Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 37 – Sainshand Aimag Center, and What To Do When Two Bulls Are Charging

...I FOUND THE FOUNTAIN IN THE PICTURE,
BUT NOT THE DINOSAUR...


The day dawns bright and sunny, the stark desert light streaming through our window.

Breakfast is a fried egg on a fried slice of bread in the restaurant, and we are very happy to see that our translator has at last shown up!

Things are looking up, we catch up with Minde and review our plans for the trip, including the new plan to visit our friend The Guv.

We walk out to the main road and flag down a taxi – in Mongolia, anyone can decide to be a taxi and pick you up – and soon a car slows down, kicks out the old man sitting in the back seat, and offers to take us out to the co-operative.

THIS PIPE TAKES WATER FROM THE WELL
USING A PETROL-POWERED PUMP
TO IRRIGATE A POTATO CROP PLACED AT THE TOP OF THE HILL IN THE DISTANCE

This group is struggling more than any we’ve seen the entire trip; as we walk around the fields, Rick and Kat both wonder aloud if they’ve got any livestock, because there certainly will not be enough vegetable crops produced here to feed one family, let alone all the families of the co-op.

FLOOD IRRIGATION IN POTATO FIELDS:
SALT IN THE WATER TABLE IS LEFT BEHIND AS IT EVAPORATES,
EXACERBATING THE SALTING OF THE SOIL WITH EACH WATERING.
SUBTERRANEAN DRIP IRRIGATION IS MORE APPROPRIATE IN THESE CONDITIONS
TO MINIMIZE WATER LOSS TO EVAPORATION AND THE RESULTANT
COMPOUNDING SALTING EFFECT.

Salty soils, windblasted crops, a petrol pump hammering away loudly in the background …melon crops shriveling …a massively overengineered rock pyramid to elevate the water tank …which has water being pumped to potato crops being flood irrigated at the top of a hill …moth-eaten cabbages struggling under the relentless sun …a recently built root cellar sitting empty and unused, its clay floor soggy from water running off into the front door…

WILD RHUBARB GROWING AS A 'WEED'
IN THE SALTY POTATO CROP IRRIGATION CHANNELS

Meanwhile, wild onions and wild rhubarb grow throughout, thriving on neglect and almost taunting the farmers with their spontaneous growth.

SUCCESSFUL CHILI CROPS IN THE GREENHOUSE

It’s all a bit depressing, until we reach the greenhouses… and find that the group has achieved some real success with their tomato and cucumber crops. It is a relief for us all, and it is apparent that this co-operative has been figuring out for themselves that their input-output ratio is far better in these small, intensively managed spaces.

AN UNDERGROUND COOL ROOM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT...
...HMMM, WHAT OTHER FUNCTIONS CAN WE GET OUT OF THIS INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE?

To permaculture eyes, some solutions seem very obvious: for a permaculturist, it is almost painful to see an un-used resource in any system.

For example, having a root cellar sit un-used for 3 months /year would just be too painful to bear; instead, why not run a wire from the bank of solar panels near the water tank to the cellar for light and power, and live out the hot Gobi summer months in cool underground comfort, and utilise this resource throughout the year?

GREENHOUSE PRODUCTION FAR OUTWEIGHED
ACREAGE PRODUCTION AT THIS CO-OPERATIVE

Windbreaks, mulch, drip irrigation, crop stacking, and better greenhouse design will all improve production here, and we are beginning to question the wisdom of deciding to grow cabbages in an area where they are clearly not suited to.

The sheer amount of energy required to maintain this crop in the Gobi, let alone create conditions in which it can flourish, would simply be unsustainable. Perhaps a better place to start [and more efficient use of energy] would be to look at plants adapted to, and already growing in the region – such as the wild onions and rhubarb - then exploring their viability as food and cash crops.

It is much easier to work with nature than to fight against her.

After lunch and a mid-day siesta [seeking shelter from the Gobi wind and sun], we flag down another car/taxi to visit the food processing facility across town.

THE TWO BULLS APPROACH EACH OTHER OUTSIDE THE FOOD PROCESSING FACILITY

Minde
and I arrive in the car behind Rick, Kat and Oyuna, and the tensions which have been simmering since Minde’s failure to make the train ride down with us suddenly erupt.

We’ve been effectively hamstrung in our effectiveness for the last two days, and Rick’s frustration finally boils over.

Minde is a proud man himself, and does not appreciate the verbal lashing, so the Two Bulls butt at each other for a while [one threatens to leave the project to work where he might be better appreciated, while the other threatens to find a replacement translator], and we all clear the room while they sort it out.

Nothing violent, just two very strong, very smart men arguing loudly, until at last a resolution is found, and they emerge shyly to continue with the site visit.

Rule #1 of Conflict Resolution:
‘Never get in the way of Two Bulls charging.’
- COMMON SENSE -

Kat takes over with questions for our host, and we are shown the autoclaves, jar storage sheds, and brand-new vaccum packaging machines.

GOBI GOODIES

There is even a package of preserved wild onions in a chilli sauce, which has proven to be a popular seller in local markets. This may be the evidence we need to support the idea of growing local plants as cash crops in the Gobi.

Back at the hotel, the two men shake hands and bury the hatchet, laughing at the day’s events. Aid and Development is not easy work, and both men know the emotional toll it can take.

More importantly, both men know that the work to be done is far more important than emotional overload, or wounded pride.

Tomorrow we will catch the train to Zaimin Yyl to meet the Deputy Governor.




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