Koutango mango

Koutango is about eight kilometres away from Wack Ngouna.

The village is nestled in the valley, and their well water is accessible throughout the year, which is a blessing if you have a vegetable garden or an orchard. It is also the home of “Professeur” Dia, my Senegalese godfather who gave me his family name. He is from Casamance, a southern province of Sénégal where it is well known for (besides independence-movement militias) its fruits and fair weather. He started a farm school (champ d’école in French) in Koutango nearly 40 years ago. Back then, nobody believed that fruits from Casamance could be grown in the area (Saloum region is known for its hot weather and arid landscape). So, he ignored this common belief and planted fruit trees: mango, passion fruit, lemon, tangerine, banana, pineapple, coconut, dakh, sapodilla and many others.

Today, his farm school is like a jungle – but of fruit trees. A real paradise he calls, “La Petite Casamance“. Whenever I visit this place, I can instantly feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Maybe it’s the beautiful music notes of birds, or it’s the shade of old forest garden. This year, the forest has a bumper mango production. There are so many that have fallen – even after filling everyone’s desire (including birds and ants) – that the forest smells like over-ripe mango. I am still amazed at different varieties of mangos that exist (the sweetest of all is peach mango – we don’t even bother to peel).

Regarding rural development and food security perspective, however, I realise how much of great food that we are wasting – over 60 percent may be lost at the orchard just because there is no refrigeration and adequate post-harvest storage facility. Moreover, there is lack of market channeling and transportation. Professeur Dia knows all this: his next project (if he can find the means) is to transform his surplus mangos into mango juice and jam. Meanwhile, he is trying to lessen the spoilage rate by working with village women. In fact, he offers work-for-mango scheme – anyone can come help with the orchard work, and they are entitled to all-you-can-pick mango. Of course, I gladly volunteered!Koutango is about eight kilometres away from Wack Ngouna.


Pic. 1. Professeur Dia – a natural farmer
Pic. 2. A mango tree bearing abundantly
Pic.3. Over ripened mangos
Pic.4. Current storage room
Pic. 5. Eating peach mango from Koutango (photo credit: Professeur Dia)

Rain or Shine – fieldwork must go on!

June 28, 2011 – This morning, I woke up to the gentle sound of raindrops on the corrugated metal roof of my room. Rain?? But we are in the middle of the dry season in the Eastern Province! Well, rain is a boon in farming, but it is all about timing: right now the farmers are harvesting their sorghum, and with this coming of sudden, cold rain, their harvest may be hampered (due to delayed threshing and drying). I never thought the climate change could affect my research work, but YES, climate change was happening this morning and was affecting my fieldwork – majorly. In the rural villages, when it rains, most people stay inside and don’t bother going out. The road conditions are precarious with the unpaved roads becoming muddy and slippery. The problem for me is that I may not be able to meet all my survey respondents. I called the sector agronomist since 5:50 in the morning to confirm the day’s scheduled meeting. Okay, I know that I am desperately pushing to get this fieldwork done, rain or shine. The sector veterinary didn’t pick up my calls. So after much delay and thinking, I took the executive decision to head out with my team of ‘fantabulous ten’ survey enumerators regardless and venture out in the muddy, rally-like roads of Zaza sector.

Oh, it was an adventure indeed! Our trusty little bus (Stella is her name) skid like we were on ice without winter tires. But thank God…we got there safe and came back sound. Also, to my great surprise, we met all our forty beneficiaries! I am so grateful that many farmers responded to our invitation and came to meet us at the closest sector and cell offices for the interview. Gee…they came out in the rain! Also, I have to give all the credit to my survey team who never complained about the difficulty of the conditions (walking in the rain to find the houses of beneficiaries) and always trying their best regardless of my many demands. All the credit goes to them. I hope tomorrow will be drier. Dry like dry season!

Picture: Here is my team leader, Emmanuel. He’s been my best mate from the day one of my girinka research in Kibungo. We both worked together last year and ever since, we kept in touch. He is a great public speaker and an active networker – he knows everyone here! Whenever I need a contact for sector officers, he just opens his phone list, and voilà, I have the meeting set. I am very very lucky to have him on board.

Beating homesick palate: Patati Patata

June 24, 2011 – Here is my way of celebrating La Fête de Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Rwanda! I made poutine: using plantain, beans, local eggplant, carrots, and the hard-to-get cheese from Uganda. Unfortunately, there is no way to find the gravy sauce so I improvised with thick tomato sauce. À la Belle Province, this would be a “Poutine Italienne.” Hmmm, bon appétit!

Poutine à la Rwandaise

Poutine à la Rwandaise

First day of fieldwork

June 16, 2011 – Yeh! Yesterday was our first day of fieldwork: a focus group meeting with the girinka beneficiaries in Jarama sector. Jarama sector is one the farthest regions in the District of Ngoma (it is close to Burundi, maybe only ten to fifteen minutes away by car). Initially, I chose two sectors for the focus group meeting – one close to Kigali (where market opportunities and influence may be higher) and the other farthest away from it. So Jarama sector was chosen, but getting there was another thing. Public transportation was not an option (well, technically you can take a mini-bus, then a bike, then a boat-ride, and finally walk up the hill). The other, more realistic and timely options were renting a car or motorcycle. We chose the latter to save research costs! We were a team of three focus group meeting facilitators: Emmanuel (moderator), Robert (note taker) and I (audio recorder). After an hour of bumpy and dusty road ride, we arrived at our destination. Despite the sore behinds and mouths full of red clay dust, we had a great meeting. We spent two and a half hours of engaging discussions (initially, we expected to finish the session in an hour and a half) and at the end, we shared Fanta drinks to conclude our meeting. We came back with many insights that we were unable to answer on our own such as the farmers’ definition of soil fertility and the main challenges of using cow manure.

On the personal note, I have to admit that I enjoyed the beautiful vista of Rwanda’s out-country. A sight of a foreigner on a motorcycle is not your everyday thing in this part of the country. Villagers would stop their farm work, and kids would scream out loud: “Umuzungu!!!” like they never saw a muzungu before (a foreigner or more literally a white person in Kinyarwanda).

Pictures – here are some images of Emmanuel and Robert facilitating the focus group meeting. We had ten beneficiaries from different villages that day. The photo with kids around me is when I went to thank the sector veterinarian, Hamid, for setting up the focus meeting for us. He was conducting training at the nearby primary schoolroom, and when kids saw me, they all came up to hear what was going on. (no kidding, the whole school came around us, and I couldn’t move a step!)

Week 2 in Kibungo

June 6, 2011 – For the past two weeks, I have been working in Kibungo to set up the fieldwork logistics.  I recruited ten INATEK (Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Education of Kibungo) students and started training them in research methods and fieldwork techniques. The recruitment and interviewing took place over two days. First, written test followed by individual interviews. I had over 25 candidates, and I selected the ten finalists. The primary selection criteria were their level of English. First, they must understand what I am saying (though I have to use French to double check if they understood) and secondly, they must be able to translate and explain back in Kinyarwanda. The first part is possible for me to check, but the second part is difficult to assess since my Kinyarwanda is only elementary. Fortunately, I have my trusty friends, Emmanuel and Marie-Josée, who participated in our last year’s project to help me out on this. Another criterion that is well respected in Rwanda is the gender balance. In any group, at least 30 percent of female participation is required. So I decided to choose an equal balance of gender. All in all, I enjoyed training this group. With the current delay in research permit and approval, I don’t know exactly when I will begin the fieldwork, but I look forward to starting. Like we like to say here in Rwanda: Inshallah (If God wills)!

Life in Kibungo – here are some pictures of where I am currently staying: La Paroisse St-Joseph. It used to be a Catholic convent, but now it transformed into an accommodation and guesthouse. The staff treats me like a member of the family. So very kind.

Last Saturday, there was an event called “Guma Guma,” a music festival sponsored by Primus, the local beer giant. Over ten pop stars gathered in this small Kibungo town! It was the most prominent event that I ever saw in Kibungo. The big household names included: Tom Close, Rider Man, Dream Boyz, etc…as their names indicate, they are very very cool.