women

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

Workshops, Family and Friendships Improve Self Sufficiency

Alva was born and raised in the southwestern Guatemalan department of Jutiapa, but soon felt that the land there was not as suitable for growing crops as in other areas. She eventually moved her family to the department of Petén in the north where she purchased a small plot of fertile land.

There, one of her neighbors invited her to attend agricultural training led by FRB’s local partner APIDEC in its Guatemala Four Departments program. Although Alva was afraid at first that others wouldn’t let her join the program, they quickly accepted her. She eventually began to form new relationships, regularly attending workshops and learning alongside the other participants.

After a few years of living in Petén, her son married a woman named Sheyla who was from his mother’s hometown in Jutiapa. Sheyla was heartily welcomed by Alva and their new community. The two women now work their gardens side-by-side.

Both Alva and Sheyla say they’ve been encouraged by their friendship and how it has strengthened the bond between their families. The women have learned many new cultivation techniques, such as how to diversify their crops, make organic insecticides, construct their own seedbeds, and graft plants. The families are growing many varieties of crops on their plots and are now able to sell their produce. Their economic well-being has improved as a result of training and practice, and they saved enough money to start a fish hatchery, further diversifying their families’ diets. Alva and Sheyla have begun to teach their children how to grow food, and many people from their community come to see how they plant and grow produce on such a small plot of land.

Alva feels blessed to have been a part of APIDEC’s training and now teaches others in her community what she has learned.

Guatemala-Four Departments encompasses 25 communities, 750 households, and 4,500 individuals

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

Farmers Share Knowledge in Self-Help Groups

Participants in FRB’s Kenya-Ngong Intashat program who join Self-Help Groups (SHG) learn a variety of skills that help them improve their families’ lives.

For example, Esther’s SHG received training on growing vegetables in sacks as a first step in starting their kitchen gardens. She became interested in the workshop during her community’s Participatory Rural Appraisal exercise on how to cut household costs through producing her own food. She started out with one sack garden set up near her kitchen and now has two. Once she began harvesting vegetables she realized how much they improved her family’s nutrition, and hopes one day to have 10 sack gardens. As she put it, “My children no longer eat only ugali [a starchy porridge] with tea. We have a balanced diet.” She uses the money she saves at the market to cover other household expenses. Esther encourages group members whose sack gardens are at the early stages of development by sharing her experience and suggesting possible solutions to challenges that may arise.

Members of six SHGs attended a two-day training on conservation agriculture and establishing demo plots on their fields so they could share their learning with others in their communities. Attendees learned how to select seeds, apply both organic and inorganic fertilizers, plant, and maintain the demo plots. Three demo plots were immediately established, and the farmers have begun interacting and training other people from other communities and sharing their new ideas.

Some groups are receiving training in "table banking" (community savings and loan practices) to learn to be more self-sufficient and reduce their dependency on donors. When groups save money together at regular meetings, they amass enough capital to provide low-interest loans to members who are then able to start or maintain income-generating activities. One such endeavor was to make and sell liquid soap. Since people have to use soap daily, soap making is an excellent way for SHG members to earn money. One SHG held a workshop on making liquid soap, and was able to sell 80 liters of surplus soap at market.

Kenya-Ngong Intashat encompasses 10 communities, 4,500 households and 31,500 individuals

04/07/2017 | 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

Women’s Self-Help Group Looks with Hope Toward the Future

In December of 2015, twelve women from a village in Northeast India attended a meeting where FRB’s local partner NEICORD was mobilizing Self-Help Groups as part of its India-Umsning program. The women liked the idea of receiving training designed to help farm families achieve maximum productivity on their land. The concept of Self-Help Groups also appealed to them since they often had difficulty making ends meet, despite the hard work their families did as day laborers.

These women formed a Self-Help Group of their own, and since then have participated in a number of workshops on a wide range of topics, from farming to group management, bookkeeping and leadership. The new agriculture techniques they’ve learned include Sloping Agriculture Land Technology (SALT), System of Rice Intensification (SRI), kitchen gardens, composting, water harvesting and livestock rearing. All 12 members have now planted kitchen gardens, and their families enjoy the nutritional benefits of a wide variety of vegetables. A group member declared that, “The kitchen garden has increased our nutrition security in the family.” Most have either begun or will soon begin using SALT and SRI practices as well.

The women all take part in monthly lessons organized by NEICORD on health, hygiene and nutrition. They also started raising pigs, using their savings to buy piglets and rear them as a group income-generating activity.

They’re saving small but significant sums of money every month. Says one, “Now we have access to loans through the internal-lending aspect of our group.” They even opened a group account at a local bank where they deposit their savings after every meeting. The members make loans to each other when requests are approved by the group. These women are looking forward to a better future. They understand that lasting change takes time, and they are willing to work hard and wait patiently for the best results for their families.

India-Umsning encompasses 12 communities, 190 households, and 950 individuals

04/06/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Free to Serve

April 26, 2016 - On March 29, I was honored to be among the 250 people gathered at the Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa for “Women and Agriculture: The Road to Global Security”. Organized by the Foods Resource Bank, Oxfam America, and the World Food Prize Foundation, the event celebrated the critical leadership of women and the importance of ensuring human rights and eliminating hunger in order to achieve global peace and security.

Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst shared a particularly powerful source of inspiration. While in college, she had the opportunity, through a government exchange program, to work alongside peasant farmers on a collective farm in then communist Ukraine. After a full day of manual labor, there were no tractors available on the collective farm, the Ukrainians and Americans would eat supper together. These conversations often included questions about agriculture in the United States, but the Ukrainians were even more interested in what it was like to be free.

What is it like to be free?

05/10/2016 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More
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