Quarterly Report 2: April – June 2019

The quarterly reports of the 4 Pillars follow the order of the planning as presented here

1. Establishment and stay in Faradje District.

For us, life in Lanza means hard work, investing in contacts with people, enjoying nature, exercising in patience and searching for a place in the ecclesiastical church.

We work hard, which we like very well. Every day we are doing practical agricultural work. Both on our own fields and on the field of others. It rains abundantly and all crops grow hard. On our own fields we multiply seed for the population, we grow rice and beans for research and we start vegetable gardens. On the fields of others we help families to apply the techniques of the 4 pillars.

Working on the fields of others is also an investment in contacts. Agriculture is family business. We learn how the family divides tasks, what men, women and children find important and how they see the future for themselves. By applying the 4 pillars, families are given a very new experience. Previously, agriculture was only to survive; now one begins to experience that he offers opportunities to escape from poverty. Especially for young people this is good news. They do not have to migrate to the cities or to the areas where minerals are found, which is risky and where many eventually end up in obscure circles. Rural life appears to offer opportunities that they had never seen before.

It’s in the middle of the rainy season. The river, the Kibali, flows at full power, the savannahs colors dark green. On the way to the fields we regularly see beautiful tropical birds and enjoy the many special flowers. We regularly make small trips, taking along our binoculars, to observe everything even better.

The construction of our cottage goes at slow pace. Making bricks is the biggest problem. The technique is not hard, but there is not always good monitoring of quality. It is also an organizational challenge: which groups are allowed in the morning, which in the afternoon, who makes sure that the bricks are stored well and dry, …..? We ourselves do not want to spend much time on it. But it turns out hard to find good leaders and organizers. People who can think ahead, can plan, motivate and keep records. There are plenty of people who can press earth into bricks, but the work often stops because of small issues. It requires a lot of patience. We keep looking for people who can supervise and organize the work.

We are members of the local evangelical church in Lanza. The living faith of the brothers and sisters inspires us over and over again, as well as their steadfast prayers. We don’t have any special tasks in the church yet. As missionaries, we are expected to decide ourselves what we are going to do.  But we want to consult with the leaders and assume responsibilities for tasks only if there is a strong need for it. We take the time to listen to God’s voice and for conversations with leadership.

2. Matching expectations with the population, local churches and local government.

More and more people understand the main thrust of our mission, but some misunderstandings are persistent.

We have described our mission in French and in Bangala. Both versions are signed by the highest leader of the Church society in Lanza.

More important than the written text is the oral communication. When we have an opportunity in public meetings, we do this ourselves. As for example recently at a large meeting of the Church department of Lanza. Most effective is the transfer of information through people who are working closely with us. These are our trainees, employees on our fields for seed production and coaches of the 4Pijler groups. It is these people who disseminate information about our mission, through the many local markets and through the extensive networks of family and ethnic group.

Sometimes we are confronted with misunderstandings. For instance, a number of people continue to think that we as white people have unlimited access to capital. We notice this when one is surprised when we indicate that we cannot pay expensive specialists for the construction of our house. Or when we buy the least luxury from all mopeds. Another persistent misunderstanding concerns our reluctance to spread the 4 pillars too soon. Leaders of the church and also the government ask us to hurry and want us to give the trainings in the entire district and even beyond. However, this is contrary to our approach of learning more and only then disseminating. We must therefore always point out that we need time to adapt the organisation and techniques of the 4 pillars to the local conditions of climate, soil and culture.

3. Participate in the Conference “Development Faradje”.

The Conference “Development Faradje” was an excellent opportunity to present the 4 pillar method at high levels. The participants were enthusiastic and the Conference approved the method.

In April was the annual “Conférence de Développement de Faradje”, the large conference for the development of Faradje District. At this conference we were given ample opportunity to present and explain the 4 pillar method. We used slides from different countries, such as Uganda, Burundi and of course Congo, where we had trained farmers and educators for years and with whom we are still in contact. In this way, we could demonstrate to what extent farmers are applying the method and also what the bottlenecks are which still need to be solved.

At the conference the highest leaders of the district were present, from both the church and the state. Also the agricultural service of the Government was represented as well as representatives of the environmental service. Two of the main questions and answers:

  1. When applying the 4 pillar method, people will be able to explore more land than before. Is that at the expense of the forests and savannas? Certainly not. Without the 4 pillars, families can only have one and a half hectare of land under cultivation. But because the soil is quickly depleting, they are forced to reclame new forest or savannah on a regular basis. After five years, an average family has cut down and burnt about 10 hectares of forest or savanna.  And yet the soil fertility of the first parcels has not been recovered and people continue with the exploitation of nature. The 4 pillar method allows a family to have three or four hectares under cultivation, whereby the fertility of the soils remains good. Therefore, people no longer need to slash and burn new plots. The method of the 4 pillars results in stable and sustainable agricultural systems, whereby nature is conserved.
  2. The 4 pillar method makes smart use of fertilizers. What does this mean? It involves organic fertilization plus a small dose of mineral fertilizer. For organic fertilization we use first and foremost green manures. These are plants sown between the standing crops with the special purpose of fertilizing the soil. Most green manures are nitrogen fixers. Furthermore, in the 4 pillar method the soil is not ploughed, so that the organic material in the soil breaks down less quickly and therefore nutrients are better available for the crops. This organic fertilization alone will ensure a considerable improvement of agriculture. To achieve really high yields, the application of fertilizer is also necessary. The kinds and dosages are determined precisely. We do this by using simple soil test material, and we train people to use them. When both organic and mineral fertilizers are well applied, agricultural production is robust, durable and resilient to climate change.

The Conference formally agreed to the 4 pillars. The Government expressed the wish to be involved in training and dissemination. They also agreed with our desire to take ample time for research and learning, before rolling out the 4 pillars method broadly.

4. Frequent visits of the poorest families.

Many visits to poor families were because of death or illness. De visits to participating families in the 4 pillar groups increased in frequency.

In recent months there have been many deaths. Especially young children were affected, by malaria, measles, or unclear causes. In cases of deaths there is, of course, a lot of grief. In the Congolese culture one shares this with as many people as possible. It is therefore always busy at funerals and in the period around. We also were always very welcome. We could share God’s word and pray with the relatives. For many people, funerals were an occasion to dedicate themselves again to God. For us, they were emotionally heavy, but we were also encouraged by the strong faith of our brothers and sisters.

Sickness in the families was another reason to visit people. It was distressing to note the extent to which the poorest families are particularly affected. They have not the means to buy adapted food for the sick, or to bring him or her to a health clinic. Healing processes are therefore slow or stagnating. Giving a little money for food and for a visit to the clinic often makes a big difference.

The most frequent were the visits to the families of the 4 pillar groups. The visits often started on the fields and ended up drinking tea at home. People take ample time for us, they appreciate our presence. Because we manage the regional language well, the communication runs smoothly. People also visit us more often and more easily. A sign that people start to know us and that they have confidence in us.

5. Prepare for training in the 4 pillars.

We grow crops on about three hectares. It is about the production of good seeds for the whole region, doing research and demonstrating and training on the 4 pillar method.

Already before the beginning of the rainy season we had started sowing and planting corn, cassava and beans. This was possible by using a small water pump and piping for irrigation. As a result, we were ahead of the local people regarding crop production. This meant that people had the opportunity to learn some basic techniques with us, which they could then apply right after the first rains on their own fields.

For the seed production we are still focusing on corn and cassava.These are two of the main crops here. The yields of cassava are low because of virus diseases. Those of maize are often depressed because of inbreeding and uncontrolled pollination. From Uganda we have introduced a good corn variety, which produces well and which people appreciate because of its taste. We found good cassava cuttings at 40 kilometers away, where cassava varieties grow that are free of the most dreaded viruses. On our own fields we train people in planting and maintaining virus free cassava and to keep the good corn variety pure. We hope to introduce, test and multiply more maize varieties soon, in order to improve and broaden the genetic basis of maize cultivation in the area. To accelerate the production of seed and reduce staff costs, we purchased a motorized brush cutter.

We monitor the fields for seed production as well as possible. Corn is a delicacy for the many monkeys nearby and the cassava is liked to be eaten by wild pigs. There are also termites and rodents that can cause a lot of damage.

For us, doing research is the most important thing. With the agricultural adviser of the 4 pillars we have compiled a list of research questions. We have already found good answers to a few questions, but others are still being investigated. One of the questions on which we have found an answer is the timing of the sowing of two green manures: Mucuna and Mimosa. For example: If the corn is just above the ankle, Mucuna can be sown. The green manure develops well, without suffocating the corn. Also for beans and cassava we have clarity as well, for both Mucuna and Mimosa. As far as rice is concerned, the best sowing time is not yet entirely clear.

It is difficult to measure the effect of the 4 pillar demonstrations. People obviously see the differences: the crops on the 4 pillar fields are much more robust than those of the average family and the expected yields are at least triple. But people identify themselves poorly, by definition, with what is happening on demonstration fields, especially when they are run by foreigners. We expect better effects of the fields of the participants of the 4 pillar groups. These are people belonging to their own ethnic group, who have the same means and background as everyone else.

6. Training on the 4 pillars.

The last quarter we focused on training trainers. We provided the training in practice, on our own fields and on the field of the trainers. The number of female trainers is disappointing.

Of the 24 people who were trained during the first quarter, eight will be eligible for the position of trainer or supervisor of 4 pillar groups. These are young and inspiring people with a passion for agricultural development. We had hoped for more candidates, but most of the women have withdrawn. They seem to be too busy with their young families. The position of supervisor of 4 pillar groups asks for them a too big investment in time and energy. However, women as supervisors are very important for the embedding of 4 pillars in the society. That is why we will be thinking about an approach that also allows them to coach groups as well.

The trainings concerned all four pillars: Not ploughing/digging, green manuring, various fertilizers and seed improvement. The trainings are informal and ad-hoc, depending on the phase of the crops and the opportunities that arise. We give most trainings on the fields of the group supervisors, where other group members are often present.

Apart from the techniques of the 4 pillars, we have trained the supervisors in the organization and effective supervision of 4 pillar groups. Which people do you invite? What is the ideal combination of the poorest and less poor? What does the administration look like and financial management? And then of course: How do you guide a group of peasant families, how do you motivate, how do you give feedback?

7. Guiding the poorest families in the 4 pillars.

The first six 4 pillar groups have started. Most groups are a mix of very poor and less poor families. The groups make good progress. There is also setback.

Immediately at the beginning of the quarter, the first two 4 pillar groups started. The supervisors are the people who are trained as trainer of trainers. The number of groups has now increased to six. The supervisors first of all train the group members in the first pillar: not plowing/digging. At the same time, improved maize seeds are used on a small scale.

The people are very eager to learn. Application of the first pillar does not directly lead to increased yields per square meter, but it does result in more revenue per hour of work. And that’s a big profit for people: more return from work. At the same time, the first pillar contributes to the conservation of the soil, so that the same plot can also be used in the future. Our experience has shown that the introduction of the first pillar does not bring about a great deal of problems. It is often a matter of time and good guidance.

We regularly visit the groups and individual group members. It is good to note that the majority of participants apply the pillar 1 techniques correctly and that people are very satisfied with the results. Here and there we give clues for improvement.

The organisation of the groups still requires a lot of attention. Some do not have a full governance body yet and in others the administration is not in order. We do not have time to ensure that everything is arranged to the fullest. That is why we often ask the best supervisors to assist other supervisors and to help organize their groups. One of the groups is supervised by us.

There are setbacks. For example, our own group has a president who has been sick in bed for three weeks. This means in the hierarchical culture of Congo that the whole group work almost stopped. In another group, both the president and the secretary were much absent due to funerals. The work in this group also suffered a lot. We must factor in this kind of setback; disease and mortality are part of the daily reality here and these threaten at all times the progress of work on the fields. On the other hand, we will try to make the group work slightly less dependent on the presence of the president. Something we will try to raise during upcoming group meetings.

8. Disseminating the 4 Pillars.

We started a second 4Pillars center.

Apart from Lanza we are currently active in the village of Bovi. This village is located 40 km away from us, more than an hour by car or motorbike. In March, the population of Bovi had already sent two young men who had been trained by us for two weeks. Back in their village, the two proceeded vigorously and have successfully applied some of the 4 pillar techniques. The results were very good and the population organized spontaneously in 4 pillar groups. These groups learn the techniques on the fields of the two men trained by us. We have recently been asked in a very formal way to regularly provide additional guidance and to facilitate the necessary materials. Eventually we went into this, especially because in Bovi there is a pastor of the church with very good organisational qualities. Through him we do most of the work. So far, the pastor is very active in the 4 pillar work in Bovi, so we can limit our visits to a minimum.

Invitations from elsewhere in the district of Faradje and beyond continue to come in, but we keep off. For the time being, doing research remains central to us.

9. Evaluations of the work.

Not yet applicable.

10. Presentation of the 4 pillars to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Not yet applicable.

11. Consultation with our constituencies on the future, concrete planning and action.

Apart from doing agricultural work, we are also focusing on agricultural research. With the advisor of the 4 pillars, we formulated our research questions and made an initial planning of the research activities. The questions concern both technical and organisational issues. They are available on request, via an email to remkevantil@gmail.com.

At the request of our support committee we have written a short document in which we explain the use of weed control and plant protection products within the 4 pillars. This document is also available via an email to remkevantil@gmail.com.

We are always open to questions and feedback. The aforementioned email is also available for this.