agriculture

Transforming Lives and Agriculture- a Story from Mozambique

Out of the five farmers’ groups in Massingir West, Mozambique, the Chinhangane group was by far the least successful. Aside from one strong harvest in 2010, the group suffered through years of poor growth and broken relationships. Like the weeds that tangled their rows of overgrown crops, conflict and division choked any hope of improving their harvests or friendships.

In their August 2014 meeting, the Chinhangane group learned about the fields of other farmers’ associations in the area that consistently out-performed theirs. They compared the neat rows and flourishing fruits in the other groups’ fields with their own meager progress. After the meeting, their hope and confidence were shaken.

“We were really at the end of ourselves and realized only God can change hearts and attitudes,” said Dr. Pieter Ernst, who’s led World Relief’s health and development programs in Mozambique since 1995. Today, his work focuses on agriculture – a mainstay of the Mozambican economy. Farmers make up 80 percent of the country’s workforce. When fields aren’t producing, the consequences are severe for individual subsistence farmers who rely on their crops to eat and generate income.

In World Relief’s Mozambican farmers’ associations, group members study the Bible together as they learn sustainable agriculture techniques. “We discussed the goal of the church as we find it in Ephesians 4, to have all come to the maturity of Christ,” Dr. Ernst explained. But at the end of the August meeting, he was unsure that maturity, unity or peace would ever come to the group.

But as they reflected on Ephesians 4 that day, something changed in the hearts and minds of the Chinhangane members. Most of them attended church – they reasoned – so why didn’t their fruit, both in their spirits and in their fields, match their belief in Jesus?

Several months later, Dr. Ernst visited the group again. To his great surprise the fields at Chinhangane were nearly unrecognizable. Compared to the other farmers’ groups, he said, “Chinhangane’s field was the best of all, with almost no weeds, healthy tomato plants stacked up neatly in their rows…their attitude was also different.”

The growth of fruit in their fields reflected a deeper level of change that had at last taken place in their lives. “I praised the Lord in my heart knowing that this could only be his doing,” Dr. Ernst said. Since the Chinhangane group’s transformation, 90 percent of the members have already made enough profit to pay back the initial costs to grow this seasons’ crops.

Here and There

refugee crisis

After years of violent warfare, a fragile peace shrouds the beauty of the Democratic Republic of Congo – but this peace is often shattered as conflicts continue to flare up. Over 2 million Congolese women, men and children have been forced to flee across their country, and more than 400,000 have sought refuge in countries like the United States. Both here and there, World Relief is committed to walking with the Congolese people as they rebuild their lives alongside local churches. When fighting broke out in Christine’s village in eastern DR Congo, her family had no choice but to flee into an overcrowded camp. Here, food shortages threatened Christine and her five children every day. And when they finally returned home, hunger came with them. Everything they’d owned was gone.

But Christine’s hope began to grow when she joined a World Relief farmers’ association. Here, she was trained in the latest agricultural techniques and studied God’s word with other farmers. And after the sale of her first harvest, Christine’s profits changed her whole family: for the first time, they were able to eat three meals a day. Her two daughters attended school. Christine purchased a new roof to cover their home and saved up seeds for next season. After years of chaos, stability slowly returned to their lives.

“For all of these things, we praise God for his blessings,” Christine said.

Phenias and Jacques’ journey began much like Christine’s – violence forced them across the border into a refugee camp in Rwanda. Here, they raised their eight children, but the tent they lived in was not home. When they were resettled into the US by World Relief, Phenias and Jacques looked forward to living in a place of stability and opportunity – but they’d also face great difficulty. Once again, they’d leave home and adjust to a brand new language, culture and lifestyle.

After several years of living in a refugee camp and 35 hours of flights, volunteers from churches near and far welcomed this Congolese family in their own language. When they reached their new apartment, Phenias and Jacques got down on their knees and sang a song of praise to God. He had fulfilled his promises to them, and at last, they were safe. They joined a community of fellow Christians and refugees who would walk with them through the challenging transitions ahead. Now, Phenias and Jacques await the day when they can warmly welcome other refugees into their new homes.

In the US, DR Congo and beyond, World Relief works alongside the local church to provide trauma healing to survivors of war, prevent conflict, reconcile relationships and restore livelihoods. The love and justice of God have no borders – and that’s why we’re standing with the most vulnerable both here and there. To learn more about how you can welcome refugees from countries like the DR Congo, get in touch with one of our US offices.

Ag in Action: An Update from South Sudan

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Stephen Good, World Relief’s Agribusiness Senior Technical Advisor based in Mozambique, recently monitored some of our agricultural programs in South Sudan. The following are his impressions of World Relief’s sustainable development work with South Sudanese farmers. South Sudan is the youngest country in the world. Officially declaring independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, this infant republic is in the initial stages of forming a cohesive nation. But the road to unity has been violent and today marks one year of this new country being at war with itself. Beyond conflict, South Sudan also faces more common, natural challenges.

Western Equatoria State receives rain from April to December. The soils are relatively good, but are easily damaged by exposure to the hot sun and rains. Local farmers generally use a field for no more than two years before abandoning it to slash and burn a new area of forest. This is intensive and expensive work as extra hired labor is often required. Plus, it inflicts long-term damage on the environment.

Even though travel is a significant challenge in this region, World Relief is working with local farmers to ensure lasting development. Just to get to the project site takes an hour and a half on a propjet plane, followed by a 3 hour trip in a Landcruiser, or an 8-10 hour, bone-jarring automobile ride from Juba.

Where peace ensues in Western Equatoria State, opportunities abound everywhere you look.  World Relief’s agriculture program for food security, sponsored by Canadian Food Grains Bank, provides improved seed for maize and cassava to 600 farmers.  A significant focus is helping them to multiply these seeds for future use and learning how to protect these seeds from disease and pests. Equally important is the work in teaching improved conservation agriculture methods. Green manures and cover crops (legumes) provide a living source of mulch and nitrogen which is able to restore the soils quickly and sustainably. Using these practices could completely eliminate the destruction of the forests, improve yields, reduce labor and even allow farmers to improve marginal land to a strong productive state.

Farmers are also given opportunity to join World Relief’s Savings for Life program. Savings for Life trains people on forming and facilitating savings groups. Savings group members learn how to save and borrow in a format that doesn’t require a formal banking institution. Many of the farmers who are in savings groups have started using loans from the group to improve their situations by purchasing seed, hiring labor and expanding their growing areas. One farmer said, “If we do agriculture, we can produce crops, sell them and save more. If we do savings, we can have more money for farming and production.”

To learn more about World Relief's work toward sustainable peace in South Sudan, read our most recent statement from our advocacy experts at http://worldrelief.org/file/advocacy/south_sudan_statement.pdf.

Giving Thanks: From Rose in Kenya

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Kenya is a beautiful country known for its noteworthy economic growth, popular safaris and development in some urban areas. But in the midst of progress, this country of 38.8 million people also continues to experience several challenges, some of which include tensions between different groups of people and in too many extreme cases, aggressive violence. But counteracting this hostility is the local Church. Together with World Relief, local churches in Kenya have been empowering their neighbors with agricultural trainings and forming groups of farmers that look out for the best interests of the community. In an area that has seen too much violence, this unity creates much needed stability and security.

Rose is the treasurer of one such agricultural group in Kenya that meets weekly. They learn the latest farming practices, hone their skills in the field and are trained in good marketing techniques. This knowledge allows everyone in the group to not only grow crops that provide food and a sustainable income, but they’re also able to navigate the selling prices of goods, especially when corrupt businessmen try to take advantage.

“This program has brought me hope,” Rose said. “It has made me realize that I can do more and achieve more. I am grateful that I am a part of the World Relief Program.”

As we end our Giving Thanks series, let’s keep farmers like Rose in our prayers and thank God for the powerful reconciliation he’s bringing through people like her around the world.

To learn more about World Relief’s work, please visit worldrelief.org.

Celebrating World Food Day: Fighting Famine in South Sudan

As the tall maize grows in her fenced-in yard in South Sudan, Rebecca prepares cornmeal while her elderly mother and four youngest children play alongside.  Thankful for this harvest and the food it provides her large family, she contemplates what the next few months might bring, especially in light of the major food crisis in her country.

Rebecca from South Sudan_WFD

Rebecca is a farmer, trained by World Relief’s agricultural experts in crop diversification and resource management.  Proudly pointing to her crops, she explains that because the rains had been good, she expects a better crop than last year.  But this came at a hard price.  In January, Rebecca had seven cows, but the fighting from the country’s civil war closed off the markets, and the food supply was low from last season’s drought.  She’d sold a cow to get bags of maize as starter seeds, but as the months of fighting went on, more was needed.  As a widow and sole breadwinner for her family of 9, she had to risk the 16-hour walk once a month to trade a cow for food to feed her family.  February, March, April, May, and June dragged by and before she knew it, she had only one cow left.  Rebecca hoped her harvest would come quickly.

“And then the raindrops started,” Rebecca said.  The rains that nourished the crops would guarantee a good late-summer harvest.  At the same time, World Relief distributed a corn and soy bean blend to the most vulnerable in the area and will continue this monthly for the rest of the year to avert the predicted famine.

This harvest and the food supplies should feed Rebecca’s family until January 2015.  In a continued effort to fight the food shortage, World Relief will also distribute vegetable seeds (groundnuts, eggplant, sesame, tomatoes), which will provide a nutritional supplement and be an income generator during the winter months.  But with ongoing fighting and what the UN describes as the ‘worst food crisis in the world’, significant challenges remain for Rebecca, her family and millions of others in South Sudan.  Even though Rebecca isn’t sure what the outcome will be, her faith gives her hope, “Everything is in God’s hands,” she says.

That’s why World Relief stands with the people of South Sudan as we celebrate World Food Day and continue to empower many to fight famine on the frontlines.

A New Hope for Elube

  In the Mzimba District in Malawi, the local church is making a difference in its communities. One member, Elube Makwakwa, is part of the St. Joseph Support Group for those living with HIV/AIDS. In January, she lost her 45 year old son and is now taking care of her grandchildren. She has faced many challenges but shares her story of hope here:

I was unable to support myself, economically forced to live a reckless life. I was totally blank without knowing what to do with my life. Being divorced made it even harder for me to start taking on jobs culturally known to be men’s.

In 2006, I went for an HIV test after getting suspicious about my health, and I tested positive. This was a big blow to me and the family because we felt being found positive was as good as being dead. Life was miserable with no hope.

I used to think God was punishing me for my evil past. Honestly, I had no peace let alone the courage to stand before God.

It was late in 2009 when I attended a Positive Living Training which enlightened me and opened a new chapter in my life. We formed a support group where we encourage one another  and develop ways forward for our future.

Through World Relief, I have had opportunities to attend many training sessions on health, nutrition, micro-enterprise, agricultural production and marketing. They have helped me to stand on my own.

My life is purposeful; I grow crops such as tomatoes, maize and soya. I also raise pigs and do income savings. I make simple rations from indigenous vegetables, bananas and Irish potatoes. In addition, I have a back yard vegetable site for nutritional needs. World Relief gave me tomato plants. After selling the tomatoes, I used the money to buy fertilizer for crops and pigs, and now I am able to sustain production for a better livelihood and have been saving some of my money for future use.

Now, my life is an example to emulate by the community. I now believe that being HIV positive is not the end of life. I have survived for 11 years since I tested positive. I thought I would die soon but through Positive Living Training, I have lived a healthy life and am able to support my family. I also live a prayerful life because I know God has solutions to all my needs and problems. I spend time counseling my neighbors who are undergoing various challenges of life, including HIV/AIDS infected people. I admit that AIDS is real and can kill. It is my prayer that God will intervene to mitigate or eradicate it.

Changing the Reality in Haiti

By Jean-Baptiste Francois, Agriculture Manager, World Relief Haiti When I was a child, I had the opportunity to live in the rural area of Haiti with my uncle for two months every year during school vacations.  For two decades, I saw my uncle always laboring the soil with a rake, pickaxe, hoe, and a cow when necessary.  During that time, he was never able to buy a much-needed motorcycle to help him and his family because the income produced was not enough. 

He always talked about losses.  Many were the factors for the low income and the losses: lack of rain (because there wasn’t any irrigation system), pests and disease invading the plantation, among others.

Today, at World Relief’s Demonstration Farm in Christianville, we are producing vegetable seedlings (pepper and tomatoes) in one of the high-tunnels - similar to greenhouses, but made for warm climate, such as Haiti’s.  With this high-tunnel, the impact of pests and disease can be reduced and controlled.

mango trees flowering

Agriculturally speaking, plants are similar to human beings, as they are most vulnerable during their first 30 days of life, a period called the ‘nursing stage’, which includes seed germination and the emergence of a new plant.  It is important to provide maximum care in order have healthy plants ready to be transplanted.  Often, crop deficiencies and diseases noted in the field initiate during this nursing stage.

As agriculture specialists, it is easy for us to understand the importance of producing seedlings in a controlled area. Plants are easier to manage, transport and transplant, develop a healthier and fuller root system to sustain the plant and provide ample nutrition for a better harvest.

However, small-holder farmers in Haiti, accustomed to using traditional methods, do not adopt these practices and technologies quickly. They require a much greater investment in the short-term than farmers are able to afford.  We continue in our work even if more time is needed for the farmers to both understand the importance and have the ability to adopt appropriate technology in the rural areas. We know it will be more beneficial and profitable for them in the long-term.

tomato farm

We want the farmers to experience what can be accomplished by adopting appropriate technologies, so they can be as successful in agricultural production as farmers from other countries.

As Agriculture Manager for World Relief, I can now help small-holder farmers in Haiti, like my uncle, to change that reality of loss.