Peace Corps/Senegal: My assignment

Program: Agriculture & Forestry Extension
Job title: Sustainable Agriculture Extension Agent

corn sprouts in field

The official description of Ag Extension work is to “help rural families by increasing agricultural productivity and environmental protection, improving nutritional awareness, and organizing income generation activities.” The Senegal welcome packet I received with my invitation added the caveat that the activities in the ag job description “are not rigidly structured, nor well-defined.”

As a sustainable agriculture volunteer in Senegal, my primary assignment was extending improved-variety seed and improved cultivation practices to rural farmers. In partnership with the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Ag volunteers distribute millet, corn, sorghum, rice, and cowpea seeds to individual farmers. PCVs monitor fields throughout the rainy season, making recommendations as appropriate on seeding, weeding, thinning, and pest management. After the harvest, volunteers collect seed from farmers who had a successful season and hold training sessions on proper seed storage.

In 2005 Ag PCVs began a “demo plot” program in which volunteers work closely with selected farmers to demonstrate the differences between various cultivation practices. For example, in the first year we compared pest management regimes for cowpeas and fertilizer application for corn. Ideally, demo plots will provide side-by-side comparisons of the benefits of improved
cultivation practices.

In addition to the seed program, Ag volunteers are encouraged to help their villages with vegetable gardening, “Integrated Pest Management,” and other projects, all with the goal of sustainability—developing skills and organization within the village itself so that work can and will continue once volunteers have left. For example, I worked with my village’s women’s group to create a tree nursery, or pepiniere, to grow trees both for fruit and leaf consumption and for a live fence.

I had the good fortune to inherit a well construction project from the previous volunteer at my site; when I arrived, the village had only one well, which sometimes ran dry. We secured funding from USAID’s Small Projects Assistance grant for the construction of a second well. This well, completed in July 2006, will improve the villagers’ water security and enable them to garden during the dry season, thereby improving their diets and possibly providing some income. To make gardening possible, I supervised the construction of a deadwood fence and out-planting of over 100 trees for a village garden live fence.

women beading jewelry

I also worked with my village’s women’s group to find a reliable market for their traditional beaded jewelry. The girls and women wear these distinctively Pular anklets and necklaces for holidays and celebrations. They used their profits to open a group bank account and begin saving money, possibly for the planned village garden.

Within the Peace Corps Senegal program itself, I worked with other volunteers to edit a new version of the PC Senegal volunteer cookbook for SeneGAD, a secondary project of Senegal PCVs, “devoted to improving the lives of women and girls in Senegal at the grassroots level.”

I also served for a year as my region’s representative on the Volunteer Advisory Council, a committee made up of reps from each of PC Senegal’s six regions who meet quarterly with our Country Director to discuss issues relating to the program and volunteer life.

During my last months of service, I worked on several video projects, including a portrait of indigenous soil knowledge in one volunteer’s village, a look at the interactions between a village and Senegal’s largest national park at another PCV site, and a narrative of rainy season activities for Ag training.