So what am I actually doing with my host organization?
The Maraichers and also my Bureau at CeCPA requested me here for two main reasons. They had irrigation problems, and they have a desire to diversify the crops that they are growing.
The volunteer who I replaced here in Misserete did a great job getting Irrigation Systems installed in two of the farms where I work. I might eventually work on getting Irrigation to one or two other groups.. but in the mean time we are focusing in on crop diversification.
The BIGGEST problem with crop diversification has not proven to be getting the seeds or teaching the farmers how to grow these new crops.. the biggest problem has been what to do with these crops once they are grown. People are creatures of habit, and the women who work in the farms are more interested in selling these new crops to the posh city people then actually eating them themselves. AND right now the vendors in the markets in Porto Novo get their carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, cabbages.... etc. imported in from Cotonou (and where ever they come from before that). Or you can go to Songhai to buy the more “exotic” vegetables. So how do we get people to know that the farmers in the area are now growing these things too?
Currently the women are known for growing almost entirely legumes (assorted African leafy greens) and the vendors in the market will send a zemi or another person out to the farm to pick up a plonch worth for them to sell that day.. that is the extent of communication between the farmers and the vendors. So last year.. when they tried some new crops.. they weren't able to sell them.
After throwing some various ideas around what it seems that the maricheres group really wants is a place to advertise and a place not too far from the farms (as in not in Porto Novo or in an actual market) where they can sell some of the new vegetables themselves. So we are talking about building a small market stand on the CeCPA office property.. right next to the ONASA (where people already come to buy (and store) their grains in bulk through out certain parts of the year).. where the women can advertise and vend some of their new produce. The agreement is that if we do this project for them than the office (because it is on CeCPA property) will be in charge of the security and upkeep of the “barrack” and the woman’s farming groupement organization will be in charge of keeping it manned.
I really hope that I am able to get the logistics of this project sorted out soon.. I am very hesitant to have the women start growing these crops again.. when they still don't have a plan for selling them. I don't want them to become overly discouraged and am worried about their capacity to want to try again if it fails.. when they could be using that same land to grow their legumes.
Aside from allowing the farmers to be able to diversity their goods.. in turn making them more marketable to the outside vendors.. and eventually more financially secure. This food stand will also help by providing more a more varied diet to the local communities. Right now the families who know how to cook these “newer” vegetables go to Porto Novo to buy them. It is my hope that with these vegetables available locally a greater variety of local Beninese people will start to eat them as well.
Like I said, the planning for this is still in the preliminary stages so it will be interesting to see how it progresses.. things move very slow in this country and the project keeps getting larger in ways that I don't completely understand (I just wish I actually felt like I was helping the women that I came here to work with).
I will be going to a training in March on Nutrition Education, and I have hope that [aside from Moringa] getting locals to eat a more varied diet will be something that we cover.