When I visited Senegal in May of 2010, everyone was waiting on the rain. Men sat on their heels drinking hot tea, waiting. Women tended the animals and children and kept one eye on the sky, waiting. The ground was parched after 10 months of bone-dry weather, and food stores were low or already gone. Some farmers dared to put their seeds in the ground in anticipation of the rain. Others chose to wait, knowing that if the rain came later than expected, the seeds would wither.
It was impossible for me to imagine anything growing in the blazing sand, but everyone reassured me that in a month or two, peanuts, millet and vegetables would sprout. This photo from NASA shows the stark contrast between the dry season and the wet season in Senegal. Having been there only in the dry season, the green landscape on the right seems unreal.
In countries of the Sahel, the dirt stays thirsty for the better part of the year. Rains come all at once, and farmers scurry to coax what they can from the soil before everything turns brown again. Sometimes, enough rain falls to bring in a decent crop. Most the time, though, it doesn’t. And with only the most rudimentary irrigation systems in place, growing food year-round isn’t an option.
Heifer’s projects in Senegal incorporate improved seeds that produce abundant yields even in dry conditions. The sheep Heifer project participants are raising are especially suited to the heat.