Waking not so bright but particularly early and continuing to pick shards of glass out of my clothes and empty sand out of my optical equipment (and everything else, I’ll spare the details!) I was keen to see the nearby peanut farms and also to see if Niki was as bleary eyed as I was!…she wasn’t! Niki was already up and ready to roll! I however needed a caffeine hit before I could mobilise anywhere! (and perhaps a slap!)
We proceeded to have breakfast with Rick the farm manager at West Africa Farms and whilst they do not grow peanuts themselves, as large scale vegetable producers they do work in the local community as facilitators for other agricultural products and projects, so they are an ideal contact to have. Additionally Rick and his wife are the best of hosts and were happy to accommodate us and feed us. I was very pleased of their hospitality but doubly pleased to see how keen they both are on the fantastic wildlife of the farm, including many species that breed in the UK but winter on there such as Turtle Doves and Yellow Wagtails.
We spent the day looking at various peanut farms, talking to processors and farmers and talking amongst ourselves on the threats to wildlife from farming operations and practical steps that could be put in place to turn that situation around. One of the major problems is the removal of trees leading to rapid desertification. This is a complex issue as communities rely upon the wood for charcoal for cooking and heating so a practical solution needs to be developed. Yet other issues became apparent, the availability of trees and their flowers throughout the dry season is vital for a host of bird species such as Sunbirds, Wood-Hoopoes, Bishops, Weavers and others whilst the shade that trees supply maybe vital for pigeons and doves like Turtle Doves as well as important roosting sites.
Our first assessment was that the issues for farm wildlife are likely to be similar and comparable as in those that have been found to be pivotal in the decline of our European farm wildlife. Although it maybe comparable it is not the same where here you may need seed food over the winter and nectar producing flowers for insects in the summer in the UK, in West Africa the availability of nectar producing flowers throughout, seeding grasses and fallow foraging areas are needed.
In a modernised agricultural approach these resources are being removed in favour of more land for production and less obstacles for cultivation. I always find it odd that improving or modernising agriculture often means trashing the fundamental resources that nature relies upon but also those that agriculture need too. However here at Fair to Nature and our #teampeanut take a differing view ensuring sufficient habitats and their resources are providing for nature and the wider environment is surely a more progressive and appropriate view of the future of agriculture?
Demonstrating what can go horribly wrong was ably demonstrated by driving through an area where all the trees had been removed and it looked what can be only described as a sun drenched moon! No wildlife to be seen here, so we moved swiftly through this alarming area. In fact the only feature we found was the massive hole we hit along the dusty track we went through which nearly caused poor old Niki and George to fly off the back of the pick-up! (and bruising to their behinds!)
As we develop farms to be Fair to Nature in West Africa to grow peanuts for your bird food and continue our work with producers in Europe on sunflowers, oats, wheat and others, you can be safe in the knowledge those sun-drenched moon like images of Africa or green concrete type fields you find in Europe are the complete opposite to Fair to Nature farms where nature is given more than just a chance to thrive. We did have another consideration however…..the now completely smashed up peanut mobile!!