As local land becomes less and less able to support crops because of unsustainable farming practices, lack of rain, and land erosion the people of Mahadaga are farming fields much further away from their compounds than is desirable. This creates a need for local gardens for women who have responsibilities at home to allow them to also, provide food for their families.
ODD recently was offered a plot of land by some locals. Currently ODD is going through all the necessary steps in paying the land taxes and has clarified with the previous owners the land boundaries. New fencing has been installed around the 2.8 hectar plot. The fencing not only clarifies land boundaries, but more importantly protects the crops from grazing animals. This first year, Cassava also called Manioc (similar to a potato but long and cylindrical) is being planted. Cassava takes about thirteen months to mature and is harvested during the next sowing season. Because Cassava is a deeper root, ODD is planting a white bean over the top of the Cassava. These beans have a good leaf cover that spreads over the surface of the ground, providing shading and reducing the moisture loss of the soil. The beans also are nitrogen enriching to provide more fertile soil for the coming years.
In the future, the purpose of this land is to be divided up into small 25 by 25 meter garden plots for local women who do not have land to garden nearby their homes, allowing them opportunities to better provide for their families. Each garden will have its own water spigot, through branch lines from the Village Water System. There will also be a small gardening outpost that will sell tools and farming supplies including agricultural inputs (Bokashi, compost, etc.) and a farmers market where the produce can be sold. The vision is that this land would be a gardening complex for the surrounding community - providing local space for those with limited nearby access to land, sharing new techniques and resources, and revealing the love of God through caring for our neighbors.
It's Mid May, and there have been steady rains in Mahadaga since the end of April. This is unusual, as the rainy season does not usually start until June. Last year there was a time of early rain. The farmers planted their crops only to have a period of no rain follow shortly after, damaging the crops. So it is with caution that the farmers are trying to decide when to plant this year, and so far the rain is staying consistent.
We've had an accidental crop of rice this year in our demonstration field. The rice husk we used to cover the ground ended up planting the field with rice without anyone actually sowing the seeds! The results are such that even where the workers left a trail of rice husk from moving it, there rice is growing, within an otherwise empty field. ODD plans to continue looking in to this happy accident to see if it can be a reliable way to plant rice, and even more, a way to plant at harvest! (It can be difficult for farmers to be able to save money from harvest to buy fertilizer and seeds at planting time, so to plant during harvest season could be very beneficial.) Otherwise, if rice is not desired, there is also the option of still using it as a field cover and then letting pigs or other animals on the field to eat the rice, leaving natural fertilizer on the field as they clear it. It's a new idea to think over.
We also just started the Foundation For Farming training. (You can find out more about FFF on their website.) There are 5 churches participating this season and possibly a public high school as well. Our first church demonstration was this past Monday, May 19. There was rain over night and into the morning, so we had a late start. After everyone was assembled, Matt started by talking to group about the method. He spoke in French, Sabine translated to Gourmanchema, and Diamoadi came to learn, as he will hopefully take over the training seminars. All present sat under a tree as Matt asked them whether they thought there needed to be change or if the traditional method was working. They agreed the traditional way needed to be improved, and so he went on to explain the FFF method. Some topics of discussion were possible income potential, the story of the man who started FFF, how FFF protects against the encroaching desert, the tools they need, and the attitudes needed to succeed: To work remembering that the earth belongs to God and to work spiritually and faithfully, to take this seriously and to work on their fields professionally, and to keep in mind if they want to continue struggling or if they want to have things be different for them.
The number of participants varied depending on the time- as people joined in throughout- but at one point there were 24 men, 21 women, and about another equal portion of children who were also around. (Not including those from ODD)
After explaining FFF, there was a demonstration at the local church. Beside the church was a fenced-in plot of land where Matt showed the technique and then the participants tried it for themselves. They were shown 2 styles: one for crops like corn that need more space for the seed and another style for crops like beans which are planted closer together. First the ground was dug just where the seeds would go, then compost was added, the loose ground was placed back in, and then the seed was planted in those prepared pockets. Finally, stalks and other organic matter was placed on top to catch rain water and nourish the soil. On the other side, the same crops were planted with the traditional method to compare side by side during the season.
Some of the main differences between the traditional method and FFF are:
1. No-til method. In FFF, the idea is to plant in the same pocket over the years and to allow the ground to build and keep a supportive structure. Tilling destroys these natural structures.
2. Compost. Compost is added but only used in each pocket, so it is not wasted where the seeds are not. This allows for more efficient use of limited resources.
3. Planting underground. The traditional method here involves making alternating miniature hills and valleys (as shown in last photo). They plant in the soft dirt of the "mini hills". This creates water pathways which can wash away their seeds and also takes the valuable top soil with it. Over years, fields actually sink lower and lower down as their ground is washed away. In FFF, the soft soil is kept underground and remains in place.
4. Adding organic matter above. Typically, after harvest farmers clear all plant matter and burn their fields. Here, a good field is considered to be a clean, bare field. This helps discourage scorpions (for the sake of the laborers) but also destroys the ground's nourishment, leaving nutrient-poor soil.
It is our hope that FFF becomes a tool to not only practically help farmers and protect the land, but that it can be a way to help the local churches engage and serve their communities. These seminars are taught at the churches and it is their responsibility to invite their community. Please pray that the participants would take what they learned to heart and apply it well, that the church members would do their part to invite people, and that the good news of Christ would also find good soil in the hearts of the people who hear it.