Ohio State’s Engineers Without Borders Chapter works to improve agriculture in Gambia
January 2019 marked three years since the beginning of a five-year international agricultural project led by The Ohio State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Mechanical engineering students are part of a team working to aid Njau, a small village in the West African country of Gambia.
The project began when members of the Njau community reached out to Engineers Without Borders USA for assistance overcoming the poor agricultural conditions impeding the village’s farming. Food shortages caused by droughts are among the challenges faced by the community of 2000 people. Water leftover from the rainy season in September dries up halfway through the harvest in December, resulting in crop failure throughout the community gardening space.
EWB-OSU, in partnership with the Women’s Initiative The Gambia and the Njau Community Leadership, aims to implement new sustainable fencing and irrigation systems as a way to address this issue by improving farming conditions in Njau.
Assessment and implementation
Ohio State students have taken two trips to Gambia, an assessment trip in May 2016 and an implementation trip in August 2018.
The assessment trip allowed students to learn about the Njau community’s culture, meet local partners and begin formulating how to jointly address the community’s food shortage challenge.
Jared Brown, fourth-year mechanical engineering student and the organization’s current local projects lead, was a participant on the assessment trip. He said that working on this project with the group’s community partners in Njau “has left a lasting impact on me.”
According to Brown, his involvement with the project has both reinforced and enhanced his engineering education.
“Working with our technical mentors in-country taught me the on-the-ground engineering field work that is necessary to be successful in these types of projects,” he said. “Coming back to school with both the in-country experience and field experience allowed me to dive into project and mechanical engineering school work with an additional practical perspective.”
Over the next two years following the initial assessment, the organization began the rigorous process of gaining approval on their plans from the EWB-USA approval team. With that approval granted, EWB-OSU began planning for the next step: the implementation stage.
In early August 2018, a team of six students and two mentors traveled to Gambia to begin work in Njau. The team discussed strategy with local partners while also engaging with the locals and their culture.
Together, they began work on one of two main projects: improvements to the community garden’s fence. The students worked to temporarily fix the current wood and wire structure, in order to better keep livestock out of the garden. With those repairs in place, they began pouring and installing cement posts for a new fence. This stronger fence will protect crops from roaming goats, cows and donkeys during the dry season. In three days, the team finished several sets of posts, then set up the framework for well-established contractors tocontinue the work after the Ohio State team had left Gambia.
With the completion of the new fence, the engineering team has brought Njau a resource that was both highly desired and needed. It is only the first step in changing many lives.
That impact is not limited to Njau. This project benefits not only the Njau community, but also the Ohio State students as well, allowing them firsthand experience to foster their classroom education and grow.
"All my course work also gave me the confidence to do field engineering in The Gambia," said Richie Tran, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student and the organization's international lead. Tran participated in the organization's implementation trip. "It is because of these experiences that I felt confident and adaptable to any situation that EWB has put me in."
Current and future work
In 2019, as a part of the agricultural improvement project, EWB-OSU is working on three supporting projects along with the main project, according to Tran.
The three supporting projects are centered on creating infographic posters to educate the people of Njau. The Agricultural and Crop Projects aim to teach the community more about the nuances of their native Gambian crops while imparting knowledge on agricultural best practices. The Hygiene Project aims to reduce the spread of disease through education of hygienic best practices.
Meanwhile, the organization is currently in the design stage of their next main project, the Irrigation Project. They plan to create a new irrigation system in the community garden that will extend the growing season into the dry season and act as a buffer during droughts. With this system in place, they will be helping the people of Njau to live more sustainable and secure lives.
The work that has been and will be done by these students will continue to shape the lives of the Njau community long after Ohio State students have left Gambia. As Jared Brown said, this project will be “a stepping stone for their community long after my time at Ohio State.”
View a video from the 2018 Implementation Trip:
by Kari Fletcher, department communications intern