Quarterly Report 4

Mission Roelof and Remke van Til – Congo (DRC), Quaterly Report 4 October – December 2019

The quarterly reports of the 4Pillars follow the order of the planning as presented on www.4pillars.nl .

1.          Establishment and stay in Faradje District.

The central government soon informed us of a new regulation requiring all foreigners to purchase a ‘carte de résident’. The immigration authorities came to Lanza especially to deliver the news. We were skeptical at first since it is not uncommon or local officials to abuse their position to gain financially, but we had the news confirmed through various channels. So we started the procedure, which turns out to be an administrative nightmare. Every two years the ‘carte’ will need to be renewed if the law doesn’t change in that time to undo the regulation or come up with something new entirety.

We sent our passports through the church to the capital city, Kinshasa. The idea is to receive a 5-year visa and the church added all kinds of official documents to back our application. We pray and hope that we are granted the visa quickly and our passports are safely returned to us. In the meanwhile, we have a ‘permission de séjour’, which is valid for a month. This is well past its expiry date, making our stay technically illegal, but it shouldn’t be an issue as long as we do not want to cross the border.

Our mud house is being built quickly and I have invested more of my own time into this than I did previously. People in Lanza struggle to use a spirit level, so to get straight walls and windows I am having to keep a close eye. I have also taken on the planning and coordination but the practical building work is mostly carried out by local colleagues. We are thankful for the generous gifts we have received for house construction.

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

Local families, councils and church leaders have started to gain a good understanding of our mission. Thankfully, the requests for agricultural products like fertiliser or better seeds have reduced. People have accepted that we want to make these available on a small scale so groups can use them to gain practical experience. These groups are called 4Pillar groups, and we expect people to organise these by themselves. After thorough training, the 4Pillar groups will become eligible for the first credit phase. But we are also limiting the number of groups, for now, so we have time to focus on the many practical issues we are looking to investigate.

3.          Participate in the Conference “Development Faradje”.

Not applicable this quarter, although we did go to Bunia for the annual national leaders’ conference of the church. In November, a new board was elected and we took the opportunity to present and explain our mission to them.

4.          Frequent visits of the poorest families.

During our visits to the poorest families, we see great suffering. A heartbreaking example is of an elderly couple, part of a 4 Pillar group, who nearly lost their bag of rice. During the ripening process, they fell ill, and couldn’t protect their land against dogs and hungry birds. This gives us new information on what to incorporate into our plans. Evidently, we need to invest in better crop protection, as well as improving the ground and providing better seeds.

During the visits, we also use photos and videos to show the work. People enjoy watching these, particularly when they spot themselves or their friends and family members. After going through the images, people provide many comments about what went well and what could be improved. We bought an extra solar panel and battery so we can go and present our work at all times.

5.          Prepare for training in the 4 pillars.

The demo fields are in constant use with planting and harvesting. For maize, we created some smaller fields to produce basic seeds that are pest-free and genetically manipulated for the improvement of crop varieties. For banana and cassava crops, we only focus on cultivating pest-free seeds. The demand for improved seeds and plant material is huge. We will, therefore, invest more in this domain and educate local colleagues in the storage and processing of large quantities of seeds and cuttings. We are also expanding the capacity of our irrigation system and need to adjust the budget accordingly in conversation with our supporters.

In line with the growing interest in the 4 Pillars, we sourced new inputs, particularly back sprays and products for crop protection. These inputs will be made available for free for anyone attending our training program.

The green manure has produced a good amount of seeds. We have harvested two fields already and replanted, needless to say without tilling or use of weed killers. The green manure covered the ground nicely, denying weeds a chance to germinate and grow. We now pay close attention to how the crops develop. It is important to understand how much tilling is or isn’t needed and whether the crops grow as well without using week killers. This information will feed into our training material.

6. Training sessions on the 4 Pillars

Mentoring the 4 Pillar groups has been less intense than during the first three quarters. It was the end of the rainy season which meant little sewing or planting. We did visit the fields of several group members to gain information about the growth of crops after implementing the no-till technique. We learned about the preservation of labor and how the members evaluate the technique.

It is now crystal clear that the population within and around Lanza is fully convinced of the power of the first Pillar: No digging or plowing. Progressive farming families already use more than half of their fields in this way without any support from us. The poorest families, however, remain reliant on support in terms of credit and practical mentoring.

In November we visited Bovi, a 4 Pillar satellite hub, to deliver a workshop. It was well attended, about 180 participants made up of a diverse range of civilians and members of the council. Some people traveled as much as a whole day for it. The news of the 4 Pillars travels quickly through churches. People who have had their first experience with the techniques are enthusiastic advocates and share the news with anyone who will listen. During the workshop, we had a chance to explain the 4 Pillars in full and had excited contributions from people who are already familiar with the techniques. During the final portion of the workshop, we spent time planning the follow-up activities. This included questions about the role of the government agriculture information service in spreading the 4 Pillars, how could the required products be made available at the local market, how will more people become fully trained in the techniques and who will finance it all? Most questions remained unanswered and we gave everyone some homework to make plans to make a start at using the 4 Pillars. We will follow up with this in January 2020.

7.          Guiding the poorest families in the 4 Pillars.

Since there has been hardly any sewing during this quarter, we did a lot less mentoring than in previous quarters. We did, however, ass another element; the development of tailored tools. The 4 Pillar method requires much less heavy machinery than traditional agriculture methods. Since digging and plowing are no longer necessary, people will not need to carry heavy spades around. Instead, much lighter line pullers or plant sticks are sufficient. We spent some time, together with the 4 Pillar groups, to develop and test the new tools. We currently use metal, but once we have developed clear set of useful tools we will create wooden ones so anyone can produce a homemade version.

Our colleagues have been busy visiting and mentoring the poorest families within Lanza and out of Bovi, using motorcycles to get around. We have had a lot of requests for training and we did not want to have to wait until the next rainy season to deliver these.

8.          Disseminating the 4 Pillars.

After the workshop in Bovi, see above, the number of requests for practical mentoring increased significantly. We have had to put many of them on hold since we have so many outstanding research questions that take up most of our time. We did visit Bunia to explain the 4 Pillar method to the most senior church leadership team. We agreed with them to return in February 2020 to make a start at the practical mentoring. It works for us to create another 4 Pillar hub in Bunia since we often need to be there to meet with the government or the church leadership team. The latter expect us to provide free inputs such as back sprays and seeds. We agreed, but only for training use. Anyone who wants to implement the 4 Pillars on a large scare will have to pay for everything fully.

9.          Evaluation 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.

Aside from extensive farming, we also focus on research. In collaboration with the 4 Pillar technical advisor, we developed research questions and started making plans for the first experiments. The questions include technical and practical issues. These are available on request by emailing remkevantil@gmail.com. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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 above email is also available for this.