It takes time to make progress here. and I think our persistence is starting to pay off.
Generally, in West Africa, things need more time than intensity here, at least until things get established, and understood.
My best friend in Mali is Salifu Koné; we were cut off the same log. I have had so much fun with him. We have shared more belly laughs than anyone could count. He has been an invaluable source of local Malian wisdom that I need to get going here. Frankly. I could not have done it without him. The joke is we are brothers, with the same mother, but different fathers.
I introduced Salifu to drip irrigation in January 2011, when I set him up with several Bucket irrigation kits. Salifu has also been with me to many of my villages over the last few years. So he understands our local food security community development goals. Drip irrigation is simple and effective, the best way to help the bottom billion poorest people on earth, 800 million of whom are subsistence farmers, making their hectare plots as profitable as can be. A critical factor in this equation is extending the growing season into the nine months of drought; this is where drip irrigation comes in.
Salifu grew some vegetables for that first year. However, last year he did not even bother to reestablish his drip irrigated garden the whole time I was in Mali. And it bothered me, a lot. If he could not understand me, who can? If he does not see the need for irrigation, who will? I thought to myself. By the time my term was over last March, he still had absolutely nothing set up.
In fact, we had a very frank conversation about it, where I xpressed my frustration with him.
“What, do you have so much money you feel you don’t need a garden?” I asked one day.
I told Salifu that he is just like the other men I tried to work with. “You talk about how wonderful all this is, how helpful, but you don’t actually follow through on any of it.”
I explained to Salifu how I don’t really listen to the praising lips of Malians to my face. People always tell us what we want to hear. It is not lying, as some are quick to judge. It is simply a Malian wishing to pay us honor for who we are and what we do, even if they don’t see the sense of it personally. Someone might find it wonderful, after all. So they are not so quick to dismiss you. I suppose if you put it that way, it’s a good thing. However, if you are not aware of this, you will think the people are all for something, when few of them see any sense in it at all. Oops!
My time in Ivory Coast taught me to listen with my eyes, not my ears. It is not what you say, it’s what you do.Is it really any different anywhere?
Frankly, most of the men I worked with back in 2011 were not doing a very good job. Men are often looking for a get-rich scheme. They do not view a family garden from the same perspective as I do, or the women of Mali might. The garden is to help with family nutrition, health, and a little extra cash. Men generally want a lot of extra cash, period. They want the big cash windfall from an NGO “Project”. That word “Project” lights the men right up here, because, their experience with foreign investment is that big bucks are coming our way, with big plans, and I can get a piece of the pie.
“I epitomize their severe NGO disappointment. And I’m glad to be so.” (Andy Rayner)
Far too much money comes to African countries that does so little good. With us around, there are not any flashy building constructions , machines, motors, tractors, pumps, or salaried employee positions. So in many ways, I depress them. Many men hang around until they learn there is no windfall, and then they wander away. But whoever is left behind, you can work with.
It takes time to go through this sifting process. If you ram right in to the work, it is impossible to know men’s motives, and then you find out the hard way. It takes time to work through this phase. If you understand that this is a normal phase, you are ahead of the game. It takes time to connect with the people who are really interested in working with you at the daily gut level of putting food on the table for the health of their family. Many women get it. Many men don’t.
I mistakenly accused my friend Salifu Koné of being a man who did not get it.
A few weeks ago Salifu was over visiting, and he asked me if I would help him expand his garden. He wanted me to help him with an expanded irrigation setup.
“Expand it! I did not know you were even still gardening.”, I commented.
He informed me that after I left last term, he set up his two small irrigation kits and grew tomatoes through the tail end of the dry season, and all through the rainy season as well. He said had a bumper harvest. So now he wants to expand.
My little speech must have done some good after all.
He went and spent bags of his very own hard-earned cash, buying four barrels, and a fifth 1500 gallon one to hold water. He is following his own vision. He asked me for nothing other than to help him design a system that would fit his plot, once he had his barrels.
I went over and inspected the site, and we started to work on Saturday. I was up early, and headed in to the market to get some hose to make a quality header for him (my contribution). What he had in mind would have worked, but I doubted it would last very long. So I made him a $20 header out of sturdy pipe with some of the drip line attachments I have here at the base.
Salifu lives in Sikasso, and is an urbanite. He has no land of his own. However, where he lives there is a nice space behind the building. We are putting the whole area into production. I was actually able to design a system that would water the whole area on only two barrels. He could use the other two for making the organic compost tea fertilizer.
He will be able to plant over 1300 tomato plants now, or as many as 5000 other smaller vegetable plants with two 200 L barrels. He’s going to eat well, and make money too. The pictures may not look like much but if you realized how much water this saves (80-90%) we are saving him from hauling thousands and thousands of liters per day. This will be a green forest in a month, with high density planting and yield.
He took me to the orange tree in his yard. After three years, he finally buried a terracotta pot beside his orange tree, and commented that he notices a little difference each day. Filled once a week, it leaches one cup of water per day to the trees roots, by capillary action. After almost 5 months of no rain this really strengthens the tree. It took him three years, but he is motivated now.
He also Surprised me with other news too. I had been talking to the townspeople about Sack Gardens for three years (Google search) but no one was interested. Salifu mentioned that he finally tried the “sac garden”. He planted potatoes in it, which was a bad move. However, he did get some small potatoes from it and realized, it works and that it is a perfect idea for growing vegetables in the city where people have little or no land. Perfect for Urban gardening.
The little rat proved me wrong. He is not like “those men” after all. I can’t be angry with him, now can I?
He’s got a vision to progress, and I’m thankful to be walking with him through it.
This is as fun as it gets here. Every humanitarian dreams of the day people just take your the ideas and start running with the concepts on their own. Salifu Koné did just that. The fact that is is someone you love, makes it all that more exciting.
I’m a lucky guy! The little rat did it. He got a vision for the future. Maybe I’m not wasting my time here after all 😉