March 16, 2009

It could have been a farm seminar in Canada, if the faces were white, and the venue more sophisticated — farmers in animated discussion, sharing ideas and thoughts.

Jessy explained business thinking to a young farmer. David went through the conservation farming handbook with a group.

Deep in conversation over the conservation handbook at the workshop. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Deep in conversation over the conservation handbook at the workshop. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

This was new and exciting stuff for these small-scale African farmers. We were in Mpongwe again, where our farmers have 13 corn plots we subsidize. We toured the plots on Friday and held a workshop on Saturday.

Robert went through the different fields, noted planting and weeding times and methods, and gave his observations. Crop rotation came up and again the comment by some: “But maize (corn) is our staple food.” Not only that, but it is a sure cash crop. Sure, if you can grow it.

This year the farmers are much more open to the idea of rotation with soybeans or other legumes. They know corn is a short term solution. Having seen positive results on other farms, we strongly promoted conservation farming. We encouraged them to send four farmers to a one week training seminar in August.

I’m still excited about Musangashi B village. A year ago, when we visited their field, their mud church had collapsed. This time a new church was up, with a shiny steel roof. All the work was done by this small group, except for the roof sheets, which were sponsored by a Swedish non-government organization.

And the change in the little village beside it! Most of the inhabitants are young orphans who have lost their parents. All around the little huts were neat hedges of green bushes; the yards swept and clean. When I asked Pastor Jessy what made the difference, he said “They are proud of their new roof.”

I hadn’t realized how a fine building could boost the morale of a whole village. They are proud because they’ve done it themselves.

These are the people we work with, Mpongwe-area village people. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

These are the people we work with, Mpongwe-area village people. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

This group fared poorly with their corn last year, when uneven crops almost drowned in a swampy field. This time, strong deep green corn stalks greeted us, with the promise of a good harvest. Wow. They want to double their field size next year.

We are aware that real change takes time, especially when tradition is so deep seated. That’s why we are so excited to see it taking shape. Each year we see movement forward.

Most of the farmers at the workshop were elders of the different church groups with a corn plot. We realized later that our target group really should be younger. This is something we will have to discuss with Pastor Jessy.

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