At least 200 hundred kilometres from Basse, the regional capital of Upper River Region (URR), is Sare Alpha. It is a traditional agrarian village, like many other communities in the region and in The Gambia as a whole.
At the village, the main preoccupation of all is subsistence farming.
Since the formation of the village, at least 200 years ago, they have been alternatively farming on the same piece of land using the same traditional farming methods and with little modification on the materials used. The harvest has almost been the same year in, year out.
But unlike some other traditional communities, the villagers of Sare Alpha are receptive to change, change for the better. At the first visit of the officials of the Nema project and at the introduction of the concept of Farmer Field School (FFS), the villager jumped at it.
‘Nema’, is a Mandinka word adopted as the name of an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-financed project in The Gambia. The seven-year project is designed to reduce the poverty of rural women and youth with the objective of increasing income by improving rice and vegetable productivities.
Ousainou Sissaho of Sare Alpha recalled the first time the officials of Nema came to the village: “When they first came here, they told us that they have a project to help us but the help is not in terms of money or materials. They said they want to educate us on good and effective ways of agriculture, to increase our production.”
This was four years ago and it was the introduction of FFS in Sare Alpha, the first village to benefit from such project from Nema in URR.
Twenty-five people were selected by the villagers to undergo the FFS training. Ousainou was recruited and trained to be the training facilitator.
The Sare Alpha farmer field school is mainly based on rice cultivation. Through experiment and practical demonstration at the field school, the farmers learnt appropriate and best practices in rice seed selection, sowing, spacing, weeding, and fertilizer and pesticides application.
The 25 farmer-students of the field school meet once-a-week and they observe and compare two plots of rice fields over the course of an entire cropping season. One plot follows local conventional methods while the other is used to experiment with what could be considered ‘best practices’ in rice cultivation.
Ousainou, the facilitator, said they started the training at the field school even before cultivation commence; it starts at the clearing of land for rice cultivation. And at the commencement of the rainy season, the farmers are shown the best method of sowing rice.