Petit par Petit, or Lessons from Pate Diop

Mathew Davis - Senegal


March 8, 2010

I work on a on a small-scale farm in Gorom 2. The owner of the farm is named Pate Diop. He was a policemen for 32 years and began cultivating his father’s farm in. Pate has a huge family. Polygamy exists in Senegal, so Pate supports two wives and I don’t know how many kids all by what gets produced at the farm. There is no other form of income. There is an African tradition of family farming, and one day Pate wants his entire family to work on the farm. Pate told me he saw a lot of things while he was a policemen and he wants in particular young people in his family to use agriculture to stay out of trouble. He wants to use his family land as a community center of sorts.

I have been using urban gardening for young people in my community in the same way for the last four years, so when he said that it really resonated with me. Pate always talks about his hopes and dreams and goals and sometimes I forget he is 57. Not everyday do you meet people that age talk about their hope and dream. Let alone someone who is 57 and working in the developing world. That is one thing that I really admire about Pate.

That’s why I have no problem waking up every Wednesday and Thursday morning (sometimes everyday of the week) at 7am while even the sun is still asleep to go watering 500 tomatoes 200 peppers, onions, mint, and bissap (indigenous fruit) all by hand. The equipment we use to water are constructed from: the tops and bottom of plastic gasoline containers to hold water and a stick in the middle nailed to the container to carry it. Each one filled with water weight about under 7 kilos which is around 15 pounds. After two weeks my shoulders got huge! I work with pate’s family and we’ve all become close. Daouda, Moussa, Manjaay: without this them I wouldn’t have perfected my plant watering skills. A lot of things run through my head while I lug around 30 pounds water over and over. I think a lot about development. I think about how much more we could grow if pate had the an irrigation system instead of gas containers. And how agriculture is the base for development in not only Senegal but most of Africa.

Senegal is 70% rural, which means 70% are farmers but in Senegal’s Sahelian climate there is no water and only 2% of cultivators here can offered a pump. Pate has saved up large sums of his money in order to buy two and still he doesn’t get desired result! I have learned that most African governments promise subsidies for agriculture which in turn promises development only to vote win votes. This has continued a perpetual cycle of self-interest started  by the French during colonization and carried through independence and into today via African bureaucracy. Agricultural development in Africa has had a very stark history and it will take an end of self-interest and a long-term vision along with political action to develop it.

Pate is one of the first people to talk to me about the politics and realities of agriculture in Africa. Pate says, “ I have the vision and ambition to develop my farm but I don’t have the materials and finding markets are hard.” Another thing I admire about him is that he works hard and he is humble. He favorite saying is “petit par petit,” or little by little.

Recently, to explore the questions I’ve encountered working with Pate, I set up a meeting with USAID in Dakar and they said that anything I want to know I can ask and they want me to work with them to so it’s a win-win for everyone. I sent in my questions to them so it will be interesting to see what comes up that.

Mathew Davis