09 Jui. 2023
In West Africa, Emmanuel and Malo are sharing knowledge and seeds across the different Houses of Artemisia.
Emmanuel and Malo are two students from AgroSup Agricultural Institute in Montpellier, France. In September 2022, after a year of preparation, the two friends packed their bags and set off on a 9-month bike journey across West Africa, travelling from Artemisia House to Artemisia House. From Senegal to Liberia, our two adventurers sowed, planted and shared this promising plant as they went along!
The two young agronomists set off from Montpellier on their bikes, first to Sète, where they took a boat to Nador, Morocco, before getting back in the saddle and heading for Ouarzazate, 800 kilometres further south. Unfortunately, Malo’s knee gave out on the way making cycling impossible and the two friends continued their trip on foot. They realised later that this was a blessing in disguise: “Walking and taking public transport allowed us to be more in touch with people”. A strange twist of fate that would later make it easier for them to exchange with the various Artemisia Houses on their route. Their first stop was at an Artemisia House in Mauritania. Malo and Emmanuel spent a week at the Artemisia House in Tekane, a stone’s throw from the Senegalese border. After meeting the village leaders, they wasted no time organising an Artemisia harvest in the fields, a propagation workshop and a donation of plants to the local community. Although unfamiliar with local techniques, they were able to adapt easily. In-depth discussions with the members of this Artemisia House left their mark on the two young people: technical knowledge, camaraderie and smiles were exchanged during conversations in the field. Bilharzia is the main problem in the region. The Artemisia House in Tekane is very much on its own in the fight against the disease, given the enormous need for Artemisia in the area. Malo and Emmanuel continued their itinerary, mobilising people along the way, “Ultimately, it’s where people don’t yet know about this plant and its benefits that we feel the most useful”. Seed delivery on foot, from Senegal to Guinea Malo and Emmanuel arrived in Senegal in December and decided to stay for a month. Malo and Emmanuel presented the Maison de l’Artemisia network to different audiences. In Thiès, they met many people interested in their mission: agronomy students welcomed them to their school; members of the local development association ENDA contacted them, and were then put in touch with the Artemisia House in Thiès. Similarly, the inmates of the local prison were able to learn more about Artemisia and its use to improve their conditions of detention. Before their departure, the two young travellers were entrusted with precious Artemisia annua seeds for Artemisia Houses that they would meet further along their journey. On 11 January that the two students crossed the border into Guinea on foot and were welcomed by a bush clinic. The medical staff were very interested: “We set up a nursery with them which worked very well, they still send us photos of seedlings growing!” From Labé to Nzérékoré, major mobilisation in the Guinean Forests Artemisia mobilisation worked best in Labé, in northern Guinea: the young students brought together 6 NGOs working locally to found the Artemisia House in Labé. 40 people received training, and the seeds brought back from Senegal were successfully sown! Emmanuel was particularly struck by this experience. “To see people taking ownership of the plant, coming up with ideas among themselves, determining the role of each person involved in the Artemisia project was a real confidence booster”. After Labé, Malo and Emmanuel travelled to the Agroforestry School in Mamou, which was preparing to launch Artemisia production. After Conakry, Kindia and Dabola, where they trained volunteers, schoolchildren, local dignitaries and farmers, it was in Nzérékoré that the two students met with a remarkable level of mobilisation and interest: “After three hours of discussions between some sixty farmers, some great ideas emerged: creating a farmers’ group around Artemisia and buying a shared shredder!” This meeting was an example of a community taking ownership of Artemisia issues, according to Malo. Stopover in Daloa before cycling to Liberia The Artemisia House in Daloa, in central-western Côte d’Ivoire, is an association that sells Artemisia produced by local farmers. The organisation has had a problem selling its stock of herbal tea since the end of the COVID crisis. To boost sales and reconnect the Artemisia House with local residents, Malo and Emmanuel organised an outreach and discussion day at the market. The two students talked in particular with the Artemisia House in Daloa: “It’s interesting to be able to compare the techniques and methods of each House. As the trip goes on, these discussions teach us new things about Artemisia, and when we speak about these with other people we meet, it gives them new ideas!” Emmanuel and Malo are always curious and eager to learn from those who are willing to teach them, and they have refined their knowledge of Artemisia through conversations and the countries they have travelled through. After this successful trip to Côte d’Ivoire, Emmanuel and Malo are now preparing to leave for Liberia, with departure scheduled for 25 March. The only things they had been missing were their bikes! Yes, Malo and Emmanuel are now back in the saddle, riding the 300 kilometres to take them to Liberia. If their knees hold out, they will pedal all the way to Sierra Leone. The return trip to France in June will see Emmanuel and Malo retrace their route and stop by all of the Artemisia Houses they visited on their outward journey. The seedlings will have grown, been planted in the fields, and may even be ready for plant care. Their backpacks will be heavy with all the knowledge they have collected over the months when they take the ferry back to France…