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A Few Words About Madagascar

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Sometimes it's good to be cautious--and other times it's better to go with your gut.

People told us not to visit Madagascar, that political conflict made the country unsafe for tourists.

But we decided to go anyway because if we had listened to those voices, we'd never have gone to Nairobi, Kampala, or Kigali.

We are cautious when we travel, but aware that our best and most eye-opening experiences are places well off the beaten path.

And, Anantanrivo, Madagascar's capital city, is a place we fell in love with.

The narrow streets, alleyways, cobblestone roads, and historic buildings remind you, at times, of parts of Western Europe. At the same time the markets, the noise, the traffic, the energy, the goats and livestock walking along the highways, were all quintessentially African.

Our journey started as we did a field visit to RTM. RTM is an Italian NGO, working with farmers to provide alternatives to slash and burn agriculture--which is practiced in many rural areas as a way to provide nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately, the nutrients don't last more than a season or two, forcing farmers to burn more forest.

Afterwards we met with Xavier Rakotonjanahary, Rice Breeding Coordinator, National Center of Applied Research for Rural Development. Xavier works with rural rice farmers, helping develop different breeds of rice that will help reduce labor, fertilizer, and other inputs.

We spent Danielle's birthday trekking in the rainforest in search of lemurs in the national rainforest of Antanarivo. Lemurs are only found in Madagascar (with the exception of the island of Comoros) largely because their ancestors were displaced everywhere else due to monkeys and apes.

In Madagascar, 90 percent of the country's original forest has been destroyed and lemurs are presently endangered due to deforestation and hunting. Additionally several species of lemurs are extinct, especially the larger species. The smaller lemurs are nocturnal and all we could see was their amazing red eyes on a night trek. We also saw large chameleons, turtles and giant snails.

During the day we saw lemurs playing (they travel as families) and eating flowers, leaves and fruits. In our video below you will see them playing, and can listen to a brief explanation about lemurs from our tour guide. They are pretty incredible animals with deposable thumbs and long tails that they use to balance themselves between trees.

In summary, if you are considering a visit to Madagascar, go. You won't regret it!

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
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3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Botswana

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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.

As we talked to locals in Gaborone, Botswana's capital city, people were so proud to talk about the things they love about their country.

"We are free here, our country is so peaceful, you don't have to be afraid," said one.

"You can criticize the government, you have free speech, free elections," said another.

Botswana is indeed an incredible country.

Home to not only the most beautiful wildlife we've seen yet, including elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, and warthogs, Botswana is also where we've met some of the friendliest people. And it is one of the most vibrant political democracies we've seen so far, a nation proud of its peace and stability.

More than diamonds, people in Botswana consider water their most precious resource. This landlocked country's national flag is blue to symbolize the element and it even named it currency "pula" or "rain." Nearly everywhere you go in the country-including public toilets, sinks and showers-you see signs asking you to curb your consumption of water. These signs are tied to a massive national education and advertising campaign geared towards creating a general consciousness about the obligation as individuals to conserve water.

We visited a project helping to conserve another one of Botswana's precious resources: wildlife. The Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve teaches the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, while also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers-including elephant dung-the Reserve's Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.

We can learn a lot from Botswana on the importance of conservation. Here are two simple techniques they are using to curb consumption of energy and resources:

1. All electrical outlets-from the city to the countryside-come with an on/off switch. While this switch might sound simple, how many times have you seen these in the United States (instead of just having to unplug everything)? Televisions, alarm clocks, air conditioners, and other appliances are programmed to withstand these power shifts and they don't have to be reset when the power is turned back on.

2. We've all seen plastic bags on the side of the road or in trash bins- taking many lifetimes to biodegrade - and doing irrevocable damage to the environment. While a few U.S. cities - such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC have implemented a small fee - or even an altogether ban- for plastic bags, we were impressed that Botswana has already implemented a surprisingly high (by local stands) national fee for their use or purchase. As a result, people bring their own bags to the grocery store or use no bag at all. Check out this interesting page on plastic bags by the Worldwatch Institute.


Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3.Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Mozambique

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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.

We love the energy of Maputo. It is vibrant, entrepreneurial, positive, and alive. Though Mozambique is not without its problems, its capital city is clearly on the move, transforming itself and melding some of the best parts of its rich and diverse cultures.

We spent the first day visiting a workshop organized by Prolinnova, the Spanish NGO Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperación/Batá, and the National Farmers Union of Mozambique, UNAC. The workshop brought farmers together from across the country to share with each other the different innovations each farmer practices in her or his community. The farmers led the meeting, drove the discussion, and presented their own findings. It was really refreshing to hear from the people who know best what is working and what needs to be scaled-up across the country.

The next day we spent an awe-inspiring couple of hours with Dr. Rosa Costa at International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation in Mozambique. Newcastle disease, which can wipe out entire flocks of chickens and easily spread from farm to farm, is especially devastating for rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, however, thanks to the work of the Kyeema foundation, villages in Mozambique have access not only to vaccines, but also to locally trained community vaccinators (or para-vets) who can help spot and treat Newcastle and other poultry diseases before they spread.

We also visited with Madyo Couto who works under the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism to help manage the country's Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). These areas were initially established to help conserve and protect wildlife, but they're now evolving to include other uses of land that aren't specifically for conservation. In addition to linking the communities that live near or in conservation areas to the private sector to build lodges and other services for tourists, they're also helping farmers establish honey projects to generate income.

Finally we met with Jessica Milgroom, an American graduate student working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique. When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially "parked on top of 27,000 people," says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which reduced their access to food and farmland. Jessica's job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security. But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties, creating a more affordable and diverse set of crop options for local farmers.

After only five days in Maputo, we already plan to come back for another visit. Mozambique is so vast and incredible with loads of amazing projects to visit that our brief trip simply wasn't enough time.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3.Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Zimbabwe

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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.

The bus ride from Lusaka, Zambia to Harare, Zimbabwe lasted four hours longer than it should have (total trip was nearly 12 hours). We spent four hours at the border crossing, where everyone's belongings were examined, less for security and more to squeeze as much money as possible from undeclared goods. Baboons outnumbered travellers at the crossing and, having mastered the art of swiping food from unaware passengers, they seemed to want to be near the humans most afraid of them (ie. me).

We started our first day in Zimbabwe with a meeting with Raol DuToit, who has spent twenty years with the World Wildlife Fund and now works directly for rhino conversation. Raoul is an encyclopaedia on every major conservation issue relating to Southern Africa.

Following that meeting, we visited an Italian restaurant called Leonardo's to break bread with a true hero of ours: Wellington Chibebe, Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Despite having been jailed numerous times, badly beaten, and under constant surveillance-this brilliant, mild-mannered man spent a few hours passionately telling us about the struggle to bring change to his country, the heroic role the labor movement plays in the movement for democracy, and the spirit of people to overcome fear.

Afterwards we visited the editor of The Worker, Ben Madzimure. This newspaper, sponsored by ZCTU and supported by the Solidarity Center, is one of the five independent print media sources not controlled by the government, and one of its most important watchdogs.

Additionally, we were given the opportunity to visit two community projects coordinated by the informal workers association with President Beauty Mugijima and program coordinator Elijah Mutemeri.

The first project was a village where the union is working with the local community to build a school in an area where hundreds of people were forced to relocate during "Operation Restore Order." As part of a de-urbanization program under Mugabe, nearly 2 million workers were forcibly removed from their homes in cities, stripped of their belongings, and forced to live in rural areas, without any agriculture skills or training.

At the second project we visited we were greeted by children singing, clapping, and rushing to offer hugs and high fives. Most of these hundreds of kids lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and the union supported orphanage provides not only a place to go to learn and go to school, but also gives the children a family.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Zambia

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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.

Bugs. When I think of Zambia, I think of bugs.

It started when a mysterious little creature bit Dani on the side of the head. We spent hours monitoring the swelling as it inched closer and closer to her eye, applying cortisone, and praying that we wouldn't have to go to the clinic. Thankfully, Dani's head didn't explode and the bite went way.

Despite a mosquito net, our favorite bug repellent (Dani has a newfound love for chemicals), and donning clothes head to toe while we slept-the bugs were everywhere.

Bugs aside, Zambia was one of my favorite countries. There is not a lot of infrastructure, or DSL, or many tourist destinations to visit in Lusaka. And definitely not a lot of food options for the vegan/vegetarians (thank Vishna and Shakti that there was one Indian restaurant within walking distance). Yet, in this medium sized city were some of the nicest people we've met yet on our journey and where we had some of the most frank conversations with agricultural aid workers.

Jan Nijhoff, who sits on the advisory group of Nourishing the Planet, served as a terrific host. In only three short days we had an incredible set of meetings with CARE , Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa  (COMESA), Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), the World Food Program, USAID , and others. As part of our visit, Jan took some of the most experienced staff from various organizations to engage in a frank and open discussion on a wide range of topics that included: misuse of donor money, the role of the market and private sector in sustainable agriculture, developments in cell phone technologies to aid farmers, carbon trading systems, and so much more.

We also met with an environmental reporter named Benedict Tambo with the Zambian Daily Mail. Benedict lamented the fact that businesses were ordering fewer and fewer papers and a rising number of people impacted by the economic downturn were choosing food over their daily news. The troubles seemed all-too-familiar with the struggles facing the newspaper industry in the United States.

We also visited an organization created by a North Carolinian named Dale Lewis, whose life's work has been in testing methods to have the most impact possible on conservation and in reducing the pouching of wildlife. After years of trial and error, his data showed that lifting farmers from poverty through providing access to a market, offering training, and fair wages, was the single biggest factoring in protecting wildlife. The growth, size, and scope of his operation are mind-blowing; he employs hundreds of staff that worked with thousands of farmers.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:

1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Malawi

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Danielle Nierenberg is blogging everyday from across Africa for the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog. She is also writing with her partner Bernard Pollack at her personal blog: BorderJumpers.

In Malawi, we visited the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, a project supported by companies like the Body Shop, providing sanctuary space for rescued, confiscated, orphaned and injured wild animals of Malawi. While touring their facility we met Kambuk (which means "leopard" in Chichewa), who was soundly sleeping in his 2,500 sq meter backyard of fenced green landscape. He was rescued by the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre after poachers shattered his knee in Nyika National Park (making it impossible for him to ever return to the wild.) As we toured the facility nearly every animal we saw - from baboons to alligators - had a similar Cinderella story of overcoming insurmountable odds to survive and, in most cases, return back to the wild.

The Center is one of the leading organizations in Malawi pushing lawmakers to enforce and enact legislation in support of wildlife conservation and environmental protection. They also develop local partnerships and training programs with the farmers and communities surrounding national parks. The struggle between protecting wildlife and agriculture is becoming especially evident as drought, conflict, and hunger continue to affect sub-Saharan Africa.

Malawi may actually be best known for its so-called "Malawi Miracle." Five years ago the government decided to do something controversial-provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story. But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof Nordin who demonstrates permaculture techniques at him home with his wife, Stacia Nordin, makes it "kind of like Wonderbread," leaving it with just two or three nutrients.

Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor people foods grown by "bad" farmers. But these crops, being more nutritious and requiring less artificial fertilizer compared to hybrid varieties may hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi. Rather than focusing on just planting maize-a crop that is not native to Africa-the Nordins advise the farmers they work with that there is "no miracle plant, just plant them all."

And indigenous crops can be an important source of income for farmers. Rather than importing things like amaranth, sorghum, spices, tamarinds and other products from India, South Africa, and other countries, the Nordins are helping farmers find ways to market seeds, as well as value added products, from local resources. "A lot of solutions," he says, "are literally staring us in the face." And as I walked around seeing-and tasting- the various crops at the Nordins' home, it's obvious that maize is not Malawi's only miracle.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3.Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Rwanda

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By Borderjumpers.org, a blog by Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack

We've taken some long bus rides in Africa. We spent eight bumpy hours on a bus from Nairobi to Arusha and another eight from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam. The longest so far, though, has been from Kampala, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda.

Once we finally arrived, we quickly realized, that we've never traveled anywhere quite like Rwanda.

Fifteen years ago one of the largest modern genocides occurred here.

Our visit to the genocide memorial museum in Kigali, was a painful reminder to us that, as Jews, our shared global commitment of "never again" was just words. More than 1 million men, women, and children were senselessly murdered, not by strangers, but by their own government, their own neighbors, and in some cases, their own family members.

Today in Rwanda, it's clear that the country and communities are creating spaces for healing. Radio, print, and TV are filled with multi-ethnic dialogues about renewing and rebuilding Rwanda. Communities are holding public forums, counseling is offered, and dialogue is growing everywhere.

We also found a country bustling with energy as it rebuilds. Traveling in the countryside we saw many success stories, including the work of Heifer International Rwanda which is training farmers and increasing food security. "Heifer is helping a recovery process," explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer.

Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group-because they were giving farmers "very expensive cows," says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn't understand how the group could just give them away. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer's training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

We were very inspired as we met with several farmers all over the countryside, who were lifting themselves out of poverty using help provided to them by Heifer. Several of the farmers became teachers in their own communities, helping their neighbors learn new skills and techniques that they were benefiting from, and working with them to implement them.

Rwanda may be our most interesting and beautiful visit in Africa but the country also feels lost, still struggling to find itself, still deciding what direction it will go. Its wounds may never completely heal-especially when "never again" happened here such a short time ago.

If you enjoy our weekly diary we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

482 Words About Uganda

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We, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack (aka BorderJumpers), are traveling across the continent of Africa looking at innovations around alleviating hunger and poverty. We are writing a weekly diary whereby we share (in less than 500 words) observations from every country we visit.

People here are very laid back and the feeling is contagious! We managed to go three days without a cup of coffee didn't seem to mind.

You hear the words "Hakuna Matata" everywhere. Literally.

Internet services down nationwide all day? Hakuna Matata...

Flights cancelled? Hakuna Matata...

Two hours in wall-to-wall rush hour traffic in Kampala? Hakuna Matata...

A Few Words About Tanzania

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania.

Actually, we never even made it to Kigoma. Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, had just suspended all flights for the next several weeks and the other airline was all booked.

No worries, we headed to Zanzibar instead....

Everywhere you look in Zanzibar there's a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and spices. One of the "Spice Islands"-a group of islands that supplied cloves, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and others to Europe in the 17th Century, Zanzibar still grows those spices in much the same way they were then-organically, without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, in response to consumer demand.

Later in our trip, back in Dar es Salaam, we met with Pancras Ngalason, Executive Director of Jane Goodall Center (JGI) in Tanzania, who explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. In the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn't start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn't work. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we "thought beyond planting trees" and more about community-based conservation.

JGI started working with communities to develop government mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. They like to say that their products are "Good for All"-good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.

In Arusha, Tanzania, we met with the World Vegetable Center where researchers and farmers are working together to improve crop diversity, nutrition, and livelihoods through vegetables."None of the staple crops," says Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center's Regional Director for Africa, speaking of historically popular crops used to combat hunger like rice, wheat, maize, and cassava, "would be palatable without vegetables." And vegetables, he says, "are less risk prone" than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods of time. Additionally, according to the Center's website, vegetable production generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises.

Though their air travel leaves something to be desired, like many places in Africa, Tanzania is a country rich in fresh vegetables, fruit, and innovations that help nourish people and the planet.

If you enjoy our weekly diary we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

A Few Words About Kenya

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We are super excited to be posting on Blue Virginia!

We, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack (aka BorderJumpers), are traveling across the continent of Africa looking at innovations around alleviating hunger and poverty. We are going to bring you a weekly diary whereby we share (in less than 500 words) observations from every country we visit. This week we start with Kenya!

Our entry begins in Maralal, Kenya, a place mostly known for its wildlife. And as we made the seven hour, bumpy trek from Nairobi-half of it on unpaved roads-we saw our fair share of water buffaloes, rhinos, impala, and giraffes. But we weren't here to go on safari. We were here to meet with a group of pastoralists-livestock keepers who had agreed to meet with us and talk about the challenges they face.

Although most of these people don't have access to cable TV or even radios, they do have a good sense of the challenges their fellow livestock keepers face all over Kenya: climate change, conflict over land and water access, and a lack of support from policy makers and leaders. They also understand that the world is changing. They know that many of their children won't live the same kind of lives that their ancestors lived for centuries. Many will choose to go to the cities, but they said if their children become "landed," they want them to be able to maintain links to the pastoralist way of life.

During our visit to the 'big city," Nairobi, we met a "self help" group of women farmers in Kibera-likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa with a population anywhere between 700,00 and one million-who are raising vegetables on what they call "vertical farms." But instead of skyscrapers, these farms are in tall sacks, filled with dirt, and the women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and planting seeds. More than 1,000 of their neighbors are growing food in a similar way. During 2007 and 2008 when there was conflict in the slums of Nairobi and no food could come into these areas, most residents didn't go without because so many of them were growing crops-in sacks, vacant land, or elsewhere.

In Kerecho, Kenya we met with the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) and the Solidarity Center-an organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO that provides resources to hire organizers, conduct trainings, and offer communications and transportation support. The union, despite having more than 200,000 members in the agriculture sector, has still lost density over the last two decades. Companies are trying whatever they can to cut costs, including implementing child labor, and mechanizing the plucking industry.

But the union, like all of the people and organizations we met in Kenya, is demonstrating its resiliency and fighting back. Despite the challenges it faces, over the past couple months it has grown, with 6,000 tea workers joining, thanks to organizing efforts supported by the Solidarity Center.

If you enjoy our weekly diary we invite you to get involved:
1. Comment on our posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you.
2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here.
3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.

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