agriculture

Waitin’ On the Rains

It’s a busy time of year for farmers everywhere in Senegal. Fields are being cleared, seeds gathered, fertilizers bought and fences repaired as we wait on the rains to arrive in Kebemer. In the south of Senegal, they’ve been having fairly regularly rains for a month or two now, but the farther north you go, the more Sahel you get, and there’s not much water in the desert. So for now, we continue to watch the sky, eat madd and mangoes (gotta love the seasonal fruit), and talk to each other about how it’s bound to rain any day now.

Senegal seasons are three: hot, dry; hot, rainy; and cool, dry – in that order. I prefer to not take temperature readings at site, but I’ll say hot season is hot.¬†The kind of hot that makes you want to bucket bathe in warm water anyways just to have it evaporate off you to cool you down. The kind of hot that makes you question the point of drinking water if you sweat it all out in a matter of minutes, and you can’t filter your water as quickly as you drink it. But it’s also the kind of hot that means no one is doing anything¬†for hours during the day, and you get to nap in the shade with friends and family and wake up only to complain about the heat, drink some ice water, and go back to napping. I am lucky, however, that Kebemer is near enough to the coast that nights cool down considerably. Further inland, they brag about temperatures like an occasional 130 F, to give you a reference point. Senegal’s hot, but you adapt.

But that season is winding down, and I’m SO excited to hear rain again. It hasn’t rained since the first week I arrived here, last September. We’ll soon be getting all the year’s rainfall within the next few months. As you know, plants need water to grow, so that also means all large-scale field crop agriculture in Senegal is limited to the rainy season. The five major crops in Senegal are peanuts, millet, rice, corn, beans and sorghum. Rice and corn don’t do well in Kebemer’s area (light, sandy soil. scarce organic matter. 45 meter water table), so farmers grow a lot of peanuts, beans, millet and some sorghum.

Besides agriculture activities, rainy season creates flash flooding issues in some parts of the country, and malaria transmission skyrockets, with standing rainwater creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Soil erosion is also a big issue here – with strong, desert winds from the North and water erosion during the rains.

Finally, after the rainy season is over, Senegal starts to cool down beautifully and becomes perfect gardening weather. After the heat 70s? 60s? feel so cold, Senegalese (and me!) don their giant puffy coats like should be worn in Northern Michigan’s dead of winter, and go around talking about how the cold is scary. I love it.

And here’s a picture of a neat tree near my house, to reward you for reading 5 paragraphs about the weather.

A Baobab tree in Kebemer, these guys are slow growing and can be thousands of years old! They also bear tasty fruits that Senegalese women make into little frozen sachet-treats that I buy daily during hot season.

A Baobab tree in Kebemer, these guys are slow growing and can be thousands of years old! They also bear tasty fruits that Senegalese women make into little frozen sachet-treats that I buy daily during hot season.