01 February 2010

Doucement à doucement…

I’ve been taking it pretty easy at work the last few weeks and not getting involved in too many projects, but the one’s I’ve been working on are particularly fun. My goal last week was to build a beehive out of raffia “bamboo” and document the process with pictures so I can later create a howto guide. Raffia is a kind of palm that produces fronds with hard exterior coating and a very soft wood, similar to balsa wood, on the inside. One can cleave it very easily and easily whittle tacks to hold the pieces of bamboo together. It is an ideal construction material for poor farmers in developing countries because it requires almost no tools (I built the hive using just a machete, a pocketknife, and a hacksaw blade tensioned by a bent tree branch), very little expertise, and the fronds themselves are available for free in your local swamp. SDC11067On top of that, raffia is the source of palm wine at higher elevations. What a plant! Anyway, this is the hive body that I built. It’s a standard Kenya top-bar hive design that will fit thirty top bars. I need to contract out the construction of the top bars because one needs a table saw to cut each one to exactly 32mm and then cut a dado down the middle to put starter wax.  I started construction of a roof for the hive, but I’ve run into some engineering difficulties, and I’ll need to rethink my strategy before continuing that. I’ve also assembled a bee suit (complete for $14!), and I’m going to harvest honey from the two existing hives at APADER this week. I think I’m getting to one of them too late, though; it looks like they’re about to swarm because of lack of space in the hive.

Another exciting project that I’ve been working on with my friend and fellow PCV Alec last week is a survey of the experimental farm. Alec is a computer whiz who teaches IT at the university in Bangangté. He is currently writing a GIS program in Java that we’re going to use to manage the survey information. (GIS – Geographic Information Systems, organize data taken from GPS units and other sources, such as photographic satellites). It’s an incredibly complicated program, involving lots of calculus and such, and I’m very impressed with what he’s done in the last two months. Last Saturday, we walked around the perimeter of the APADER farm, taking GPS waypoints which Alec then imported into the computer. The goal of doing the survey is to better understand the topography and hydrology of the farm so that we can design our experiments better. I’ll post more updates on this and a map when we have a workable version.

Yesterday, I had a total blast climbing Mt. Batchingou with some other volunteers from the West. I can see the mountain from my house, and it is quite an imposing sight. Mount Batchingou is (I believe) the tallest mountain in my division at 6600 ft., and as one would expect there are great views to be had from the top, although the haze of the dry season obscured our view somewhat.SDC11093 It was a pretty easy hike that took about four hours round-trip.  The  change in the vegetation between the valley floor and the mountain is quite dramatic; In Batchingou and environs, the natural vegetation is a mixture of highland forest and grasslands, but on top of the mountain the vegetation is strictly scrubby grass, with bushes and trees appearing only occasionally in gullies. To the right is a picture of our ascent. Kareen, the volunteer who lives closest to the mountain, invited her counterpart along on the trip. He’s the one carrying the shotgun and wearing the Barack Obama shirt. He was very knowledgeable in medicinal plants of the region and other bits of natural history, and it was great to have him along. He didn’t get to hunt anything, though, because we made far too much noise. Here are some views from the top of the mountain. My camera never does pictures like this justice, but you’ll get the idea. I brought my binoculars, which I definitely don’t regret, because there were amazing things to be seen all around.




Left to right: Ben, Sequoria, Alec, me and Kareen

On our way down, we walked through a Bororo settlement. Mt. Batchingou and surrounding mountains are sparsely inhabited by the Bororo people, whom I believe are actually not nomadic here in the West, although they are in other environs with less rainfall. They are cattle herders, and the trails that we followed were cattle paths.  As I explained in a previous post, the Bororo will set fire to the grasslands to make the grasses sprout new green growth for their cattle. This was certainly the case on Mount Batchingou, as large swaths of the mountain had been recently burned. Much of the soil is so severely eroded, though, that very little forage will grow on it. Below is a picture of the secondary succession of ferns in a recently burned area; ferns like these dominate the vegetation here in areas of extremely poor soil fertility.


On our way down, we stopped through a Bororo settlement. Luckily, Kareen’s counterpart spoke Fulfulde, so we were able to communicate with them. Below is a little house on the prairie type settlement that I found particularly aesthetically pleasing. Anyway that’s all for now. I finally got my mail from Yaoundé after two months! Thanks everyone that’s been writing me! I’m busily writing responses.