1st impressions of Niger: Peter Wentworth

Dexter Strong - Wednesday, March 16, 2016

 This was EPN Board member Peter Wentworth's first visit to Niger, and to a Farmers of Future site. Needless to say he was impressed. You can read all about it here. 

 
 
FOF participant watering her crops.

I just returned from 8 days in Niamey, Niger working with the Farmers of the Future (FOF) project.  John captured in his blog key highlights of the progress and momentum.  So rather than repeat that, I’ll share my reaction - as a first-timer on the ground with this complex effort that is 4 years in. 
My reaction? In a word, overwhelmed.  The changes being made in people’s lives are incredible, and the commitment of the team is impressive.  They are masters at accomplishing a lot with limited resources.  So much good is being done with so little - just imagine what could be done with more!
Based on my previously limited exposure to the details of the FOF project, my big-picture perspective was both an advantage and a disadvantage.  Let’s dispel with the disadvantage quickly – the dizzying pace of meetings (19), including an alphabet soup of government agencies – was for me, drinking from the irrigation hose.  But that was my challenge – and routine for the rest of the team.  More importantly, it reflects very well on the impact being made in Libore – the commune (collection of villages, similar to our counties) in which FOF has initially focused.
The intersection of three elements of the project make it a distinctive success:  the partnerships, the FOF team, and the Nigerien people.
 
The partnerships. Reputation, relevance, and results.  That’s why the FOF team has no difficulty gaining access to critical decision makers across the spectrum of global NGOs and government agencies in Niger and the US.  The reality is some of the partnerships will take time to nurture, while others, such as the World Food Program, take a “let’s get going” attitude. In all cases though, I sensed clear recognition for the accomplishments of FOF, the willingness to share methodologies, and respect for the caliber of the FOF team.  John and the team have many irons in the fire, and are carefully evaluating the nature of potential partnerships to ensure they stay true to accomplishing the vision of FOF – changing mindset from subsistence farming to market-oriented agriculture.
Gonzare village women
 
The FOF team.  Focused, collaborative, esprit de corps.  The FOF team is extraordinary. Each brings complementary knowledge and skills that contribute to the project’s success – ranging from 50 years of technical knowledge and hands-on experience, to extensive government and local contacts, to daily organizing and implementation support.  I sat with the team as we debated the pros and cons of strategic alliances with governmental agencies (with an eye toward expansion), and as Dov Pasternak detailed the specific interventions for specific pests for specific vegetables in specific gardens.  The success-to-date, and the longer-term sustainability, is due in part to the team’s ability to seamlessly move between planning for the needed infrastructure for expansion, and the “do-it-now” requirements to support the women in their gardens today. Oh, and I should mention the laughter and camaraderie.  There is no doubt, this is a close knit team with great admiration and respect for each other – whether based in Niger, Israel, US, or Canada. 
FOF team members consulting

The Nigerien people.  Warm, friendly, and appreciative.  When was the last time you arrived somewhere and people came running from all directions, calling your name, clapping, grinning ear-to-ear?  Well I witnessed Dov and the FOF team get such a reception in the village of Sadore, which has been completely transformed by FOF.   And in all the FOF sites, the women were proud to show off their crops, to learn more, to take initiative, and contribute to the well being of their families and villages.  The spirit and resilience of the Nigerien people is strong, and the women and children associated with the FOF project are on the path of breaking the magnetic bond of poverty.  They work hard, they work together, and they smile because they see a different future. 
Sadore women running to greet Professor Dov
 
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