Sunday, February 14, 2010

1/26-1/27: Arrival and First Morning in Niger

Dear all,
1/26. We arrived - on a very full plane - at Niamey, Niger. This part of the trip was not organized by the Millennium Villages Project. John has been corresponding for over a year with an Israeli agricultural scientist, Dov Pasternak. He is based here, so John and I decided to add it to the beginning of the MVP trip to West Africa. John hopes there is a way for Dov's work to be used in the MVP.

Dov is an amazing person. I'm sure I didn't understand a lot of what he said last night, but here goes.

For many years Dov headed the Institute for Agriculture & Applied Biology at Ben Gurion University. His work was dedicated to adapting plants for use in arid climates. Some of that work was specifically for Africa, in particular his Africa Market Garden concept. This is an approach that combines a simplified drip irrigation system (cheaper to install, cheaper to maintain) which he has developed, with a range of fruits and vegetables suited to African soil and climate conditions, and local market preferences. His emphasis is NOT on food security but rather on produce which can be marketed locally, producing income for the farmer.

He came to believe that the best use of his research was in rural Africa, and for a time was overseeing projects here while still living in Israel. Then in 2001, Dov was invited to join ICRISAT, a part of CGIAR (I don't have the websites so you'll need to google them) at its West Africa Research Center, based in Niamey, to do intensive r&d and implementation projects. His wife accompanied him but she left after a week he said, and is back living in Israel closer to their 16 grandchildren.

His research lab has developed several vegetable varieties, including varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, hot peppers, melons, cucumbers, moringa (no idea what that is), okra and sweet corn. The fruits he has developed include varieties of papaya, figs, grapes, mango, citrus and date palm.

Dov is a friendly guy, the kind who when you sit in a restaurant with him, people are constantly coming up to say hello. Last night, they included another Israeli and a Long Island native, "the head of the local Jewish community." When I expressed surprise to hear that there was a Jewish community in Niamey he said, "You're looking at 40% of it."

ICRISAT is holding a high level strategic planning meeting, aimed at making its research more interconnected, less compartmentalized. Dov is very pleased at this, but it means he must participate in those meetings for 2 of the 3 days we are here. We have been aware of this scheduling conflict all along. The reason we are here such a long time is that it is so difficult to travel from here to Bamako, Mali, the
capitol of a neighboring country.

Today, we spent the morning with Abdoussalam Sydu, a researcher who works for Dov. His name is cognate with the Hebrew " 'eved shalom," servant of peace. After helping us change money (much more complicated here than anywhere else we've ever been!) and visit a Lebanese supermarket to buy water, we visited some highlights of Niamey. (The
Lebanese supermarket is really only for the wealthy, with a variety of cheeses, meats, jams, etc.)

We visited Musee National du Niger. The first building we visited showed the costumes worn by the various ethnic groups here: Haussa (56%), Djerma (22%), Tuareg and others. The work is beautiful. Some wear handwoven garments, either colorful or in black and white. Others wear purchased cloth with elaborate surface decoration.

Near that building was an exhibit of dinosaurs that had been found in the country and an artisans market. We met a young American woman weaving there who was doing that as part of her doctoral research at Cornell! Small world.

We're off now as Dov's guests to a dinner for the participants in the ICRISAT strategic planning meeting.

Next: Niger poverty and dinner with ICRISAT.

Love, Judy

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