For most farmers in the Gambia, working on the land means long hours of repetitive manual labour. There are a few exceptions like our neighbour, Radville Farms, a larger commercial operation with about 30 ha adjoining MyFarm and more land elsewhere. They have a number of tractors and implements including a large modern John Deere which occasionally passes through the mango orchard on our boundary on the way to collect fuel from the diesel tank. Radville Farms sounds very English but I believe is an Indian owned business as it is known locally as “The Indian Garden”. Each morning around 7am I hear the chatter of the farm labourers going to work, mostly on foot, with the occasional bicycle or motorbike, and at night they return again, with some of the ladies carrying bundles of sticks on their heads.
The operation here at MyFarm however is not mechanised and is typical of many with a variety of crops grown on a 2ha plot. At present we have lettuces, tomatoes and cucumbers, cabbages, peppers, pumpkins, a few small leeks and some local green leaf crops, all of which have to be watered twice a day by hand.
Normally there are three or four of the gardeners busy watering, but on Saturday and Sunday one of them has the day off. Yesterday, one of the gardeners who should have been working failed to arrive – he has been up country for a couple of days visiting a sick relative and it seems is still there -, and as our cook also has Saturdays off, Jarrai who would normally be working in the garden, was on kitchen duty so we were rather short staffed. As a result I spent most of the day from 7am to 6pm carrying water in two watering cans. There are taps at strategic points in the garden, but much of the time the pressure is too low to use a hosepipe or sprinkler for watering so the cans are filled by dipping in to plastic barrels which are constantly supplied from a network of mixed hosepipes and rigid plastic water pipe/electrical conduit. In some areas there are lengths of flat plastic hose with pin holes at regular intervals for trickle irrigation, but again the low water pressure is a problem and it seems that the plants nearest the tap get more than the ones at the far end of the pipe. I am trying to improve this system by replacing broken pipes and digging rigid pipes underground where they cross the pathways. This had been done already in some places but the pipes were only just beneath the surface and punctured easily by the sharp stones and seashells which form the path. I have dug some of the trenches rather deeper and bedded the pipes in sand so hope they will now last longer without leaking.
Apart from keeping the garden watered yesterday we also had to accommodate a visit by someone from the Ministry of Education to see how we use logic games on iPads as a teaching tool for the children, the usual drop in visitors and Saturday computer classes, and a tour by a bus load of schoolchildren. We host quite a number of school visits – this was the second one in a week, and we have another group next Wednesday. It’s a good opportunity to try to educate the younger generation about deforestation – at present much of the cooking in the Gambia is done using charcoal and as a result the bush is being cut down at an alarming rate. Here at MyFarm, apart from the small business training, we also demonstrate environmentally sustainable methods of cooking using solar powered ovens,
and parabolic reflectors, and the production of biogas from pig manure and rotting fruit. Tomorrow is a public holiday so as part of my holiday entertainment for the children I have agreed to demonstrate my culinary skills by baking a fruit loaf. I’ve seen cakes baked in the solar boxes but have not yet tried it myself so hope it will work. Keep your fingers crossed!