Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) in the mountains of Léogâne--Part II

... the best thing you or I or any of the team I work with can do that will make a difference is to find and keep the faith.  Part of that is the faith that these communities already have the answers for their challenges today and their children's challenges tomorrow, deep inside of them.

On Tuesday, May 27th, the day after we finished the workshop at Luxène's home,  we walked down, up, over, down and around and around to Serge's home, about four hours of hiking. The project mule, "Patience" carried our luggage and some tools. We carried the A-level and a pick handle.

When we reached Serge's house, after resting an hour or two, we walked out to the field where we would be doing the workshop.

This is Serge's first choice for a field to install the SALT system. It was land so steep, it terrified me just to try to stand there, let alone swinging a hoe or pick. This is Herve coming down from that field, on his bottom.

This is Serge's second choice for a field. Can you see any difference? Perhaps not, but this field actually did not scare me to stand in it. However, walking across this and an adjacent field to get back to Serge's house after the initial visit did pretty much terrify me. At one point the next day, while crossing the adjacent field to get to where the participants were waiting, I nearly froze up. As in, "Send in a helicopter because I am not/cannot take a single step." Having my "students" watching from the next field, I believe, is what kept me putting one foot in front of the other.

As I told Chavannes, the director of MPP when I saw him briefly the day after we finished the workshop, "When you work with rural farmers in Haiti, and you let them lead you, you really never know where exactly you are going to end up."

Aside from the steepness of the field, the work progressed more or less in the same way. Cutting bamboo stakes....

....staking out the distances between the hedgerows. One difference the steepness made here was that the hedgerows were much, much closer. We got to that one meter drop in less than four meters from the last hedgerow.

Preparing the seed bed...

Serge (white and brown shirt) working with Luxène (red shirt) to lay out the double furrows to plant the two lines of trees. One other difference was that we soaked the seeds overnight to give them a head start. Since we were at 300 meters above sea level, rather than the 1,000, moisture is less predictable. We also covered the beds with stalks of pigeon pea to help maintain moisture and give the seeds the best chance possible for proper germination.

 As we did in the workshop at Luxène's home, the second day we worked on building our own A-level from bamboo. This time the participants used an old battery with a nail in it instead of the rock.

Calibrating the A-level.

Another difference in the second workshop was that we had three young women participate, Mireille (sitting) and Enite, as well as Ullia (not pictured). The were full participants, wielding hoes and planting seed up in the mountains alongside of the six or seven men. Mireille participated together with her husband, the first time he has been a visible part of the yard garden work.

We also had Andre Ceus, from MRPST (Farmer's without land calling for their rights), a farmers organization from the high mountains of Verettes. All told, counting PC(USA), we had folks from five different organizations, including four different farmer organizations--MPP, ODEPOL, ODEVPRE and MRPST.

Two young boys being raised by their grandmother, Merina, down the hill from Luxène's home in Bwa Nèf Matye.

In the end, what are we about? Was this workshop really about starting a new agricultural revolution in the Léogâne mountains? Not really. What it was really about was about transforming lives, starting with my own.

Part of that transformation is recognizing the enormous gifts present among the farming communities in places like Bwa Nèf Matye, or Yeye. There is strength there, and a great deal of good humor. And skills--so many skills. What do I have to offer than can compare with what they already have? Not much, actually.

As a team coming out of MPP's long history and tradition, we can share a good idea or two, maybe a key scientific principle that turns some things around. With the training I have from CHE, we can offer honest and sincere Bible-based reflections that will shine a new light on what being a Christ follower is all about. But in the end, the best thing you or I or any of the team I work with can do that will make a difference is to find and keep the faith.  Part of that is the faith that these communities already have the answers for their challenges today and their children's challenges tomorrow, deep inside of them. Believing too, without doubt, that God the Creator has always been present and has never abandoned them, nor ever will.

Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) in Léogâne-Part I

I told Chavannes, the director of MPP, "When you work with rural farmers in Haiti, and you let them lead you, you really never know where exactly you are going to end up." 

Hey Friend,

My two weeks of Yard Garden work in May were spent in the mountains of Léogâne. The first week, the team and I spent visiting homes, drawing yard designs, doing the registrations for 2014 and just generally getting a feel for how the yard garden is developing, and what the next steps might need to be to help assure that the Léogàne farmer organization, ODEPOL, has a self-sustaining yard garden program.

During the second week, we did something pretty much completely different.

Rather than focusing on the area around peoples' homes, I led two workshops introducing an integrated system for soil conservation and soil rehabilitation called Sloping Agricultural Land Technology, or SALT. In Creole, we have translated the name as  "Sistem Pwodiksyon an Pant", the system for production on slopes, or SIPWOPANT.

What is SALT/SIPWOPANT exactly?

"SALT is a package technology of soil conservation and food production,integrating differing soil conservation measures in just one setting. Basically, SALT is a method of growing field and permanent crops in 3 meter to 5 meter wide bands between contoured rows of nitrogen fixing trees. The nitrogen fixingtrees are thickly planted in double rows to make hedgerows. When a hedge is 1.5 to 2 meters tall, it is cut down to about 75 centimeters and the cuttings (tops) are placed in the alleyways to serve as organic fertilizer."

(From the document, How to farm your hilly land without losing your soil. Here is the link to that:
 The SALT "how to" site )

Here are some other links that I just checked out that provide some insight into what SALT is about and what its impact has been:

1) A detailed description of SALT and its history:  Description of SALT
2) Adoption of SALT in Asia & Africa:  Adoption of SALT in Asia & Africa
3) Viability of SALT in the Himalayas:  SALT in the Himalayas
4) The birthplace of SALT as an Eco-tourism site: Birthplace of SALT

My own history with SALT goes back to 1998, during my first year as a PC(USA) mission worker at Rancho Ebenezer in Niquinohomo, Nicaragua. Hurricane Mitch had just devastated northern Nicaraguan, most of Honduras and parts of El Salvador and Guatemala. A man named Harold Watson came to Nicaragua from the Southern Baptist Convention to evaluate how they might best address both the immediate needs for relief and the longer term needs for recovery. Harold, as it turns out, was the missionary in the Philippines who, together with the local farmers in the mountains of Davao, had developed this system. My boss, Rev. Franscisco Juárez, the director of Rancho Ebenezer, agreed that the center should incorporate the technique in its soil conservation and recovery work.

We did try out SALT at Rancho Ebenezer, under Harold's tutelage, and most everyone was impressed with the results. When I became a PC(USA) Mission Co-worker in Haiti, serving with MPP (Mouvement Paysan Papaye), it was one of  the techniques we incorporated in working with the land MPP provided to develop the integrated diversified yard garden system. So technically, SALT, or SIPWOPANT, has been part of the yard garden system since we began developing that within MPP. But it really is a technique aimed at farmers' fields, not their yards.

After two years of working in the mountains of Léogâne, and after being encouraged by two of the key leaders of ODEPOL, I felt I had enough knowledge, and stamina, to give the system a try there. So Herve Delisma , my assistant in the FONDAMA Yard Garden program, and I organized two hands-on workshops in Léogâne. We held the first workshop at Luxène Sommervil's home in Bwa Nèf Matye, in the high part of the municipal sector, Orange--about 1,000 meters above sea level. We held the second workshop at Serge Trezye's home and in a field about twenty minutes up the mountain from his home. Serge lives in the rural community of Yeye in the municipal sector of Citronier which is between 200 and 300 meters above sea level.

Here are the pictures (photos by Herve Delisma, Lucien Joseph, Givenson Laurent and Mark Hare. Used by permission):

Givenson Laurent, from the farmers organization, ODEVPRE (Verettes) is helping us carry the A-level that Herve had made bye a carpenter near his home in Papaye, Hinche.

The first step was getting ourselves and the material up the mountain. Materials for SALT are simple. Hoes and picks, a rake if you have one, an A-level, stakes and seeds. In our case, we used Gliricidia sepium.

To get the seeds, Herve Delisma, my assistant in this project, had to drive about 45 minutes (one way) from his home, on his motorcycle, out into a remote community, to purchase the seeds from a spry but elderly woman we call Toun who used to work with the Road to Life Yard team.

There is nothing I do in Haiti that I could do without the people who surround me.

Givenson on the colonial era cannon that marks a mountain crossroads, and is about forty-five minutes before getting to Luxéne's home.

Luxène Sommervil showing a sweet potato he dug up while we working the land to plant the SALT/SIPOWPANT hedgerows. Luxène was one of the main instigators for this workshop. He hopes to use SALT system to rejuvenate a spring very near his home. The spring used to last all through the dry season, but since a neighbor began cutting the forest above the spring, it has begun to dry up near the beginning of the dry season. Luxène, his wife and their two sons housed the three of us who were visitors and organized all of the meals for the workshop.

Herve and myself, checking out the land where we would be doing the practicum. It had been a year or more since I had set up a SALT hedgerow, and I also needed to get a feel for the land. This field was about three minutes from Luxène's house.

Starting the workshop with a bit of theory. We had a total of nine participants over the two days, plus me as the instructor. I wanted to make sure we kept it small, partly to make sure that everyone got a lot of hands on experience, but also just in case it turned out to be a total disaster.

Getting into the field. Herve is showing Luxène's son how to measure the distance between the hedgerows. Laying out the field is the first step in establishing SALT/SIPWOPANT.

A diagram from How to farm your hilly land without losing your soil that explains how you can use your hand and your eyes to define the distances between the double lines of trees that protect the slope. Every time you sight past your hand to the base of the last hedgerow, you are creating a vertical drop of approximately one meter (3 feet). One vertical meter of drop is about all the force of rainwater running down the slope that you should ask a SALT hedgerow to tolerate. Any more and the coursing rainwater will continue to strip soil from your slope.

From our experience, the distances defined by the one meter drop are often too confining, and we prefer to keep the hedgerows farther apart. To inhibit erosion we combine SALT with some other soil conservation technique, such as green manures.

Lucien, far left (from MPP in Papaye), together with Lexène (middle) and Bruno (far right) marking out a contour using the A-level. We marked everything with bamboo stakes, which Luxène prepared the day before.

Herve and Remy clearing off the weeds of a 1 meter wide swath, following the contour marked out by Lucien, Lèxene and Bruno.

Givenson (right) is picking out a shallow trench above the area where we will plant the two lines of trees. The trench is an addition by us because the slopes are so steep, just to slow the water down. Luxène is also committed to leaving this field fallow at least until 2015, so the grasses between the hedgerows will also help protect the young seedlings until they can develop.

Bruno and Lexène following the same procedure. The soil only needs to be loosened up to a depth of between 4 and 5 cm (about two inches), just enough to create a nice medium for the seeds to germinate.

As Bruno and Lexêne advance, I come behind and smooth the soil out, keeping the soil along the same plane as the slope. We used a rake because Luxène (far right) had one, but normally we would just use the flat of the pick.

Using pieces of bamboo, Luxène and his crew trace out the furrows to plant the seeds. The swath of land prepared for the tree seeds is about one meter in width and the two lines of seeds are planted about 50 cm apart in the middle of that 1 m swath.

It is worth noting that all our measurements were based on the Haitian "gwo pous." That is the distance measured by extending your thumb and middle finger as far apart as possible. Five of these is usually about a meter. Five of my "gwo pous" is almost exactly 105 cm. For the distance between lines of trees, I measure two and a half "gwo pous."

The importance of using non-standard measures is to create an environment where any farmer will feel comfortable with the technology, whether or not they have sophisticated, expensive tools such as tape measures. In general we are trying to help set a path where the technology can become "ours" rather than "theirs."

Merina and Givenson planting the seeds, Gliricidia sepium. Merina (pink shirt) did not wield a hoe or a pick, but she helped with all of the rest of the work.

The second day of the workshop, before going out to the field, we built our own A-level from Luxène's bamboo.

Nailing on the mid-bar. An A-level needs two legs that are exactly the same length and when spread to 1.5 m to 2 m apart, will still be comfortable to work with. The mid-bar needs to go across exactly half way from top to bottom of the two legs. Nails are handy to hold everything together, although I have made these tied together with string. You need string and a rock to create a pendulum that hangs from where the two legs join at the top.

Calibrating the A-level. Carefully stake out the position of the two legs and then mark where the rock and string hit the mid-bar.

Turn the A-level around, putting the legs in exactly the same spots. Then mark where the rock and string hit on the mid-bar.

The "sweet spot" where the A-level marks a true level, is exactly in the middle of those two points.

Remy and Herve putting the A-level we made to work. They liked it better than the one we brought in!

By the second day, we were all working well together and we finished planting eight or nine hedgerows on Luxène's quarter acre of field, between fifty and sixty meters of double lines of nitrogen-fixing trees.

We finished the hands-on experience by marking out the future hedgerows in the field right above Luxène's spring. We left enough seed for him to get a good start on that field.

We finished the first workshop by forming two teams and having a quiz show-style review, where each person got a chance to answer a question on a topic of their choice (but still related to the workshop). Team members who can't answer can get help from fellow team members, but if no one gets the answer, the other team gets a shot at "stealing" the question.

This is obviously an artifact of me having watched too many TV game shows when I was a kid, but the rules have evolved over the last two years based on participant reactions and suggestions.

In general, farmers in Haiti seem to have about the same level of competitiveness as I do. Meaning, they like to compete, but they don't really want anyone to feel bad. Nobody complains when I lob a softball question at someone who isn't getting any of the answers, or when I give the team that is down an extra chance to make up points.

Usually I am only one of several trainers providing the questions, but this workshop everyone, including Herve, was learning from scratch.

We ended our time with a brief evaluation, which was very positive, and an excellent meal. And then team and I rested.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to build tire gardens: a series of short videos from MPP, UUSC and PC(USA)

Here is a link to a series of videos, produced by Evan Carter with the Unitarian Universalist Social Committee (UUSC), interviewing me and with footage from the work that MPP is doing.

You will need to find the link with your pointer. It is nearly invisible:

Series of videos on creating tire gardens.

Evan did an excellent job of making me sound smarter than I am.

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