Abdoulaye Badji: interview transcript

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Abdoulaye Badji: interview transcript

Abdoulaye Badji is a farmer living in Sindian village, Casamance province, Senegal. He was aged 50 when he was interviewed on 4 December 2009 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Jola and carried out by a community radio resource person who had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.

Good morning, my name is Fatou Goudiaby of Radio FM Awagna, I've come to talk with you. Can you introduce yourself?                                                    
I am Oustaz (title given to someone who has studied the Koran) Abdoulaye Badji, I live in Sindian.

If I asked you to talk to me about Sindian, what would you say?                        
Well, Sindian is a nice village. Its inhabitants are essentially peasants, I mean people who make a living out of the land. It is also the head village of a rural council.

Now who is Oustaz Abdoulaye Badji?
I teach the Koran to kids, but in reality I am a peasant and I work the land for a living. I was born here in Sindian. I am a Jola, my father is Aladji Djifouladj Badji who was also born here in Sindian and my mother is Djimadjira Sané also born in Sindian.

Why the title Oustaz? What does it mean?
It designates a person who teaches the Koran to kids. But I don't do it any more. Still I hold the title and I work as a volunteer for the local community radio, producing religious programmes. But my livelihood is agriculture. That's what I rely on to sustain myself and feed my family.

And where did you learn the Koran?
I started it here in Sindian. Then I went to the village of Badiouré, then to Bignona, and then I went to The Gambia. When I came back, I started teaching kids for two years. But there was absolutely no income in it so I had to stop because I needed to work and provide for our family. There was no one else to do it.

What do you mean when you say there was no else to provide for the family?
Well, my brothers, with whom I grew up, all left the village and went each his own way to look for how to make a living. One has been gone for 15 years out of the country and has never been back. We sometimes talk on the phone. He cannot get out of the country where he is because he won't be able to go in again for a lack of papers. The others don't come back here any more. So there was no one to look after the young kids at home. So I had no choice but to go back to work on the fields.

And in which country is your brother?
He is in Gabon.

So you gave up teaching the Koran because that didn't bring enough revenue?
No. It didn't bring enough revenue. It is an important activity but I need an income.

But don't those who give their children to be taught pay for your services?
They do. But it's nothing really. Each child was paying 2000 CFA (4.36 US$)1 for the whole year. And some actually never pay, and you can do nothing about it. You see that I couldn't live on that.

And all of the children of Sindian, that's not enough to sustain you?
It's not all the children who registered to learn the Koran. In fact it was very difficult to get parents to register their children. It cost only 300CFA but they would tell you that they don't have the money. For instance you may have ten children registered, but then the majority wouldn't pay the fee.

Who was bringing their children here?
Anyone who wanted his child to learn the Koran. But they were not learning the Koran only. They would go first to Western school and then come after that to me.

Those who didn't pay, what did you do?
They said that it was difficult to find the money. But I know it is a question of will, and priority. There was nothing I could do about it.

Let's come back to when you were young. Are both of your parents still alive?
No. They have both died.

How many wives did your father marry?
He married four wives. But two left him and by the time he died he had only two wives. My mother is dead, as I said, but one of my father's wives is still there at home. But she is so old she can do nothing.

Were you born when your father had four wives?
Yes, I have known all the four wives.

How many children did your father have with all his wives?
Six children. A lot of children died. For instance there are three of us from my mother currently alive. But I have been told she buried far more children.

What type of relationship did you have with the children of other wives?
We got on well as a family. If you remember, I told you that my mother died several years ago, and it is another wife of my father's who is living with my own family at home.

Did you go to school, I mean to Western school, when you were young?
They did not take me to school. It is later that I was taken to Koranic school. I went on to a school in The Gambia and passed my Baccalaureate. We were then promised that they would take us to Arabic countries to study further. But that did not materialize. When I came home I got bogged down with problems of survival.

Do you know why you were not taken to Western school?
My father divided his children into two groups. One went to Western school, and the other one waited. There were two of us who later went to Koranic school

How do you feel about having been taken only to Koranic school, when others went to both?
I wished I had studied on both sides. I know religion now and it is important. But I wish I knew more of the Western world.

You say you're a peasant. What do you grow, and what do you work with?
I grow a lot of crops. You know, here, you cannot grow just one crop. If it doesn't work, you will be in an impossible situation for that year. So I grow millet, groundnuts, maize, beans, and sorghum. I also grow rice because I go to rice fields to help my wife.

And you plough alone?
I get help from boys who are at home. There are quite a few of them around. And some are my brothers' children. You know I was my father's last child and my elder brothers have left some of their children with me.

How many children are there in the house?
Four in total. Two are my children, but they are too young. So it is with the other two boys that I work.

How many wives do you have?
Only one. I have only one wife.

How did you get married?
It is my own relatives who suggested I should marry her. In fact my wife and I are related. She is my cousin.

Are your children enrolled at school?
Both of them are. The older one is going to Western as well as Koranic school. The other one is too young and is still in kindergarten.

And your children will follow both types of school up to high school?
I would like them to. You never know what is best for them: the Western system or the Arabic system.

You obviously have had children rather late. Are those two the only ones you will have or do you think you will have more?
My wish is to have a lot of children. In fact right now my wife is pregnant and we all pray that we will have another child, and even more children in the future.

Why do you want to have a lot of children?
A lot of children will help with work at home. And when they grow up they can all go to try their luck somewhere else and maybe bring help to the house.

Do you believe you will have the strength to bring them all up?
God will help. And in any case, after a while the first children will be grown up and will help in bringing up and feeding the younger ones.

Have you seen an example of such a family here in Sindian?
Yes, there are a lot of families like that in Sindian. Some of the children are salaried and send money back to their parents in the village.

The practice of sending money to the village, do you believe it is going strong or going down?
Any child who grows up with his parents and goes to town where he gets a job should think of helping their parents back home in the village.

They should, you say, but do they do it?
I am afraid they don't always do it here in this village. When they get jobs and their parents ask them to help, they reply that they have even more problems in town. And they want to settle their own problems first before the problems of their parents and their younger brothers and sisters who are in the village. Take enrolling children at school for instance. A lot of families in the village sometimes find it hard to do it, or are late doing it because all their hopes are on the money that will be sent from town and it doesn't necessarily come.

What about you yourself, how do you manage to enrol your children?
I know now that if I wait for help it may not come. So I usually take my axe and go to the bush where I collect dead wood and sell it. Often I get enough money to pay the fees for my children and those of my brothers.

You don't cut trees to get the wood?
No. I don't have to. You know after the rainy season you have a lot dry grass. That grass catches fire and burns part of the forest. Some trees die and you can cut them. I can thus put up the 6000CFA needed for the fees of one child. And wood sells very fast here.

Does that mean that if the forest doesn't catch fire you will be unhappy?
I won't mind because it is not only the fire that gives you dead wood. Some trees die naturally. Moreover, fire always burns up small branches that you could have collected easily. So if there is fire, you are obliged to cut trees killed by the fire. And it is more work. 

Let's come back to your work in the fields, what do you till the soil with?
In Sindian, there are a lot of people who work the land. And they do it with cattle, or edonkotong (Mandinka tilling tool or kadiandou (Jola tilling tool). But really people are not properly equipped to plough efficiently. There are not enough carts going around. Some people wait till the neighbour is through and then they rent his cart. It is sometimes too late. But there is nothing they can do since they can't afford a cart and a pair of cattle.

And what do you think is the solution to this situation?
If there could be enough cattle to work with in the village that would be good. People did have cattle, but throughout these difficult years they have sold all to sustain their families.  For instance, we are approaching Eid, and some people are selling their cattle to face it. But the real way forward is to have motorized equipment. It would change people's lives.

To what extent does the way you work today differ from the way your father used to work?
I work differently today. My father used the edonkotong. It means he had to bend low to till the soil with that little instrument. And when the grass was tall, he had to cut it down first before he could plough. Today I am faster because I use a cattle-drawn cart. So you can see that it is different.

There was a rumour that it is because peasants make cattle suffer in the fields that God is punishing them by reducing rain. What do you think about that?
Well, everyone has his own beliefs. I personally think that God gave us cattle to relieve us, to be useful to us. We may kill them and eat them to survive, or make them do the hard work for us. I think rain depends on God and has nothing to do with whether or not we use cattle to work.

You said you work differently and faster than your father. Do you think you produce more?
I will say that he was better off than I am today. Because he would live off what he produced whereas I can't. In his time people ate millet and other crops while today we all want to eat only rice. So most of the time you have to buy imported rice. In their time they could even buy cattle with the extra harvest. The problem is today, no matter how hard you work, it's never enough to feed the family.

Can it get so difficult in the house that you need to go out and borrow?
We do that. But it is a source of problems for the times that follow. I can tell you that throughout the rainy season, we live on debts. We have to borrow to buy food. And it is not always easy to find someone willing to lend to you, because they know that come the harvesting season, your crops will not be enough to feed your family and pay your debts.

What happens when you can't pay back?
It happens indeed that some people can't pay back. It is normal because they think first of keeping or buying food for the family, before paying the debt. And that brings a lot of quarrels.

And how do you solve that type of quarrels?
In sheer despair some people even sell their ploughing equipment and pay their debts. Others sell whatever they have in the house that can be sold. For those the future is very grim because they rely on the compassion of others who will eventually help.

Oustaz, there was a lot of solidarity amongst the Jolas. Does it still exist?
It hasn't disappeared completely, but it has gone down seriously.

What did they do before?
In the extended family, they would have sometimes set up a common granary. And when the head of the family notices that one member is short, he takes from that granary and gives it to him. There were also cases when other people would come and help discretely. No one else would know. But today this practice is disappearing essentially. There is no more discretion in the way it is done and that hurts the recipient's pride.  

Oustaz, you said that you don't get much out of the millet and rice fields? Do you ever go to the rice fields?
Yes I do go to the rice fields. During these last years our rice fields have dried up. And the other problem is people in the community don't keep their cattle from wandering around. If you start ploughing your rice fields early, the plants will get destroyed by cattle. On the other hand if you don't start early enough on your fields, there is not enough rain to carry your crops to maturity. No dams to keep the water. That's why I haven't been to the rice fields for quite a few years now, but before I used to go.

You mean you don't go to the rice fields; what about your wife, she doesn't go either?
My wife is alone in the house as a woman. So she can't go to the rice fields. But she will go eventually. You know my mother used to go, so did my elder brothers' wives.

You said that your father was better off, why do you think you can't match him even though you plough with cattle while he had only his hands?
You know, the land was more fertile. They used to get more out of the land. They didn't need to cultivate wide surfaces. Crops were healthy. Their cattle used to walk around and fertilize the soil. In fact today we cultivate more land, for fewer crops. We don't have the means to buy fertilizers to increase yields

Oustaz, you never mentioned planting trees. Is it something that is not common in this part of Jolaland?
Oh yes, it is part of our activities. You know the hope of a peasant is that he retires; I mean when he doesn't have any more strength to work, his trees will give enough fruits for him to sell and get revenue to live on. But the first problem is you need a fence before you plant your trees. And that's difficult to do when your strength is going down. Secondly, our wells are so deep here that it is difficult to draw water. They are between 25 and 30 meters deep. So before you start planting trees you need to think twice.

Oustaz, are there days when there is absolutely nothing to eat at home?
Oh yes it happens. Especially during the rainy season. What we do is try hard to have something to eat at noon. In the evening, it is dark, no one will know that you have nothing to eat. There is more sutura (discretion). But women are very resourceful. There is a fruit the powder of which they keep in bags. They put the bags over the fireplace so that the powder doesn't go bad. When there is nothing to eat, they prepare the powder by mixing it with water and give it to the children. Grown-ups often go to bed with their bellies empty. That of course diminishes your capacity to work. Because you often wake up and go to work also without breakfast. Traditionally the Jolas share their dinner with anybody who is in the house when dinner is ready. But nowadays it is sometimes a source of embarrassment, especially during the rainy season.

You've described a difficult life, so how do you see your future and that of the likes of you?
We pray God to give us more rain. And maybe help from outside our community. Otherwise it will be difficult to survive. If we don't have the proper equipment to work the land, the future is indeed rather threatening. You see you can do very little with what you get out of the land. You can't buy shoes for your children, or do anything else. That's why after [leaving] school, children who should help with work during the rainy season all go to Dakar so that they can get clothes from their relatives there. So you are usually left alone with the work and you can't cope with everything. In the end the yield is small. What we need is for children to cooperate, and we also need a system of retaining water longer, and maybe you can dream of a good life here.

So do you believe in the land, I mean in agriculture, or is it something you would give up willingly if you had the choice?
I've never thought of giving up agriculture, even if I had a lucrative activity. Unless that lucrative activity left me no time at all to work on my fields. You know, if you drop agriculture, you will have to buy what other people have cultivated to eat. I believe everyone should be cultivating, along with whatever other activity they do.

Oustaz, can you come back for me on the causes of poverty in Sindian?
For me the first cause is the lack of rain. We should pray for more rain. Secondly, we need good seeds. That is really a problem here. We also need equipment. It will help here.

Can you tell me the moments in your life that you remember as the happiest?
Not much really. Maybe the happy moments for me are when I go to religious conferences. There we talk to people on how to live by our religion.

Do you sometimes have cattle stolen here?
Oh yes, and that is a big problem! Most people even refrain from raising cattle because they are afraid they might get stolen. And you know raising cattle is hard work. So you struggle all along, only for a thief to take away your cow. That's also one cause of poverty.


Thank you very much Oustaz    [The first interview ends]

Follow up Interview with Abdoulaye Badji, 12 January 2010

Why do you think the climate has changed these last years?
The first reason, we have to say that only God knows it, because He is the Master of the Universe. But beyond that, I think that people cut the trees so massively that it had to have a consequence. I know we've been told to plant new trees, but no one really takes care of those young trees. Our fathers used to take care of the forest. We don't care about it nowadays.

More specifically, in what way do you think this has limited agricultural production and other livelihood activities?
Obviously rain is one key factor in agricultural production, the other one being equipment. I cite equipment because there are more people to feed than before. We cannot rely solely on traditional peasant ways of working. To make things worse you have an aging population with very young children in the rural areas. The valid hands (fit adults) have migrated to urban centres. We also need fertilizers. Because of the lack of rain, our rice fields are invaded by sand. The other problem caused by diminishing rain is fewer grazing areas for cattle. And where do you get water for them to drink? And finally our fruit trees, wild or domestic, are not giving enough fruits for people to supplement their food.

And how is the community adapting to this?
Personally I have decided to produce only short cycle crops to adapt to the reduced rainy season: beans, maize, millet and even for peanuts and rice. I am looking for specific seeds. I believe the rest of the community has understood this and is adapting. They know that if they carry on with old ways, rain will stop before the crops mature and it is a disaster.

With all these difficulties do you think the community still believes in agriculture?
For the moment rural people rely on nothing else but agriculture. Now if you ask me if they believe in it, I can't give you an honest answer. They just don't have an alternative. You can't live in a village and not practice agriculture. That's why we all pray for more rain.

Are you receiving support from the government in this situation?
The government has tried to help rural production. But not like in the past when they helped peasants acquire carts and other types of agricultural equipment. Today the government will even sell you seeds. Where do they think rural people will get the money for this? So those who can't buy seeds are stuck. What they could do at least is lend the seeds to peasants and get their money back after cash crops are sold. That would help a lot in alleviating poverty.

Apart from millet and rice, does the community grow any cash crops?
Off course. Millet and rice are not our only crops. We have others like peanuts, cassava, not to mention market gardening.

Where do you sell them?
As for peanuts, it is the state that buys them. The rest of the crops are sold either in local markets or in streets in urban centres, especially Bignona. Sometimes big traders come here with lorries and buy those crops and our fruit (oranges, mangoes, etc). With the big traders the producer often negotiates the bulk of his production even before the harvest. For instance you can sell your oranges, your cassava or your mangoes before they are ripe.

At what price?
It depends on the size and the quality of the potential production. The buyer has to see it.

How does the price of imported rice compare to that of locally produced rice?
In principle over here we do not sell locally produced rice. It is for consumption. If somebody sells, it means he is desperate for money or the buyer is desperate for rice. In both cases the price is very low.

Why isn't millet so popular, at least in comparison with rice? It is a drought-resistant crop; has there ever been promotion of that crop?
This is a consequence of the change of climate. Imagine that you spend a lot of time cultivating millet and therefore ignoring other crops. If ever you do not have a good harvest of that crop you are in trouble. That's why we diversify. If one crop is not good at least you can use the others. That's why we do not concentrate too much on millet, a crop that doesn't like too much water. Secondly selling millet is very slow when in fact the peasant needs require money immediately after the harvest. Millet doesn't sell like peanuts. You can sell 5 kg today, 2 kg the next week, and so on. That's too hard. If you really want to sell fast there are costs. You need to transport your stock to urban centres. There you need storage space, not to mention your food.

Why do you not transform millet so as to have added value?
In town it is possible because the costs are acceptable there. And there you can also sell the transformed products more easily because they have a varied diet. It means it is easier to offer couscous or porridge in town than in the village. The reality is we need a partner to accompany us in such a project. We do know what you can get from millet.

Does the community benefit from extension services?
Not for millet. There is a government agency that sends an extension officer. But he talks to us more about maize and peanuts.

Are there cooperatives or other community-based organizations?
In a lot of villages there are organizations oriented towards the acquisition of peanuts. There are also cooperatives but they too work in peanuts. I don't know other organizations.

What about agricultural organizations?
These types of organizations exist in villages and are generally oriented towards providing services. I mean their labour (cultivating, harvesting, etc). For instance, men in the village can gather in an association and work for money. Women do the same.

Are you a member of one of those associations?
Yes I am a member of the association of my district.

How does that type of association work?
As I said, all services rendered by the association are paid for and the money is used for the needs of the district. For instance the village may ask for a certain amount of money from each district because that money is needed to buy, say, seeds. We take it from the association's fund.

How is the association organized?
There is a chairman, a treasurer, an organizer who is in charge of informing about the association's activities. We also have a secretary who writes down deliberations and decisions. They are chosen by the district on the basis of trust and their goodwill.

Are you always informed about the financial situation of the association? How?
Yes of course. After each rainy season or before we start a new season, the leaders call a meeting. And everybody can hear details of the financial situation. You know beneficiaries do not always pay in cash. They may pay in kind: rice, peanuts, cattle, etc.

Can you be more precise on the needs that can necessitate the intervention of the association's fund?
It's usually when there is a community project here. Instead of asking for a fee from each member of the district, we use the fund. It saves time and embarrassment for those who may not have the required contribution.

In a more personal way, how do you benefit from the association?
The first benefit is the acquisition of equipment and seeds. Alone I could not get a single bag brought all the way from Bignona to Sindian. There is also the solidarity aspect of these types of associations. If you are not a member it will be difficult for you to benefit from their services. Take the case when a member of your family is sick, or even yourself, and you cannot work. You will not benefit from the association's solidarity.

On average how long does the harvesting process last?
We take two to two and a half months for all crops. It is the harvesting of peanuts that takes most of the time.

When what you have harvested is finished, how do you sustain your family?
It is true that our crops do not last the whole year. That is why I collect firewood for sale. I get my children to help me in this when they don't go to school.

What do other members of the community do?
Some do what I do. Others go into petty trade. They use some of the money from their cash crops to buy products that don't exist in the village and they come here and sell. Products like palm oil sell very well here.

Do you get any external help at all?
Really no help from donors or the government. But there are NGOs that work in the area, especially with women. In some villages women have been trained in producing soap, dyeing, and transforming/processing local fruits. Some men have been trained in raising bees. The only problem with this is after you get the skills you don't have the initial funds to start the activity. As a consequence a lot of trained people do nothing because of the lack of equipment.

The social support systems that existed before have collapsed. Can you explain why?
You know, when the boat is sinking there is a mad rush. Drought and poverty have consequences. Amongst the consequences you have the breakdown of traditional solidarity systems. The level of poverty is such that no one thinks of helping others.

Would it be good if these systems were revitalized?
Absolutely. I am of the view that everybody should work towards revitalising these values. It is true that times are hard but all the same some people in the community have the capacity to support those who are vulnerable. If we kill these practices it is not poverty that will destroy us, but 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. It is a matter of solidarity, not competition.

Times have changed; do you think we should imagine new forms of solidarity?
It is true that we live in a different context. But I still think we should rehabilitate the old values. Then we can think of the appropriate mechanisms. For instance this is the harvesting season. It is easy to help someone with food. But can you do it all the time? Better help that person with seeds. If you make kadiandous you can offer one to someone who really can't buy. 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? The problem is not how to create new mechanisms of solidarity but the loss of values.

In the community, which categories of people are poor?
In my opinion it is men.

Why is that?
Because they have the overall responsibility for family survival. If the man is poor, all the family is poor. For the child to get somewhere tomorrow his father has to invest. That's why I believe that men bear the brunt of poverty.

And yet it is they who manage all the resources of the family (land, cattle, equipment, etc), how come they are the poorest?
The house where the family lives, it is the man who builds it and who maintains it. He has to make sure there is food at home; and he must also take care of the family's health. The other social categories don't have the same constraints. That's why the woman can save. She can have at a given time 1000 CFA, she is under no pressure to spend it urgently. The man is there to provide for the family. It is true that he is supported by the woman who steps in when he has no solution.

How do you think people can escape poverty?
I think that everybody has to bear in mind that he has a responsibility in the fight against poverty. As farmers we have to be ready to work as soon as the first rain comes. And we have to plan a lot of crops because you can never tell the profile of the rainy season. So if one crop fails, at least you may succeed with the other crops. And farmers must also try to get the best seeds that are adapted to the rainy season. The young must understand that life is not just leisure. They must participate in agricultural activities. If this labour doesn't contribute, we will get nowhere. I must also mention agricultural equipment. You cannot meet the challenge of development if you stick to traditional ways. We have more mouths to feed, so we must produce more. With appropriate equipment you can work faster and catch up with the short rainy season.

Let's come to access to water; do you have safe water sources and also water for household use?
The water we consume comes from wells. I don't know, it may be due to the lack of rain, but our wells are deeper and deeper. In this part of the village our wells are 20 to 25 meters deep. Can you imagine the chore for our women, getting water out of those wells? And worse, it is not every household that has a well. So some women have to walk long distances to get the precious liquid for drinking, washing, nurseries, etc. The problem of access to water makes cattle breeding more complicated. Animals suffer a lot. If you have a large herd you can't sleep because it is tough to give water to every head.

Who manages those wells?
There is no specific organization for the management of the wells, except when they dry out. Then the community gets organized to come one day and some of the members of the community go down to the well. Apart from that the household that has a well is responsible for it and neighbours can have access to it for free.

Is there anything to be done so that these wells are managed in a sustainable way?
I think I said earlier that each of us should face our responsibilities in the fight against poverty. Here I believe it is the role of the state and partners in development. The question of access to water is beyond rural people. It is too heavy an investment. So there must be water taps in each household to avoid conflicts.

But that would incur costs and organization; how [would you] go about it?
I think that if people exchange views about it and a proper study is done beforehand, half of our sufferings will be gone. In general what causes organizational hiccups is that there never is a proper study prior to setting up the water distribution system. If you have a good evaluation of consumption and of how people will pay for that you shouldn't have a problem. But if in the evaluation you see that those who can't pay outnumber those who can pay, then you know that it won't work. The system will break down for lack of fuel for the pumps. You need to work out a system to get everyone to pay.

How do you think people should pay? Individually or collectively?
Per water tap! Anyone who wants a water tap subscribes to it. At the end of the month he pays for his consumption. Asking for flat rates has shown its limits. You pay for what you consume; and you consume what you can pay for.

Where do you and your family access health services?
We have a health post in the village. But the problem is that prescriptions are expensive. So sometimes you resort to traditional healers, marabouts. They don't charge a lot, contrary to the health post where you have to pay for a ticket, your prescriptions; and every time you come back you go all through the same process again. Sometimes the medicine you are prescribed is not available. Then you have to go to the chemist and there the price is a lot higher than at the health post.

How has the conflict in Casamance affected people's life and livelihoods in this community?
The conflict has heavy consequences. Some peasants have abandoned their best land. Sometimes after ploughing, you cannot go back to your land to harvest. There are mines there or risks of bad encounters. Activities like cattle breeding are impossible because of insecurity. The cattle is stolen or lost because you cannot go deep into the forest to look for your cattle. And you know that a cow represents a Jola's savings. In these circumstances they dare not raise cattle. In fact negative values have crept into our way of life because of the troubles. People now steal cattle, there are acts of sheer banditry. So those who have cattle keep it at home. We thus over exploit the same land. The conflict has also reduced labour because people have run away, have been killed or maimed.

What mechanisms for conflict resolution?
In my view, we must favour negotiations. Because all conflicts are born out of misunderstandings, and you need a compromise. That's why you must negotiate. Wherever there is no communication, you have areas of potential misunderstanding. I think it is in our interest to participate in the effort of dialogue and mutual understanding.

What do you think led to soil degeneration?
Two factors can explain that. First, soils feed on leaves and trees. But people don't practise fallowing land any more, because due to insecurity you keep using the same land which is safe. Well that land cannot take it any more. Secondly, we used cattle dung to fertilize the soil. Today we don't have cattle. Before, each family had their herd. Today there may be one herd in the whole district. That's not enough to fertilize the soil. In fact the cattle doesn't even move outside the fences.

So that's how fertility of the soil is lost?
Well also it doesn't rain as much as during my father's time. Dense forests don't exist any more. The population keeps growing and it is a burden on the environment. And finally the introduction of chemical fertilizers has destroyed the soil.

As a farmer what are you doing about it?
Fallowing land. This is what I do.

Who burns the forest?
There are two to three factors. First, the hunters who burn the forest in search of game. Secondly those who harvest honey in the forest. They don't worry about the fire they leave after they've got their honey. Thirdly, we farmers. We sometimes have fires to clear bushes. There should be some kind of coordination of all of this.

So this process is under no control?
In my father's time all this was very well organized. Today people are very independent and believe they can do what they like. Moreover, everything to do with hunting, forest or water is under state control. Unfortunately the state doesn't do its job properly, essentially for two reasons: insecurity in the province, and impunity coupled with corruption. These make all attempts to protect the environment inefficient.

1/ Average exchange rate (458.97 CFA franc = 1 US$), November 2009,Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com