“You know, I don’t really understand why they don’t give tree planting training to all volunteers. Or at least Aquaculture and Health volunteers along with Environment volunteers.” Chelsi laid out the long troubling thought to her card partners in place of her card. Chelsi was new to sheep’s head, a popular Peace Corps card game, and she did not need to look at the score sheet to know she was preforming poorly. Really they were just trying to pass the time until the next session. Thirteen volunteers, accompanied by their Zambian counterparts had descended on the tiny town of Mumena, some 50 kilometers west of Solwezi, to attend an Agroforestry workshop.
“I know, it’s stupid. It’s your turn by the way.” Rachel, an environment volunteer from Ichilanga district responded.
“I know, I just can’t remember what order trump’s in.” Chelsi stared puzzled at her cheat sheet. “I mean, literally, hundreds of bags of charcoal leave my village every day. Men on bicycles loaded with three, four, sometimes five, 50-kg bags of charcoal heading to town.” She played a five of hearts.
“Remember hearts are trump. Are you sure that’s what you want to play?” KMill, a health volunteer and Rachel’s nearest neighbor offered.
“Yesss…” Yet she twisted up her face doubtfully. “I keep trying to tell my villagers that if they cut down all the trees they’ll end up like Eastern Provence, unbearably hot and with dry wells. Literally one of the volunteers in Eastern I stayed with on first site visit said the last year the well went dry during dry season and the borehole was broken. She said the villagers just desperately started digging holes trying to find water and she went and stayed at the Prov house.”
“It scary stuff. But it’s really hard to explain that to people in Ichilanga where there is still so much water. Like everywhere,” KMill added.
“A few weeks ago some of my farmers, the people in Katoka, asked me where the rain comes from. They told me that they were told that god makes rain. And if god wants it to rain then it rains, and if not, then no rain for you. Is it my turn again?” KMill knodded.
“What did you say?” Rachel simultaneously hint that I should try a different card.
“That god made trees… And then I tried to explain the water cycle and trans-evaporation and cloud seeds.”
“Yeah, it really frustrating how church teaching conflicts with facts and then prevents people from making changes that are good for them. But it good to hear that some of your farmers were interested enough in alternative that they asked…” KMill played her card.
“I wonder if we could make a village biosphere, terrarium thing to explain it better. Cause I don’t know that I did a good job explaining it.
“Alright, CAN I HAVE EVERYBODYS’ ATTENTION!” Ginny, the environment volunteer in Mumena, workshop organizer and passionate tree planter, raised her voice above the rest. “It’s just a short walk over our next session. If you could all follow Moses or myself.”
Stretched before them on either side of the road leading to spacious looking house and chinzana were ridges of dirt lined with chest high sticks sporting little fuzzy green leaves from the tops. The heat of the afternoon sun was blazing down on their backs. Chelsi thought about her experience in Eastern; there’s not even shade there, just the periodic mango tree growing up on the side of the road as far as she could tell. Her farmers had assured her the rainy season would be in full swing by November; cool winds and cloud cover. But she had heard the rain in Eastern Provence does not come until January sometimes.
Ginny introduce a slight woman with long brown hair as the head of SVI’s Mumena demo farm. With an Italian accent the woman began to explain ally cropping as they continued to walk up the road. “You have learned a little bit about nitrogen fixing trees, any tree that produces a bean pod is a nitrogen fixing tree. What we want to do is incorporate these trees in our farm fields to improve long term soil fertility. Like beans, these trees add nitrogen to the soil, a powerful component in chemical fertilizers, like D Compound or Urea. What you can see what we have done here…” the group stopped and she gestured to the fields on her right, “is every after every five ridges of maize or vegetables we have planted a line of Pigeon Pea trees in the space between the ridges. This way we do not lose any ridges for other crops. But as a bonus for using Pigeon Pea, the peas are edible. You can eat them fresh while they are young, or wait until they are dried and use them like beans. This method also provides extra protection from wind and even animals by forming a barrier and provides some shade to crops, reducing water loss.” The group continued their walk to the SVI compounds.
Past the gate Chelsi and many of the Zambian counterparts stared in amazement. Growing around the house was every type of nitrogen fixing tree they had so far learned out. It had been great learning about all the different types of trees, what they are used for, how to plant them, but up until that moment they had not seen any. And look at all those seed, was the thought on all their minds.
They were guided to each tree; Sesbania, Taphrosia, Msangu and ones that had yet to be introduced. At every stop a dozen hands were stuck in to the foliage of the trees feeling for full seed pods. Pockets, hats and hands were full of seeds by the time they reach the final tree on the tour.
Many silver branches grew up to meet eyes of taller men. From its branching arms it extended delicate hands with round fingers of bright green. Its arms were full of fat pods lined with dark green and bulging with seeds. Chelsi removed her blue brimmed hat and approached the tree. At first it was just the fingers that tickling her neck, but as she walk into its arms its hands stroked stoked her hair and rubbed her shoulders.
“This is the Moringa tree.” Their guide yelled so the people in the back could hear. Chelsi reluctantly rip herself out the tree to rejoin the group.
“What tree did she say this was?” she had remerged next to Rachel.
“It’s a Moringa tree.” She responded flatly.
“I think they told us about this tree during training. You can like eat all of its parts or something.” Rachel more plainly put over the guide.
“My understanding is that if you eat this tree, you will pretty much live forever.”
“Yeah, it’s super good for you.”
“But the seeds are super hard to find. Cause I would like to have at least one of my own, and to do some tree nurseries in the village…”
“You know, I got a bagful of seed last time I was in Lusaka. One of my program managers just had a bunch and he asked me if I wanted some and I was like ‘Sure.’ I’ll bring you some next time I come down from my sight.”
“Thanks Rachel, that would be great.”
*narrator note: SVI Is the government of Italy’s international development agency, akin to peace corps. But I am always forgetting words for SVI.