“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits” could well describe my position at the weekend when I realized I had no inspiration for my blog this week. The quote sprang easily to mind although until I searched the internet I had no idea where it had originated, and when I found out the source (Satchel Paige, an American baseball player) I was still no wiser, and still no nearer a subject for this column, so perhaps a brief summary of my recent activities will serve.

Last week the Department of Agriculture held a four-day Training of Trainers workshop for about sixty extension staff from West Coast Region in the nearby town of Brikama . It is an annual refresher course to remind them of things they have forgotten, bring them up to date with new ideas, and teach them a few new skills in different areas. It was only on the way to Brikama on the first morning that I was informed that my role was to be the “reporter”, so I spent the next four days making notes of all that occurred and have just finished writing the report.


A full lecture hall


Hawawu just finishing her Agribusiness presentation


Kang Saikou Ceesay leading a practical session of marking out beds and keeping square using Pythagoras theorem

Reports are very important out here, although their function often seems to be as much about thanking sponsors or congratulating someone on a job well done as about accurately noting what took place. I have also noted that they are often verbose, long winded affairs, and it sometimes seems that the quality of a report is judged by it’s weight, so I frequently find myself urging my colleagues to be brief and concise in their composition. In the event, my own report has ended up much longer than I would have liked – twelve pages of A4, and then nearly doubled in size by the appendices attached so perhaps I will be judged to have submitted something worthwhile!  It is the longest report I have written since I came here and I have now submitted a copy to the Director for his comments. For my own part I think I have presented an accurate and balanced picture of the proceedings along with a number of comments and recommendations for the future based partly on feedback from the evaluation forms completed by participants, and partly on my own personal impressions. I have noticed that such reports usually concentrate on achievements and successes and fail to mention any shortcomings, so I will be interested to see how my recommendations are received!

It had taken me a large part of the day on Saturday to collate my notes into the first draft and I had nothing planned for the weekend so I was delighted to receive a text from another volunteer informing me that they were planning to meet at the beach on Sunday. I hadn’t been down there recently, and in fact had never been to the particular beach they named, but spent a relaxing few hours down there in the afternoon with my housemate and friends, swimming, lazing on the sand, and catching up on the news from the other volunteers.


Dr Joe and Abdou


It’s a hard life in the Gambia!

Kotu Butchery Project

This week saw the official handover of a new butchery complex at Kotu which has been set up with support from the Department of Agriculture as part of our LHDP (Livestock and Horticulture Development Project) and which is to be run by a group of local farmers. You may remember this ceremony has been postponed twice in the past, but finally on Tuesday we managed to get all the stakeholders together at the same time for the grand opening.

The sun shone (it always does!) and my colleague Alimou and I were on site by 8am to find the site deserted except for half a dozen ladies sitting on the steps, and no obvious signs of activity, although somebody had been busy the previous day as the pillars in front of the building were decked in the colours of the Gambian flag along with green and yellow ribbons, balloons, and a large ribbon across the central two pillars. The premises looked very smart and comprise six “stalls” selling beef, goat/sheep, and chicken, and in due course pig meat.


The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

The new Butchery, Kotu

Mr Alimou Jallow (Department of Agriculture Planner)

Mr Alimou Jallow (Department of Agriculture Planner)

Soon after 9am a young man arrived with amplifiers and loudspeakers in the back of a truck and began to set up a sound system from which (after the obligatory “hullo, hullo, hullo” sound check) we were loudly entertained by lively West African music as we began to put out rows of chairs under the awnings set around a square in front of the building. The guests had been invited to arrive between 10.00 and 11.00 for registration and slowly people began to drift in – mostly ladies, all very smartly dressed – although from the speed of their arrival it didn’t look as though anybody expected a prompt start. The butchery ladies donned their white coats and headdresses and began clapping to the music, swinging and swaying to the beat as if it were Saturday night at the dance hall, not 10.00 on a hot Tuesday morning. From time to time there was a loud bang as another balloon burst in the heat.





Among the guests we were expecting the Minister of Agriculture, the Lord Mayor of Kanifing, the Governor of West Coast Region, the Alkalo of Kotu, the Imam, and various other civic heads together with representatives of some of the big hotels who we hoped would be sufficiently impressed by the project to place regular ongoing orders. The tourist season is more or less over now until about October, but if they could be persuaded to support the new business from the start then we could expect sales to increase as the hotels started to fill up again in a few months. Meanwhile the operation could grow slowly as the group running it became more confident and their skills increased.

In due course a smart 4×4 drew up and Mr Solomon Owens (the Minister of Agriculture) emerged complete with a rather large policeman, followed shortly afterwards by the Minister for Youth and Sport with his own police escort, and then finally, as if waiting for his cue, Mr Yankuba Colley, the newly re-elected Mayor of Kanifing, resplendent in a sharp white suit with matching trilby, along with another policeman and an immaculately coiffed young lady PA in a smart business suit. We could begin!

Mr Solomon Owens (Minister of Agriculture)

Mr Solomon Owens (Minister of Agriculture)

Mr Yankuba Colley (Lord Mayor of Kanifing)

Mr Yankuba Colley (Lord Mayor of Kanifing)

The Alkalo of Kotu

The Alkalo of Kotu

The Imam of Kotu leading prayers

The Imam of Kotu leading prayers

The ceremony was due to begin at 11am with prayers led by the Imam of Kotu, but of course this took place rather later than scheduled and was followed by a procession of speakers with musical interludes, or perhaps I should have said “interruptions”. In attendance was a group of drummers and singers who according to the programme were due to give two or three musical intervals. In fact, what frequently happened was that when one speech finished and the retiring speaker introduced the next one to the podium, the newcomer had to stand and wait as the musicians burst spontaneously into life at high volume and seemed intent on drowning out any attempts to stop them. To persuade them to desist each time, it was necessary for one of the principal guests (often Mayor Colley or one of his staff) to approach the band with a wad of banknotes and give out several handfuls. Unless they considered the donation sufficently generous, they continued playing, and at one point one of the drummers came out to harangue Mr Owens face to face, loudly, and at length, presumably because he felt they were not sufficiently appreciated. This behaviour didn’t seem to surprise anyone, but it’s the first time I’ve seen anybody pay for the band to stop, rather than to continue playing. The Mayor obviously had some of his supporters with him too as whenever his name was mentioned, which was quite frequently as each speaker in turn paused in their speech to congratulate him on his re-election, there was a burst of applause and cheering from the crowd, and a drum roll or a burst of flattering song from the musicians. The observance of protocol is very important here, and each speaker in turn individually recognised all the other dignitaries, finishing invariably with the phrase “all protocols duly observed” (I assume this was in case they had forgotten anyone) before beginning their speech.

Mr Ousman Jammeh, Director of Agriculture, West Coast Region (my boss)

Mr Ousman Jammeh, Director of Agriculture, West Coast Region (my boss)


The President of Group Legay


Mr Landing Sanyang (Project Director)

Mr Falalo Toure (Deputy Director General Department of Agriculture)

Mr Falalo Toure (Deputy Director General Department of Agriculture)

There were some excellent speeches and several of the speakers, apart from praising the new facilities emphasised that this was only the beginning. The premises and equipment have been provided at a cost of 2 million dalasi (about £40,000), a large number of members of Group Legay have been trained in meat hygiene and butchery skills, but now is when the hard work really begins as they must now build a sustainable and profitable business.

During the course of the speeches we also had two brief dance interludes when a group of local youths performed a mock wild animal hunt with their quarry elaborately dressed with large horns.

Finally, after refreshments had been served, it was time for the Minister of Agriculture to cut the ribbon and the Lord Mayor to hand over the keys to the Lady President of Group Legay, following which the guests toured the premises and numerous photographs were taken. The television crew were busy recording an interview with Mr Falalo Touré (Deputy Director General of Agriculture), the politicians moved on to their next engagement and the rest of us began to stack chairs and pick up litter.


The official handover of the keys by Mayor Colley to Group Legay



Ready for business




The site looked like a battleground with soft drink cans, foil containers and paper napkins strewed all round but the meat on the hook looked good so I’ll be going back in a couple of weeks to see what it tastes like.


Since I last wrote about work I have been moved from the Department of Agriculture Headquarters at Bakau and am now working out of town near the airport. I was called to the office of the Deputy Director General about ten days ago and informed that I was being posted to the Department of Agriculture regional offices at Yundum to be based there under the direction of Mr Ousman Jammeh, Head of the West Coast Region where I’m told there is “plenty of work”! My new duties began almost immediately as the rest of the day was spent with my new boss attending a meeting of stakeholders in the West African Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) whose main purpose was to present an interim progress report to representatives of the World Bank and the Spanish Government (major funding providers) on how their funding had been spent so far, and what the planned activities of the programme in the Gambia were for 2013.

I was introduced to quite a number of new faces, mostly from the Department of Agriculture and NARI (the National Agricultural Research Institute) and will no doubt be meeting some of them again during the course of the coming weeks, and I  then spent an interesting afternoon learning a little about WAAPP and the relationships between the various organisations involved, principally the World Bank, DOA, NARI, and the National Environment Agency.

The following Monday was my first day at the new office and I spent most of my time attending meetings with the Director and some of the senior Agricultural Officers. The first meeting was with representatives of a local village group to discuss support by the Department for a new horticultural project. It appears that the project has been instigated by a “new” village group, but that now that it looks as if they will receive DOA backing, two other established village groups want to become involved. The discussion seemed to centre around the provision of land for the project, and how to maintain the support of all and ensure the various groups work together without one group being dominant, although the Department would prefer to work through an existing group which already has a formal constitution and management structure, bank accounts etc, rather than a newly set up group with no measurable business record. A meeting is now due to be held with the village elders for further discussions on how to proceed.

The second meeting with about 25 local farmers, mostly women, was conducted in two languages – Wolof and Mandinka, and when anyone spoke it was immediately repeated in the other language for the benefit of those who might not understand it first time. My knowledge of Wolof is very limited and my Mandinka virtually non existent but I think I managed to get the gist of the meeting although much of the detail escaped me. It did help that I knew the agenda in advance! The meeting was in preparation for the official handover next Saturday of a new butchery at Kotu which has been supported by the DOA, and was a final planning meeting to discuss the guest list, and make sure all parties knew their responsibilities on the day – who was in charge of getting tents and chairs, who was to do the catering and for how many, how many tee shirts should be ordered etc. I will have to make sure I have a smart shirt and trousers to wear as it’s an important event and will be attended by Mr Solomon Owens (the Minister of Agriculture), the Mayor, the Paramount Chief, the Imam, local councillors, and various other honoured guests, so there will be prayers, quite a number of speeches by the dignitaries, (with musical interludes), and of course the obligatory Gambian hospitality! It promises to be a “good do” as we say at home, but I expect I’ll have to walk back to my lodgings afterwards – a brisk hour and a quarter along the beach – to burn off some calories!