Friday, March 2, 2012

Gambia Round 2

Between March 6 and June 7, I'll be back in The Gambia following up with the agroforestry and handpump repair projects I initiated as a Peace Corps Volunteer last year in Niamina Dankunku District, Central River Region, The Gambia. I also plan to start some new ones, including building mud and rocket stoves, bio-sand filters (if I can find the PVC parts locally), and evaporative coolers.

I'll be staying with my friend Jaye Jallow in Brikama Lefaya, a small ethnically Fula village outside Dankunku, in Central River Region-South, The Gambia. You can see his village by clicking on the Google map image here: If you zoom in, you can see his compound (closest village bottom right from the "Brikama" label). His row house is on the left. Across the road, you can actually see the tree nursery that we're working on and inside the concrete ring to the right of the tree nursery is the handpump that we fixed. Southeast of that is Fula Kunda (labeled Bamba Jallow), where we fixed two handpumps.

In terms of agroforestry, we'll be outplanting mango, tamarind, African mahogany, and rosewood seedlings from the nursery that we planted last year. We'll start more cashews for intercropping and plant an improved variety of Leucaena and other multipurpose trees. We'll fence in new areas for additional tree nurseries, tree lots, and possibly a new women's garden, and continue to improve soil fertility with mass composting. Agroforestry trainings in surrounding villages are a possibility as well. Trees for the Future helped out by sending me the following varieties of leucaena and acacia seeds:

- 1000 Leucaena leuccocephala
- 500 Leucaena collinsii
- ~640 Acacia mangium
- 300 Acacia angustissima

Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), sent the following seeds to try out:

- Edible Acacia (Acacia elachantha)
- Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora)
- "Red Lady" Papaya variety (Carica papaya)
- "Known-You No. 1" Papaya variety (Carica papaya)
- Cassod Tree (Senna siamea)
- Atemoya (Annona squamosa X A. cherimoia), aka Sugar-Pineapple or sweetsop--I had a bunch of these when I was living in Thailand
- Indian jujube (Zizyphus mauritiana)
- Cattley Guava - Red (Psidium cattleianum)
- Starfruit (Averrhoa carambola)
- Strawberry Tree (Muntingia calabura)
- Moringa (Moringa oleifera), we planted thousands of these last year

I also have a few packets of seeds from James Cameron's Avatar Home Tree Initiative I picked up in DC during Earth Day in 2010. I think they're sycamore, but we'll see.
We'll put special focus and care on the trees quickest to get established and bear fruit--Annona (3 years), Strawberry Tree (1.5 years), Surinam Cherry (2 years), Starfruit (4-5 years), and Papayas or "paw paws" (first year)--which are actually herbs. Guava takes a long time to germinate, and jujube is difficult to propagate because of its hard casing that needs to be broken. Last year, I put a lot of dents in my bungalow's concrete floor cracking them.
Our goals are to 1.) boost food security by introducing new varieties of fast-growing edible fruits with an abundant variety of vitamins, 2.) lessen dependence on cutting down wild trees for fuel or lumber, and 3.) protect the land from desertification and soil loss through erosion control and soil fertility measures.
In terms of water, we'll be fixing a Mark II handpump for the Regional Health Center in Dankunku, proper, and Sara Sambel, a small Fula village, located between Choya and Pinai. Water Charity will be funding this initial project, details here: These handpumps have been installed in the 90's, but with little or no maintenance. We'll put on new handle bearings and axles, new chains, and new seals for the cylinder mechanism that draws up the water. We'll fix Choya's, too (on the main South Bank road), if we get another Water Charity grant approved. In Touba Murit (labeled Touba Mbakeh), north of Dankunku, we'll see if their handpump can be repaired. If not, we'll look into making slow-sand filters. Further north is Si Kunda. They have only opened wells that are most likely contaminated. Slow-sand filters can help there, too.

We'll also be testing new mud brick rocket stoves and mud stoves that use less firewood and produce less smoke (Deforestation due to fuelwood demand is huge). One design will be based off THIS ONE (add mud coat) by Aprovecho. We'll also test making biochar and biochar briquettes from agricultural waste to limit dependence on fuelwood.

Other possible projects include:
- making neem cream, a mosquito repellent that can help reduce cases of malaria, and
neem soap (antibacterial)
- mproving drainage around kitchen and washing areas
- making evaporative cooling prototypes for extending the shelf life of food

Now to answer your burning question of HOW CAN I HELP?

Many people get turned off by the idea of opening their wallets to helping people they don't know who live thousands of miles away. Especially if they think that their money is being used as a handout. A big part of how I work focuses on building local capacity and giving people a hand up. Training and a small injection of high-quality tools and supplies goes a long way.

- A good pair of $5 secateurs can help a local Gambian de-husk mango seeds for better seedling germination.
- $10 can buy vegetable seeds for a women's dry season garden.
- $20 can buy a shovel and a pick-axe, instrumental in helping to double-dig nursery beds.
- $35 can buy 200 large polypots to trench mango or tamarind seedlings.
- $50 can buy rolls of barbwire to fence out livestock from destroying fuel and fooder seedling lots.
- $100 can go towards buying pitchforks and wheelbarrow to collect and process dung for compost

In terms of water and sanitation, it's difficult for locals to take control of their water supply and pay for repairs when parts aren't readily available or technical knowledge is lacking. Indeed, in the developing world, many of the Mark II handpumps installed by UNICEF and other organizations need maintenance or are in disrepair. The Rural Water Supply Network estimates that 50% of all handpumps are abandoned due to malfunction. Communities whose handpumps have fallen into disrepair and who have no other safe water sources must revert back to open wells and bodies of water that are most likely contaminated.
In Dankunku District, many handpumps were installed in the 1990s, with virtually no upkeep since they were commissioned. Handle axles, bearings, chains, and cylinder seals have either broken down or are dangerously close.
On this trip, I aim to fix handpumps in as many villages as I can. Already, Water Charity and the Elmo Foundation have supplied funds for me to buy parts to maintain two handpumps--one at Dankunku's Regional Health Center, and another for Sara Sambel, a small Fula village about 7 miles from Dankunku proper. In case you missed it, information on this project can be seen HERE. Other villages in need of handpump repair include Choya, Touba Murit, and Madina Wallom, among others.

I have past experience fixing these pumps before. With the generosity of Water Charity and Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Peace Corps Volunteer Etienne Claude-Marcoux and I helped retool three handpumps in Brikama Lefaya and Fula Kunda Villages, helping to improve clean water access for 550 women, children, and men (and livestock). You can read about that past project HERE.

- $20 can help buy PVC pipes for household bio-sand filters for communities with no handpumps or safe drinking water sources, like Si-Kunda, about 5 miles from Dankunku.
- $50 can buy molds and concrete to build sand filter towers.
- $200 can outfit an old handpump with new cylinder seals, a new axle, axle bearings, chain, and housing bolts

If you'd like to help out on this trip or subsequent ones, email me at Tharsis133[at]Gmail[dot]com or Jeremy_Mak[at]alumni[dot]brown[dot]edu.

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