fellow farmers. They wanted to cover all the practices that should be followed to maximize the potential of the improved crop varieties plus 2x2 m plots of yield calculations, seed saving techniques, and the village relay system.
According to everyone involved, the 2-day training was a huge success. Each day, Danielle opened up the training with a formal greeting and introductions, and then Youssoupha facilitated the bulk of the meeting. He made sure to cover all the practices that should be followed to maximize the potential of the improved seeds but kept the training flexible and open enough to allow farmers to chime in with comments or questions. Danielle’s counterpart and the Wula Nafaa representative in Kayemor were particularly vocal, sharing information that they had learned at other trainings and through their numerous years of agriculture experience. Youssoupha also discussed 2x2 m plots, seed saving techniques, and the village relay system.
During the training, Youssoupha also gave a brief explanation of what the Peace Corps is, what PCVs, specifically agriculture PCVs, do, and in what ways villagers can work with PCVs. While this was not originally part of the plan, this was particularly helpful because most of farmers at the training have never worked with a PCV before and, therefore, did not know that much about the Peace Corps. The president of the Communauté Rurale de Kayemor even came for part of the training and talked briefly about the importance of such capacity-building trainings and programs as the seed extension training and program we are doing.
After lunch each day, the farmers were given their 2 kilos of seed. We had plenty of seed so that most farmers were able to get their first choice of which kind of seed (cowpea, rice, corn, millet, or sorghum), and if they could not get their first choice, then they were able to get their second choice. Overall, the farmers were very engaged during the training, learned a lot, and really enjoyed it.
Rain is the next step in this #!seed extension# program – once the rains come (toward the end of June in the Kaolack region), the farmers will plant their fields. Once they plant, Danielle will visit all the farmers once every two weeks to check up on the farmers’ fields and give suggestions on thinning, weeding, and pest management. She will also help them set up 2x2 m plots to be able to calculate their yield when they harvest and help make plans to save seed for the next rainy season. Once the farmers have harvested their crop, Danielle will collect the 4 kilos of seed from each farmer so that 200 additional farmers will be able to receive improved seed next year. Kayemor has a new storage facility, so all of these farmers will be able to save their seed there for next year without fear of pest infestation or the seed being stolen or eaten before the next rainy season. Because of the availability of the seed storage facility, Danielle will work with a handful of highly experienced farmers to help them become local seed sources for these improved varieties, thereby allowing the program to expand to more farmers at an even faster rate.