Tuesday, 3 Jun 2003

KANO, Nigeria

Yesterday, the rains finally came.

Northern Nigeria has definite dry and wet seasons and the people here have not had rain now for many months. The fields lie bare, brown, and sun-baked in the heat, which often reaches 105 to 115 degrees. Unable to grow anything, most villages have been living off stored grains and food imported from the tropical south.

With the rains, the dry, sandy expanses of open ground will soon be transformed to lush green fields of millet, groundnuts, beans, and other crops. I’ve seen this land in both seasons, and it’s hard to believe it’s even the same country.

The first village we are working in, Wawan-Rafi (translated loosely as “crazy water”), is one of the fortunate villages that has a year-round source of surface water: a lake that enables the growing of crops such as tomatoes and onions, which are in high demand in the village and in the markets of larger neighboring towns.

Irrigation is done either by pumps powered by small gas engines for those who can afford to keep them running, or by hand, one gourd-full at a time, for those who can’t. In the dry season, the ability to irrigate means precious food for your family as well as a valuable source of income.

A water pump that could soon be replaced with a solar pump.

To increase the amount of irrigation possible and to make it affordable and more reliable for more farmers, SELF has developed two mobile solar irrigation pumping systems — local cattle-drawn carts modified to hold four unbreakable solar modules and a very efficient pump. These lightweight carts can be pulled around the shores of the lake to be shared by as many as 10 to 15 farmers per cart.

With the rains having arrived, I admit to myself a little disappointment that I won’t get to see the irrigation pumps in action — they won’t be needed now until it is dry again in October or November. However, we have confidence that they’ll work well and we will at least be able to test them in the fields. The farmers themselves have organized a cooperative to regulate the sharing of the pumps and to collect funds for operation and maintenance costs.

Meanwhile, we are still stuck in Kano trying to get our PV equipment out of customs — a process that has been going on for two and a half weeks now. It’s hard to give a simple explanation for why this has stretched on so long, but it includes such things as not being able to pay the duty because no one could tell us how much to pay, etc. Suffice it to say that the Nigerian customs service does not make it easy for organizations to donate and import equipment that Nigeria badly needs. By contrast, I’ve learned to appreciate most bureaucracies in the U.S. (yes, really!). When people complain back home, I think about Nigeria and experiences I’ve had working in other developing countries and I just smile.

I am profoundly grateful that the rain has begun to cool things off. The humidity is now off the charts, and I still sweat my way through the day, but the temperature has dropped a good 10 to 15 degrees and the daytime heat is becoming bearable.

So things are looking up! Now if we can only get our equipment and get out of Kano and into the villages. Tomorrow, we’ll try again.