April 27, 2009

We spent the weekend in Mpongwe, staying overnight with Pastor Jessy and his wife Loveness. There is no better way to get to know people than to live with them. This couple has been so helpful to us in learning to understand African culture.

Meeting with Mpongwe farmers - many of whom are women. The loans will be divided equally among men and women. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Meeting with Mpongwe farmers - many of whom are women. The loans will be divided equally among men and women. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Pastor Jessy was a manager on the second biggest farm in Africa for many years. He now operates a small farm of about 30 acres using one small tractor but planting by hand with his family. He has been to Brazil and Sweden, so he has seen some of the world. He often reminds us how important exposure is to knowledge.

The Mpongwe church district has had an agricultural loan with us for two years. Together we felt we were ready to take the next step: to give individual loans to farmers.

Robert in discussion of the loan details with the farmers, translated by Pastor Jessy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Robert in discussion of the loan details with the farmers, translated by Pastor Jessy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

We offered them an additional 20 million kwacha (about $5,000 Cdn), which will be divided among 10 churches. They will each give four members 500,000 kwacha for the coming farming season. This will enable them to buy fertilizer and seed for about one acre. It sounds like little, but for a hoe farmer it is quite a piece.

We tied the loan to conservation farming methods, stipulating that each loan recipient must cultivate one half acre using conservation methods, and one quarter of that must be in a crop other than corn.

We want to encourage them to adopt better methods of farming and include crop rotations with legumes. No one had a problem with this. Two women have just completed a one-week training seminar in conservation farming at Masaiti Farm Institute and four more members will go in August.

Another stipulation is that the loan is to be divided equally among men and women. Empowering women is important to the leaders, especially to Pastor Jessy. He is a model with his own family. He shares a joint bank account with his wife, and the business is registered in joint names — something almost unheard of in rural settings.

Village girls come to check out the Mzungu - (white) woman. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Village girls come to check out the Mzungu - (white) woman. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The meeting on Saturday with the leaders was an encouragement to us. Minutes were read from the last meeting, corrections came from the members and all took part in the discussion. Pastor Jessy has come far with these village farmers. We went with one idea in mind and came out with another due to the input of the members. That is healthy. We look forward to seeing how this project will go.

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