Development Aid

The Green Fingers Of Mohammed Traore

Daouda Berthe, the ex-project secretary alias “combined personal management assistant, computer technician and software developer” said to me the other day: ” Apparament tu n’as pas encore cesser de fouiller dans ton grenier à photo” ( apparently you have not stopped digging in your photo treasury chest).  Not at all Daouda!  And I promise you, you will be one of my next victims. Very soon.

But today I am going to talk about the Green Team. The project had a green team. Sometimes up to five people were slaving in well-coordinated synchronized efforts “to make the Sahel a greener place” again. The projects activties had been extended to so many villages that field assistants were now needed to supervise the implementation and to report to the coordinators of the green team.

Mohammed Traore

The man in the picture, Mohammed Taore was heading the green team together with Cheick Fadel (whom I have already introduced to you). The sector they worked in was called agroforestry.

Cheick was coordinating and programming all activities relating to the vegetable gardens that had been established by the project in the villages and Mohammed Traore was in charge of the forestry section. Both were working in synergy. Wind breaks were planted consisting of fruit or indigenous trees to protect the young seedlings in the garden from the aggressive Sahel wind. Training and equipment was supplied by the project and labour was the contribution of the villages

I am going to talk again a little bit about planting trees in the Sahel. My favourite topic. The idea of planting trees in the Sahel has occupied my mind for many years, probably because I was involved in this activity for such a long time. And probably also because it gave us so much headaches and joy at the same time.

The Green Team in front of the Project LAG ” salle de formation”. The salle de formation is a training center

The green dream team with Ccideron

A  semi arid belt of poor soils, that is 200 to 700 miles wide in certain regions, the Sahel stretches across the African continent.

Average rainfall ranges from 4 to 24 inches a year. When-and if – it rains up tp 90% of the moisture evaporates. Drought is natural to the Sahel. But what is not natural is the overgrazing and deforestation of decades that have contributed to increase the size of the desert and overrun an area roughly the size of France since the 1950’s.

The Sahel can support only a limited pastoral population. Traditionally nomads lived in balance on marginal resources.

The great turn came in the 1950’s. Before the 1940’s, during the rainy season herdsmen followed the rains north with their livestock. They retreated to greener pastures in the south during dry spells. Crops were planted, but fields were allowed fallow spells to regenerate the soil. During those periods the livestock fed off stubble and their wastes fertilized the ground. This fragile balance shifted in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. The policies of new African nations constricted nomads causing many border conflicts.

Independence als0 brough the concept of foreign aid to the African countries. And economic aid brought new strains of cash crops like cotton an peanuts that could only tolerate a short growing season. Expanding agriculture and population usurped grazing land. Foreign aid dug well all over the Sahel through developmental institutions and bilateral development projects. Thousands of new wells were many in regions with fossil underground water. Not only was no more livestock kept by the nomads because more water and water and watering places were available but the livestock stripped the vegetation around the wells, topsoil blew away and bare patches fused into the desert.

Mohammed Traore checking the young seedling in the nursery

 In the 1970’s this disastrous development and the interdependency of all the factors mentioned above was finally fully recognized internationally and since then governments, projects, developments agencies and NGO’ s try to re-forest the Sahel with all their might. And so did we.

The question that has occupied me since then is: can this process be stopped. I do not even want to use the term reverse. What has been called ” The Sterilization of the Sahel’ – can it be halted?

Mohammed Traore and one of his disciples watering a citrus tree in a future vegetable garden

Categories: Development Aid, Development Project, Mali, Nara, Sahel, West Africa | Leave a comment

Time For Cheick Fadel – le Bonne Homme du Sahel

Cheik Fadel ' le bonne homme du Sahel"

It is time for Cheick Fadel ! Cheik Fadel ” aka Fernandel” – le bonne homme du Sahel !

I have created this site also for the ones who have worked, socialized, suffered, danced, laughed, cooked for me, talked through the nights, had meals with me, opposed, helped, invited, fought me, shouted at me, explained, hugged me, gave me presents, listened to music with me, worried, cared for me – and simply became my friends. Yes this is possible!  The most beautiful thing about development work is that true friendships can develop and will and that is why I have added a very personal note to this blog.

Not only did Cheick Fadel have a great sounding, melodic name – who could resist carrying such a name! Not me!  His name is somehow music and so is the whole man. Cheick was born and bred in Nara, a true man of the Sahel. His family has lived there for generations and still is. He worked for the project for several years as ” the field agent for community gardens programme” that was aligned with the Conservation and Management of the Natural Resources Sector.

What else did we do in Nara?  Well, we did basically everything. That is the nature of ” holistic village development programmes” .

Cheick Fadel on tour in Kabida Bambara

Cheick Fadel ” toured” the community garden sites with a 500 Yamaha XT off road bike day after day. We all had a moto cross bike but I think he developed a special relation with his bike. No wonder considering the time he spent in the bush with “her”. He “sensibilised” the people in the villages, showed them how to grow vegetables, supervised the installations of new community gardens and did a trillion of other tasks, always radiating happiness and content.

And he fought a very personal and raging fight against the natural predators, ravaging the pampered gardens in great numbers every year.

Cheik Fadel going to war against the predators

It has to be said that ” la lutte contre les predateurs” ( pest control)- at times turned into a war. And I really don’t know where he got the gas mask from. It was there before I came.

And his favourite place to do after hours work was of course ” Kouame” !

I was invited so many times to his place and we listened to tapes on his tape recorder he had bought on the market in Bamako. Cheik Fadel introduced me to Malian music and to many other aspects of Malian culture and tradition.

Categories: Bar Kouame, Development Aid, Mali, Nara, Nature, People, Sahel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Land Is Scarred and Lost For Us – What It Takes To Grow a Tree in The Sahel

To plant is not the problem but to protect and make them grow. One of the project's tree growing sites.

Sometimes an image is all that is needed to explain something. Words are powerful. Words and images together are unbeatable but there are moments when a picture is enough.

“La lutte anti-erosive”, the fight against erosion and its consequence the advance of desertification, and the stabilization of newly formed dunes to prevent them from further moving down south in the Sahel is an ongoing problem that gets a great amount of attention from development and nature conservation organizations all over the world.

It is in my eyes the biggest problem because ” The land is scarred and lost for us”, as an elder local resident said to me once.

I can never forget his words. A great part of the work I did in the Sahel (with an amazing team of people) was in the field of the protection of the natural environment in the cercle de Nara. Nara having  been classified since decades as a zone of ” food insecurity and extreme poverty” had enormous environmental problems.

And land was lost for us.

I should learn the truth of these words during seven years and see it daily with my own eyes. Once a certain stage of degradation had been reached, the land and its fertility could not be re-gained no matter what measures were applied. Developmental programmes and projects that cover the hole Sahel belt will contradict my statement and say that many measures work and that a combined effort is necessary. They don’t. Combined effort does not work.

It is not my objective to criticize the efforts of organizations and the flow of millions of dollars and euros to the Sahel region because I was involved in the same efforts passionately for many years. Simply to keep these measures going that are taught by developmental organizations ( and they are taught even if the process is named participatory)  and to apply them again and again is exhausting and tiring for the ones who have been designated as ” the responsables” ( village people again)  in the project planning.

To plant a tree is not the problem. To grow it is the challenge. The challenge for the residents is to protect it with a fence, either of wood or wire, if you have, so that the goats can not eat it, then to fetch water from the traditional wells or from the water holes in the marigots ( dried out lakes), to walk to the site by foot in the hot Sahel sun and to water the trees twice at least. Better would be three times a day, as the project said. The challenge is to do this for fifteen or twenty years. The challenge is to protect the young plants against natural predators, such as crickets and bugs. To do this the project has shown the target group ( the village people) how to prepare a ” completely organic and ecologically safe ” brew from plants like the Neem tree. This must be applied preventative once a day.

But yes, of course there is training and” encadrement”- monitoring or follow-up. A local project agent will travel with a motor bike to all the sites and will be in frequent contact with all the locals, ready to answer questions and to offer the project’s support if needed. He will do that at least for five years.

I am holding my breath now here.. but one good thing has happened. We created a job. The local agent is going to feed his family for five years because he has a job and a salary.

But what can be done ? Really?

” It has to be left alone, it is scarred, the land is scarred and it is lost for us, but not forever. It has to be left alone and a new order will be established. It will not be like it was before and it will take a very long time. Other will live on it not us “, was what the old man said to me. ” It has happened like this before”

Categories: Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Mali Villages, Nara, Nature, Participatory Development, Sahel, Sahelian Goats, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Toumboudrane, an old place of healing and knowledge

As it was then, so it is now!

Toumboudrane, a village of old Africa. A place of healing and great knowledge.

Toumboudrane was founded over 110 years ago. When I started working in Nara in the 1990’s the chief of the village had already reached the honorable age of 88 years. To be old is good in Mali. Old age is an honorable state that deserves respect.

When I paid my first visit to the village to introduce myself to the chief of the village, a representative for the village chief had already been chosen to replace and assist him in decision-making concerning the affairs of the village. His advanced age and the fact that he was not capable anymore to attend to all the demands and situations that arose in the village and  that he was not well physically made this measure necessary.

Toumboudrane was also famous in the cercle de Nara for its Koranic school and for the healing capacities of the old chief of the village. Mentally ill and people with psychological issues were brought frequently to Toumboudrane and handed over to the care of the chief of the village. He had the gift to heal the ill by reciting the koran in their presence.

And people did get well again.

Like a hundred years ago. Houses are built still in the traditional way in the villages by using handmade mud bricks.

At the time of the projects interventions Toumboudrane counted 1115 inhabitants. Today according to a more recent census from 2003 it counts 1662 inhabitants. All the villages in the cercle de Nara have an old history but Toumboudrane was a village known for its spiritual and religious tradition as well.

It belonged also to the interventions zone of the Project LAG. Being the third biggest village of the municipality of  Nara it was chosen as one of the first villages where a “centre d’alphabetisation” was build in the 1980’s. This adult education center taught the people of Toumboudrane with the help of two local teachers, that were paid by the LAG, to read and write in their own language, Sarakolle.

Centre d'Alphabetisation in Toumboudrane

Interesting was that there existed now two educational institutions next to each other in the same village. The one was a koranic school with hundreds of years tradition and a reputation reaching far based on the Muslim faith, exploring the human soul and the many ways how to serve god and to become a better human being.

Koranic teachings under the shade of a tree. The old village chief sitting on the left.

The other one an educational institution based on Western principles trying to empower people by giving them the gift to read and write in their own native languages.

And it has to be said they co-existed well.

I can say it was a good thing that I kept a hand written diary through all those years. Looking at the photographs now brings back the intensity of these moments and encounters. I know now that I have met some great spiritual people and leaders in my life. Even if some of the encounters were short.

One comment I have written in that year caught my eye again. My conclusion at the time was, that both schools had so much to say and to give and that their knowledge and tradition combined could indeed help you to become a more humble, less pretentious, wiser and spiritually richer human being.

 

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Islam, Koranic School, Mali, Nara, Nature, Participatory Development, People, Sahel, Tradition, Traditional Healer, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Village Chiefs In The Sahel

The Village Chef of Lohoite

In Mali a Village Chief holds his position for life. Every village has a Village Chief. A Village Chief gets his position through inheritance. The male lineage to which he belongs can often be traced back to the founding family of the villages and to warriors of the earlier pre-colonialised West African empires. There are cases were families have been chosen by the colonial authorities to replace existing ruling families thereby facilitating and re-enforcing colonial influence and power over the villages. This has impacted on the development of villages up to the present day, mainly by establishing a new order by force and sowing conflict for future generations to come.

Village chiefs are usually elected by the heads of the households in the village, all male. Women do not participate in the election of a village chief. Although the role of the village chief is an extremely important one, he does not represent a village and he is not accountable for a village as a whole.  If there is unity in a village depends to a great deal on the personality of a village chief but also on the history of the village and what role it plays today in the modern Malian society.

Additionally each village can be divided into committees, or groups of people, such a the youth including men from 18 to 50 years, the elders, usually all men over 50 and the women, including women over eighteen years of age.

The objective of participatory development processes is to re-dress and rectify the mistakes and failures made by top down centralized development strategies. In this sense Village Chiefs and the rural councils of local governance structures are often chosen to represent the local population and the villages in participatory development processes.

Especially for nature conservation and natural resources management project chiefs, and the clan of elders are desirable representatives because they manage the local resources in a given area.

Each and every decision in participatory development planning In Nara had to be run via the Villages Chiefs.

Given the complexity of this system it is easy to get an idea how much complexity it added to development work and community decision-making and control of resources and turn on the implementation of the so-called participatory strategies.

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Nara, Participatory Development | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Want You To Stay Up There

We want you to stay up there for a while or the pleasure of unity

The last 100 km of road before "Nara la Sahelienne" would appear in the dust

I had received from my employer a job description, admittedly a little bit vague in nature,  that left room for a variety of  joyful and exciting interpretations about  my new position and the living conditions in Nara.  At the time I liked the fact that this job description was so “open” and that it allowed me to fantasize with my friends and family.

Since the project in Nara was a ” collaboration ” between different organisations I also had three superiors with the same hierarchical powers ( over me ), a fact that should not be underestimated and that can be even under normal working conditions challenging.  All three represented powerful, long-established, reputable organisations with distinct mission statements and philosophies. One organisation was a left orientated political foundation, another one an international donor organisation, the pro-longed arm of the German Ministry of International Development and last but not least an independent, fund-raising  NGO, the initiator of the Nara project in the 1990’s .

All three were experienced, impressive men with decades of working experience in the field of International Development work and they had lived most of their life abroad. Their political and religious convictions varied and so did their view of life, management styles and perceptions of the role of foreign aid and the technical advisors or assistants (me again) assigned to projects. Each one organised, worked and orchestrated from his regional office as a regional director. I dare to say they did not like it other too much.

Johnny Cash’s song  ” The one on the right is the one on the left ” fitted this scenario perfectly.

At the time the sector of International Development Work was a rather wild playground with fierce competition and rivalries between the structures concerning project regions, programme interventions and positions.

Several meetings took place individually between the three directors and me to clarify my mission but instead of enlightenment I felt a tiny little bit of nervousness creeping in. Finally, in the meeting before the last meeting, I got one clear instruction before leaving for Nara.

” We want you to stay up there for a while, that is the most important thing for now,” so I was told by the independent NGO director, who of course had a right to say so because it was him who had created everything in the first place.

“There has not been enough presence so far in that location.” he explained further.

” Up there ?”

” Yes, up North, in Nara, please you take your time, you observe and look at the situation, look at it from all the angles and just be present and patient . No need to be proactive right now.”

” Ok”, I said.  I thought I can do that.

” And then you write us a detailed report at the end of the month about what you have seen with all your personal observations.” he added. ” It should be a bit longer than a page.”

After having arrived up there and having seen the place I had a the necessary and un-avoidable follow-up-thought on my first thought that went somehow like this :  Can I do that ?

It is going to be stimulating! I hope!

But then again..

It is going to be stimulating !

Categories: Africa, Development Aid, Development Project, Landscapes, Mali, Nara, Nature, Transport, Travel, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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