Fatou Tine is in her last year of her PhD program at the University of Dakar in Senegal, conducting research for her dissertation funded through support from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) at Kansas State University (KSU).
After graduating with a master’s degree from Virginia Tech in May 2016, she decided to return to her home country, Senegal, and contribute to its agricultural development by sharing her knowledge with farmers and young students who are currently training to be tomorrow’s leaders. As excited as she was to return and contribute to the modernization and expansion of her country’s expansive agricultural sector, she, at first, could not find any opportunities open for her to do so, as there were no positions available at the time. Therefore, she spent her first two months in Senegal at home and, from time to time, visiting and assisting friends from university and other research institutions. Fortunately, at the end of her second month back home, she received the opportunity to participate in data collection for a survey on cashew farmers in the Kolda area.
While conducting this data collection for the National Center of Forestry Research, she met an acquaintance who spoke to her about SIIL and its important role in assisting with sustainable agriculture research in Senegal. With this funding, aimed at building capacity in SIIL target countries in East and West Africa, as well as Southeast Asia, researchers and students alike, and youth and women in particular, have the opportunity to be trained in their field, as well as conduct research on their chosen topic. After meeting with the in-country SIIL team, she was selected as a PhD student in Agronomy, and received funding to do both her studies and her research.
As Fatou observes, “A woman running an agriculture project is not an easy thing to do in Senegal, however, with the support from the wonderful SIIL team, I was able to conduct my field experiments, collect data, and also enjoy time with my family.”
During these last three years, SIIL has not only provided funding for her research, but has also provided several opportunities for personal and professional development through trainings, meetings and other relevant activities. Additionally, working with SIIL has allowed her to improve her knowledge and skills in agriculture, particularly within the Senegalese agricultural system, as well as internationally.
As a result of her time working with SIIL and its partners, most recently she had the opportunity to connect with Peace Corps Senegal, leading to her securing a position with them as an Agriculture Program and Training Specialist. This is especially exciting, as SIIL maintains a close partnership with the in-country Peace Corps program, providing training to new and continuing agriculture Peace Corps volunteers. “I am excited to use my skills professionally and am very grateful for the opportunities that SIIL has provided for me though their support”, says Fatou.
Ban Naiheak, BSc in Veterinary Medicine at the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), Cambodia, shows off the E.Coli bacteria she colonized in Microbiology Lab at RUA.
Ban Naiheak, a 22-year-old student at the Royal University of Agriculture, moved from a rural province in Cambodia to live with her aunt in Phnom Penh in order to pursue her education. Ms. Naiheak is majoring in Veterinary Medicine and she has just completed her research for her thesis and is ready to defend. Her research topic is “Antimicrobial Resistance Profiles Found in a Case Study of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) from Cohabitant Pets and Environment at Animal Clinic in Phnom Penh.”
Ms. Naiheak is considered to be one of the more promising students in her cohort, according to many of her professors, and has been able to continue her studies thanks to a grant from CE SAIN in March 2019, funded by USAID though the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) at Kansas State University.
“I was not so sure if my thesis research could continue since it needed huge financial support and I would definitely have had to change the topic to be simpler […], but my thesis was made possible because my application for grant thesis support was accepted. I was so happy to hear that,” she stated.
In addition to studying, Ms. Naiheak worked as a part-time administrator at the university. During the first stage of her thesis research, she volunteered at an animal clinic to collect samples from puppies for three months. Seeing that she was so busy with her schoolwork, the university gave her permission to take a three-month break from work to focus on her research. Ms. Naiheak has said that the past three months were a hard time for her, however, it was a great opportunity to learn new knowledge and gain experience outside of the classroom. She also received great support from her supervisors and assistance with her research through their advice, She was also able to come and work in the microbiology lab as often she needed.
Her thesis has two main objectives: firstly, she wants to research the the presence of E. coli bacterial resistance in puppies and the animal clinic environment. Secondly, she wants to find out what types of existing treatments currently available can effectively treat puppies afflicted with E. coli bacterial infections. She says that the bacteria could be transmitted from the puppies to the environment, and even humans. When humans become exposed to the same kind of resistant bacteria, it came become very hard to treat. “My research is not a big topic that [will help all of] society,” she said, “but it will help the animal clinic to have a deeper understanding of this certain issue and help provide [people with] the research documentation that they can go and read.”
Ban Naiheak performs tests on bacteria in the Microbiology Lab at RUA.
Ms. Naiheak did encounter some challenges when the results of her research did not match to her hypothesis. In once instance during her research, she chose her sample from puppies that had diarrhea and was under three months old. She expected the result to be positive for the E. coli bacteria, but it came back negative. She will need to defend her findings and explain to the thesis committee the reasons for these differences. She says that knowing the history of the puppies’ background is very important and it helps to understand why the puppies got sick.
Naiheak wishes to pursue her master degree and do in-depth research on E. coli bacteria and how it can effect the environment and humans. At the moment, she is not sure of her eventual career goals, but she would like to find a job where she can share her knowledge and experience with other people.
“I would like to say thank you very much to CE SAIN and USAID for providing this grant to support undergraduate students on our research theses. Your support [has been] a big contribution to make our thesis research happen. Without your support, my preferred topic for the research thesis would not [have] happened. –Ban Naiheak
I remember vividly that a desire to travel and have a career in social programs was borne from my grandmother’s dreams, conversations with her, and the humble way in which she lived her life. Up until middle school, our household did not have a television, so listening to the radio led us into countless discussions on social topics in the United States and abroad. Our immediate family gave to churches, to other family members and friends, and of course, to organizations such as “Feed the Children”, which worked extensively in Africa.
Fast-forward thirty-five years. I am now a military retiree and reflecting on a family dynamic that brought an awareness of needs outside of my community and the United States, and making a transition into international development felt like the natural next step, only I didn’t know what that looked like until Peace Corps (PC) Senegal began their work with Kansas State University’s Sustainable Intensification and Innovation Lab (SIIL). In 2018, PC Senegal, SIIL and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) partnered together to demonstrate new agricultural technology and innovations in the fields of PC/Senegal’s Master Farmers. Under this program, Senegalese graduate student Khady Diome came to Keur Bakary, a small village in Senegal, to lead a research site. She worked on testing millet and fertilizer varieties as well as seed-spacing techniques in the fields of three local farmers.
In conferences and one-on-one discussions, what echoed in my head time and again is that there needs to be an intermediary with the ability to connect more research and pilot projects to government organizations and institutions, as well as smallholder farmers, without a long lead-time. With this trifecta partnership, we are building synergies that will be able to breach this paradigm and, in turn, Master Farmers like Chiekh Dieng can work with researchers to identify more readily technology that has been tailored to his community’s farming practices and challenges, but with “scaled up” benefits for the broader Senegalese farming system.
ISRA researcher Khadi Diome and Master Farmer Chiekh Dieng
Photo Credit: LaTrese Taylor
As I prepare to wrap up my third year with Peace Corps Senegal, I plan to return to American University in Washington D.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development, with focus in West African Food Security, armed with the hands-on experience in working with researchers. Working with PC Senegal to manage this partnership also gave me a birds-eye view of what research-led youth development looks like in Senegal, and how research that incorporates nutrition-led agriculture, can fit into the greater system. In this particular scenario, my primary role was creating the linkage between the smallholder farmer and the researcher, and while it may have been a small role, it was still one with a potentially large impact in making these type of relations more customary in the future. This theme obviously warrants more discussion and work, and I plan continue working in the international development community to see how that unfolds and how I can contribute to its growth.
Poor road networks, waterlogging, canal networks, and undulating topography are considered barriers to agricultural mechanization in this coastal region. Additionally, the limited agricultural mechanization that does exist in the coastal zone, mostly two-wheeled tractors, are mainly operated by men. Most farmers in the polders cultivate a single low-yielding rice crop in a year, and agriculture is considered as a low-input, low-risk business. Generally, poor and landless women are engaged in the annual rice harvest on family-cultivated land and on neighboring farms as wage-earning day laborers. During rice harvest, which is done mostly in December, women can work for up to 8-9 hours daily.The rapidly growing economy of Bangladesh has fueled demand for labor in non-agricultural sectors, resulting in a scarcity of rural agricultural workers. This has driven wages up and is affecting farm productivity and profitability. Although women have always played a critical role in the agricultural sector, their identity has historically been only that of unpaid family labor, with the widespread perception that women’s roles in farming are limited to the homestead and some postharvest operations. However, in the polders of the coastal zone, women are involved in almost all agricultural activities, in addition to all their other household duties. The women also face several constraints, such as restricted access to inputs, resources (land and labor), assets (machinery and equipment), and services (extension and advice, financial loans), which restrict them from playing a leading role in most activities.
As a part of the SIIL (Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab)-Polder Project, mechanical harvesting, using a reaper, was introduced to small and marginalized farmers to ease the physical burden on women and increase their contribution to household earnings. The project organized hands-on training, in collaboration with the ACI Motors Ltd., on using the reaper for 450 men and 377 women for three cropping years from the 2016 monsoon season to the 2019 dry season. The team then worked closely with four women who showed a strong interest in learning how to use the reapers as a business venture. The project purchased one reaper for them to work with. Of these, two, Nomita Golder and Madhuri Mondal, actually used the reapers as a way to make additional money in the first year (Fig. 1). In a follow-up interview with the women, they provided additional information on how the use of mechanization improved their livelihoods. For example, Nomita worked 22 days during the previous season to manually harvest rice paddies and she earned BDT 6,000 (USD 72). Using the reaper not only reduced her drudgery, but also saved significant time. Both young women reckoned that it generally took 48 hours to manually harvest a 1-acre paddy field while it could be harvested in only 3 hours with the reaper. With the time saved and the money earned using the reaper, the women were able to contribute to their respective family’s income by buying and raising livestock and poultry and by providing child care services or tutoring the children of neighboring families in addition to their harvesting activities.
As the project has only one machine, which was used extensively for training and demonstrations at an early stage of the harvesting period, Nomita and Madhuri were able to use the machine for only a few days to provide harvesting services to other farmers. In order to accommodate the lack of additional reapers, the women, instead of harvesting all day, both decided to work in the field during the morning hours only, which was sufficient for them to harvest the area that they used to harvest in 5 to 6 days. In the afternoons, Nomita could then continue providing child-care services to neighborhood families. Using the reaper helped her earn money in a shorter time while continuing other income-generating activities. Madhuri spent the extra time on family care and some time for herself. Having some leisure time has significant implications on women’s health and well-being. Spending more time on family care, particularly children, contributes significantly to overcoming the household’s nutrition and health challenges.
After assessing the interest of women, the project purchased one more reaper and provided Madhuri Mondal and Shipra Biswas to harvest paddy in the subsequent years (Nomita Golder was not able to continue service provision after 2016 due to poor health). Madhuri Mondal was able to earn BDT 82,838 (USD 1035) after five seasons and while Shipra’s net income in four seasons was BDT 62,688 (USD 784). Due to less drudgery, they devoted more time in mechanical harvesting to earn more for family’s welfare. Madhuri used her earnings for children’s education, daughter’s marriage and purchasing a cow that is providing nutrition to her family; while Shipra used the earnings to get back her father’s (deceased) mortgaged land, purchased goats and a sewing machine with which she started a tailoring business.
Although there is a long way to go, mechanization has shown promise in helping increase household income, reducing women’s drudgery, and improving their health and overall household well-being. Without mechanization, women either need to spend significantly more time on manual harvesting as wage laborers to meet the expenses of the family or reduce their family expenses, which might include stopping the education of their children or limiting other important family needs.
The success of this service provision model using mechanization depends on awareness, training, and access to credit to purchase machines, among other aspects. Although the capital needed to purchase the machines is seen as a major limitation, it can probably be addressed through pooled community investment in conjunction with existing organizational structures such as water management groups or through loans from self-help groups/ NGOs. Linking these groups to financial institutions might also be an option in the future. The government has introduced about 50 to 70% subsidies to acquire agricultural machinery. Linking women to these subsidies will help empower them and move the country closer to ensuring food security and better family health.