Abdoulaye Badji: farming needs modernizing: education helps farmers

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Abdoulaye Badji: farming needs modernizing: education helps farmers

Abdoulaye Badji, aged 50 and a member of the Jola ethnic group, lives in Senegal's southern province of Casamance. He supports his own family and two of his brothers' children through farming, supplementing his income when necessary by collecting and selling firewood.

Through diversification Abdoulaye spreads the risk of crop failure. "[Here], you cannot grow just one crop," he says. "If it doesn't work, you will be in an impossible situation for that year." He is a keen advocate of modernization, arguing that "[you] cannot meet the challenge of development if you stick to traditional ways…", and that "… the real way forward is to have motorized equipment". However, he notes that even simpler equipment and traditional assets are in short supply: "there are not enough carts going around [for ploughing]… People did have cattle, but throughout these difficult years they have sold all to sustain their families".

Although Abdoulaye uses a cattle-drawn plough rather than the traditional tilling tool, in other respects he feels people were better off in the past, able to produce more as the soil was fertile: "In their time they could even buy cattle with the extra harvest… Their cattle used to walk around and fertilize the soil." Furthermore, he explains, "people don't practise fallowing land any more, because due to insecurity [as a result of armed conflict] you keep using the same land which is safe. Well, that land cannot take it any more."

Local farmers' problems are also intensified by water shortages. Abdoulaye has changed his farming practice to respond to this: "Personally I have decided to produce only short cycle crops to adapt to the reduced rainy season: beans, maize, millet…I am looking for specific seeds. I believe the rest of the community has understood this and is adapting." He has also started fallowing his land.

As a member of a local agricultural association, Abdoulaye has easier access to equipment and seeds than he would have on his own. In addition, he values "the solidarity aspect of these types of associations", which, for example, assist their members in times of sickness.

Abdoulaye talks at length about the importance of community support systems and mutual help. He regrets that "amongst the consequences [of drought and poverty] you have the breakdown of traditional solidarity systems" and feels it is essential to revive these. "If [not]…it is the strong who will eat the weak, as happens in the aquatic world. But we are humans and those who have should come to the rescue of the have-nots… There are simple ways of helping. I can lend my bulls to my neighbour instead of watching him cultivate his field with his own hands. Some households don't have boys, only girls. If you have a lot of boys in your house, why not let one of them go help where it is needed?"

External help is essential too, Abdoulaye argues. Among the main needs he points to are better provision of equipment and seeds ("What they could do at least is lend the seeds to peasants and get their money back after cash crops are sold."), "a system of retaining water longer", support with processing and marketing, and initial funds for income-generating activities.