farmers

I Learn Best When I Try It Myself

World Renew explains that it takes hearing something several times before people will apply what they have learned, particularly for smallholder farmers who risk hunger if things do not go as planned.

When Ounteni and his wife, Hamsatou, finally put into practice what they’d heard about intercropping legumes like cowpeas with grains and feeding livestock rather than letting animals roam, they were astounded at the difference it made! Imagine their relief when they found that, despite the drought this year, their millet harvest was better than that of other people in their community who had not intercropped. The couple’s diet improved by combining cowpeas with the grain for a complete protein, and they had plenty of plant residue to store on their roof to provide fodder for the animals.

People generally let their animals roam around looking for food, but walking for kilometers every day to try to find something to eat often wore the animals out and, as a result, they did not gain much weight. Local Partner SEL has for several years been encouraging intercropping grains and legumes and penning animals, but it finally clicked for the couple when it sank in that animals would grow faster if they fenced them in and fed them.

So Ounteni and Hamsatou planted a legume called cowpea with their traditional millet. While those grew, they built a pen for their sheep and cows. The legumes added nitrogen to the soil and also protected the normally bare ground from the hot sun, retaining moisture. In addition to having enough food for themselves, Hamsatou proudly showed visitors how healthy the animals were now that she and her husband had changed their farming and animal husbandry practices.

Caption: Hamsatou proudly shows off her healthy livestock

West Africa 1 Program
Led by World Renew and Local Partner Showing Everyone Love (SEL)
64 communities, 2,500 households, 17,500 individuals

(Partner and participant names have been changed for security reasons)

03/28/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Native Seeds: The Once and Future Crops

Local partner Chethana recently held a village rally to convince more farm families to try native seeds and organic farming methods. There was a good turnout of local officials, farmers, seed-saver groups, women’s self-help groups, school children and Chethana staff. Chethana is promoting a return to traditional crops as a means of improving food security now and preserving plant diversity for future generations.

Traditional farmers see the native varieties and sustainable farming as their protection against crop failures and famine. Higher yields mean families have enough to eat and still save seed for the next crop. Returning to traditional legumes and cereal grains – in combination, they provide a complete protein – also improves nutrition and health. Intercropping them prevents erosion, enriches the soil, promotes bio-diversity, and controls weeds and pests.

More and more people are willing to experiment with low-cost methods that bring higher yields and reduce expenses. For years, area farmers have grown only rice. In recent years they’ve experienced low farm productivity, scarce rainfall, depleted groundwater, and water shortages, and they worry about crop failures and famine. Many are deeply in debt from poor returns on investment in high-cost chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

At the recent rally, successful “seed saving” farmer groups displayed native varieties of millet, okra, sorghum and a perennial legume called red gram. Observers noted with interest that these plants are acclimated to the dry conditions, require less water, and respond well to applications of organic compost.

Caption: Harvesting native okra

India South Program
Led by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Local Partner Chethana
30 communities, 500 households, 2,500 individuals

03/14/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

A-maize-ing Results: “My Family is Better off All Around”

At the close of this program in Timor Leste’s Viqueque region, Manuel says his family is better off all around. “We don’t have to buy as much in the market so it’s a saving for us. And, a few months ago, I sold some of my harvest and earned enough to cover my family’s basic needs. I also bought some equipment to improve and expand my planting area,” he says.

Another farmer, who only used to be able to grow enough for five months, says, “Nearly a year after harvest, we still have food.”

Manuel says he is getting greater yields of improved-quality maize and has learned to dry it and protect it from pests and mold by storing it in airtight containers like water bottles. Besides maize and rice, he plants a wider variety of foods – beans, taro root, cassava, papaya – for better nutrition.

According to the program’s final report, all of the farmers who took part in the training are using one or more of the environmentally-friendly farming techniques they learned.  At the start of the program, maize yielded around 1,036 pounds per hectare (2.5 acres). Everyone met or exceeded the target of 1,343 lbs./hectare, some harvesting as much as 2,320. And, by drying and storing maize in airtight containers – instead of hanging it in unprotected sheaves outdoors – their losses to mold and pests are minimal.

Local partner staff and extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture live and farm in the same villages as program participants, and will continue to model improved farming and storage techniques on their own land. The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to assist farmers with seed, training, moisture testing and new ideas.

Caption: Manuel’s great results from improved seed and environmentally-friendly farming

Timor Leste Viqueque Program
Led by Catholic Relief Services and Local Partner Fraterna
5 communities, 380 households, 3,268 individuals


03/02/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Men Get Cooking!

To promote growing and eating legumes, the Zimbabwe Mwenezi program's local partner SCORE recently held an entertaining and informative “Men Can Cook” competition among farmers. Since cooking is traditionally a women’s role, SCORE designed the competition to encourage men to participate in this household task.

Competing in teams, the men came up with their own recipes, prepared delicious meals that were judged by local officials, and then had the opportunity to taste each other’s creations and feed the women as well. One competitor, Mr. Tamuka, said, “Now that we know how to cook, men are becoming the best chefs in our households!  I want to make a meal for my in-laws some day.”

The competition was a milestone in SCORE’s mission to improve family nutrition and gender equity. More farmers are intercropping grains and legumes and feeling empowered by being able to eat better on locally-grown foods.  As another farmer, Mrs. Sibongile, put it, “My wealth is in the soil.”

The men and women farmers had previously received training in improving their soil and conserving moisture by planting legumes like lablab and pigeon pea. At workshops on meal prep and nutrition led by local home economics teachers, they learned that legumes combined with grains like rice or millet form a complete protein. Mr. Tamuka said, “Lablab is my favorite legume, and it is good for my health!”

Caption: “Men Can Cook”competitors show off their aprons and prizes

Zimbabwe Mwenezi Program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and Local Partner SCORE
2 Communities, 320 Households, 2,240 Individuals

03/01/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Growing Success: Land Donation to Benefit Women Farmers


More women will benefit from training through our Burkina Faso Namentenga program, thanks to a generous land donation. Community leaders agreed to donate 17 acres of communal land to develop into a training site. The site is upstream from a dam to facilitate irrigation, and will be divided into smaller parcels for the women to work and practice on. At least 120 women farmers will learn how to earn an income from market gardening.

To be more inclusive and ensure that each participant feels she is receiving the same benefits, all hands-on training must be done on a communal plot of land. It was critical to find a place everyone could agree on. After a lengthy process of meetings with the authorities of three communities, community-wide discussions, negotiations, and legal work, the original goal of 15 acres was met and exceeded. Community leaders also expressed willingness to participate in work planning. Such community buy-in promotes ownership of the entire process and creates a firm foundation for the women’s long-term success as market farmers.

The program follows Catholic Relief Services’ proven SMART Skills (Skills for Marketing and Rural Transformation) approach. SMART teaches basic skills all farmers need so that they can grow more food, market excess, and earn a sustainable income. By growing their own crops, the women will learn sound farming techniques to improve their soil, increase the quality of their produce, and manage their farms and money with good record keeping.

Photo caption: Women discuss seasonal planting schedules

Burkina Faso Namentenga Program
Led by Catholic Relief Services
73 communities, 2,620 households, 15,720 individuals

12/13/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Sylvia Builds Success Brick by Brick

Sylvia, a young farmer, entrepreneur, and participant in our Kenya Makueni program, is proud to be able to support her family. She’s proud, too, that she’s making it possible for other young people to earn an income. She employs up to four young people in her brickmaking business, each of whom earns about $3 a day.

And, thanks to support from our program, the youth farming group that Sylvia belongs to is flourishing. They went from nearly abandoning farming to generating income from their fields and greenhouse and starting small businesses.

When the group first tried to raise kale on their farm, their lack of technical know-how led to failure and frustration. Some members began moving to towns in search of employment, but many stayed on when offered practical training. They learned a number of sound conservation agricultural practices like drip irrigation, and received seeds, a greenhouse, and a quarter acre of land to use. The group planted tomatoes in the greenhouse and peppers in the field, and received regular advice from our local partner. They made enough not only to cover their expenses and set aside personal savings but to start a Village Savings and Lending Association (VSLA) group. The VSLA will help members find even more ways to earn an income.

Sylvia took out one of the first VSLA loans to start a brick-making business. She hired four young people to help her at a penny a brick, eventually selling 5,000 bricks at a nickel apiece, for a net profit of $170. She has since been able to repay her loan and expand her business. She looks forward to continued success both as a farmer and a business owner and employer.

Picture caption: "Soil ripping, a conservation ag practice

Kenya Makueni Program is Led by Lutheran World Relief
4 Communities, 244 households, 6,221 individuals

11/01/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Seeing is Believing

Land is scarce in Tan Son district in North Central Vietnam, and growing enough food to last throughout the year is a challenge. It is no wonder that farmers are hesitant to adjust their practices without proof that it will work. The Tan Son program is working to provide the needed proof, and farmers are slowly changing their practices. 

One of the major changes that is already being seen across the area is the use of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).  Farmers who are using it seem convinced that the wider spacing and use of a single seedling per planting station are making a difference and increasing their yields.  The main question most farmers still struggle with is about the amount and type of fertilizer they should use.

Fertilizer helps plants to grow well, so many farmers figure that more fertilizer is better, and use as much as they can afford.  The Tan Son program is encouraging farmers to experiment with three different approaches. The first is to use as much as the farmer can afford.  The second is the amount recommended by the local extension agent, applied at three different times during the growing season. The third is one application of slow-release fertilizer at a low dosage.  Each approach was modeled across several villages, allowing farmers to observe the resulting yields and decide for themselves which method works best.

Cuong experimented with a single application of slow-release fertilizer.  Using this method, she produced enough rice to last her family throughout the year. After seeing a 70% increase in her production with reduced fertilizer, she is enthusiastic about using this method again.

Uyen followed the advice of the district agriculture consultant and used three applications of fertilizer.  While she saw a 29% increase in production, she suspects it is from her switch to SRI, since she used the same fertilization method as before. She plans to experiment with several types of fertilizer during the next growing season to determine which works best.

Tim used both slow release fertilizer and compost.  Her yield has doubled thanks to the use of SRI.  One of her fields did not do well since fertilizer runoff from a neighbor’s overuse affected her field.  This helped her to conclude that it is very important not to overuse fertilizer.

A member of the Kim Thuong Commune Project Management Committee noted that the program has been instrumental in helping people learn to use fertilizer appropriately and enabling them to grow enough rice through SRI to meet their food security needs.

Vietnam Tan Son program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and
People's Committee of Tan Son District
6 Communities, 512 Households, 2,212 Individuals

09/18/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Mulching Means More Maize

Salome spends a lot less time on farm work because the mulching she does suppresses weeds and frees her from hoeing, a task that used to consume most of her time.  

Like most farmers in this dry region of Kenya, Salome’s maize yields were increasingly disappointing until she tried a number of techniques aimed at building soil fertility and retaining moisture.  This harvest, Salome’s production tripled in spite of a lack of rain.  She had improved her soil with such conservation agriculture practices as minimum tillage, applying manure as fertilizer, crop rotation, agroforestry, and using drought-tolerate varieties. But, for Salome, the technique she most appreciates is mulching. With less overall work, her harvest increased from one to four 220-pound bags of maize in the same small plot.

She and other farmers have also started practicing better post-harvest grain handling and storage, including drying maize on tarps in the sun to prevent the poisonous fungus aflatoxin. Many are storing their grain now in hermetically sealed bags that prevent moisture and pests without chemicals. Higher yields and reduced post-harvest losses mean more overall food for their families, more to sell, and more to plant the following year.

Participant farmers are also planting trees to produce fruit, fuel, wood, shade, and mulching materials. All these and other improved practices are taught at the program’s two hands-on Farmer Field Schools and disseminated through their communities by trained facilitators. When they see the great results that conservation farming yields, area farmers go on to put their new knowledge to work on their own farms.

Kenya Tigania encompasses 7 Communities, 200 Households, 1,000 Individuals
Led by World Renew and local partner ADS - Mt Kenya

09/14/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Warming Trend: Winter Crops Increase Family Food Security

Tam and Oanh are neighbors and close friends whose small fields are side by side. Every day, when one of the women is ready to work on her field, she calls to her friend and they walk to their plots together. Mixed into their conversations about work, family, weather and more are the sustainable farming techniques they’ve learned through FRB’s Vietnam Tan Son program.

They participated in a training course on planting crops that would perform well in the climate and soil conditions of the winter season when, after two harvests, farmers traditionally let their fields lay fallow. Tam and Oanh agreed that the practice wasted precious resources that could allow them to feed their families without having to work on someone else’s land for cash.

The farmers were encouraged to experiment with rotational cultivation and increase the variety and number of crops in order to get more food and prevent soil diseases. After training, some pilot households received seed. Tam and Oanh were not on the pilot list, but their interest was high enough that they each bought seeds and committed to following what they learned at the training.

Oanh chose to grow sweet potatoes. Tam chose corn. Last year, Tam and Oanh were able to harvest their fields three times. By adding winter crops, their families did not suffer a food shortage. Tam notes, “We’ll plant winter crops next year. Having corn in winter makes us feel warm in our stomachs.”

The Tan Son program will continue to use agricultural models to evaluate and promote the effectiveness of different crops and farming techniques. Training activities not only help people in difficult areas achieve sustainable food security, they promote good relationships within the community.

Vietnam Tan Son encompasses 6 communities, 512 households, and 2,212 individuals

05/08/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

A Small Business Started in Martha's Garden

My name is Martha Elena. I’ve always enjoyed having plants in my yard, and used to try to grow vegetables but without much success; they would wilt and not produce. I figured my soil wasn’t any good, or I just didn’t have a “green thumb.” I also got very discouraged when the animals would eat all my plants.

Then, a year ago, I participated in a workshop with ACJ about how to grow a vegetable garden. They showed us pictures of how folks like me had done it in other communities where they work. I agreed to give it another try, so the technical staff showed me how to prepare the earth for planting and how to use recycled materials like plastic bottles and other containers to plant in.

We constructed raised beds, out of the way of the animals. I was worried about how I would get enough water for my plants, but the ACJ staff assured me that they wouldn’t need as much in the containers. It was very satisfying for me to find that I could harvest lots of vegetables like onions, cucumber, beets, peppers and tomato after all. What’s more, our family can enjoy eating all our fresh produce knowing we aren’t consuming toxic chemicals, because we know what we put in our soil.

I’ve also learned how to keep my own seeds for planting. That helps me save money because I don’t need to buy seeds or fresh vegetables any more. And I’ve started a small business pickling vegetables from my garden to sell to local restaurants. My kids are learning right along with me, since they help me with our garden. They’ve learned about recycling at school, and they like to find ways to make good use of our plastic garbage.

I’m grateful to God for giving me strength and perseverance, and I hope to continue learning about how to grow healthier, tastier food in my garden.

FRB’s local partner, ACJ, has learned that women are motivated by concern for their children to learn to grow, prepare and eat healthy foods. Using creative planting containers like sacks, bottles, or raised beds makes it easy for them to look after their vegetables close to their homes. Not only do containers conserve more water than traditional open beds – especially important during the dry season – but placing them close to their homes means they don’t have to carry water very far, and can re-use wash water for their plants.

Nicaragua-Boaco encompasses 8 communities, 210 households, and 860 individuals

04/07/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More
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