Quarterly report 6, April – June 2020

Mission Roelof and Remke van Til – Congo (DRC)

Quarterly report 6, April – June 2020

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

1. Establishment and residence in the Faradje district.

We enjoy our new home and the field around it. Everything is very basic, but the extra space allows us the ability to be on our own when we so desire.  Our toilet is a special feature, a compost toilet in a little shack built from eucalyptus wood, covered with a corrugated sheet. We empty the buckets in pits dug around our banana trees, which we cover up with soil. This is an efficient and hygienic fertilization method and our bananas thrive, although people around us still raise an eyebrow or two.

2. Alignment of expectations with the population, local churches and local government.

The Faradje district inspector has kept aloof so far. We have sufficiently explained and presented the 4 Pillars in Faradje, but he was always the great absentee. He is still a young high official and is primarily concerned with what people think of him in even higher echelons. Fortunately, we recently had the opportunity to speak to him extensively. He thawed visibly and gradually started to show interest in our work. We have even been able to make arrangements for 4 Pillar training for the inspector and his staff. This is important. An active and positive inspector involvement can give our work an important boost.

3. Participate in the conference “Development Faradje”.

The planned conference of April 14-18, has been cancelled due to corona measures. No new date has been set yet.

4. Regular visits to the poorest families.

The 4Pillar method does not offer a solution for all poor families. We are getting to know more and more poor families and it has become clear to us that a number of them hardly benefit from our approach. Some do not even attempt to apply the techniques of the 4 Pillars. Our work, therefore, has certain boundaries, which we are increasingly able to visualize. Fortunately, because knowing these limits protects both us and certain poor families from unrealistic expectations.

These are, for example, families whose husbands have a serious alcohol or drugs problem. Such a family has not been helped with a better method for agriculture. Maybe the family would earn more, but the man would spend all the extra money on alcohol or drugs. Instead of better farming, the family would benefit from pastoral counselling and professional help for the addict for the time being. These families are outside our immediate target group, but we keep in touch with some. We talk to family members including the husband and pray with them. How wonderful it would be if there were Christian professionals here who could devote themselves full time to prayer, therapy and counselling. It concerns large numbers of families.

Another example is families that have long survived through donations from neighbours, family and the Church. It is often families who have a serious and chronic illness. Or single elderly people who have no children or who have been abandoned by their children. These families do not depend on what their fields yield, but on good relationships within the local community. They are present at all social and church events and they spend a lot of time maintaining personal contacts. In the meantime, the weeds grow in the rice crop, but that is less important.

Fortunately, the 4Pillar method works for many other extremely poor families. We are surprised to see how studious young single mothers are and how well they have started to apply the 4Pillar methods. Some have already gained experience with the new techniques for two seasons and can train and guide others. Usually, this happens spontaneously, without us being involved. Families with parents who live with physical disabilities are also becoming more enthusiastic. They do everything to obtain the necessary agricultural inputs. Some sell a few chickens for this, others participate in credit groups.

5. Prepare for training in the 4 pillars.

The multiplication of good plant material is and remains an important topic. We have paid a lot of attention to cassava. Healthy cuttings are urgently needed. These are produced on the 4Pillar fields and on the fields of members of the 4Pillar groups. It is quite a difficult job for people. It comes down to good selection, continuous sterilization of tools and hygiene in cleaning planting and maintenance of the cuttings. For us, this means a lot of work in training and guidance. But it’s worth the effort. Cassava is very important for the food supply and also for income. A quarter of a hectare of healthy cassava is a major step forward for a family.

We will also continue to invest in improving corn seed. We have improved one variety and it is now grown on a large scale among the population. Some members of the 4Pillar groups produce seed for this. But they have not yet mastered all the details. The seed therefore still contains too many viruses. Sometimes the seed is not pure, because the plants are pollinated by plants of local varieties. That is why we continue to produce corn seed on the 4Pillar fields, as much as we can. It would be nice if the government took on this work. We hope to speak to the agricultural inspector soon about this.

The land for the 4Pillar fields is free. But the culture does oblige us to show our gratitude for this. This is done by giving appropriate gifts to the chief of the village and to the chiefs at higher levels. We gave two goats on behalf of the 4 Pillars to the chief of the village. He was very happy with it. The highest chief in the region, the “chef de chefferie” received inputs for agriculture. The chief asked us to join the board of the chefferie. We explained to him that this is not a good fit for our mission. We have, however, made ourselves available as independent advisers.

6. Provide training on the 4 pillars.

The 4Pillar workshops are continuing as planned. Ten local trainers, two of whom are women, visit villages and groups within a radius of over 150 kilometres. At the invitation of the local population, they train and guide those interested in the simplest techniques. Sometimes we are aware of the training, but very often we are not. The population organizes itself in groups, invites a trainer and buys the necessary inputs. In accordance with the national Covid:19 measures, the workshops are only delivered within small groups.

In regions where the 4Pillar method is still completely unknown, we are present at the first training sessions. For example, we were recently in a region where a neighbouring population has very recently settled. In their original area, the soil is completely exhausted. They sense new opportunities in Faradje district where there is still much-untouched nature. For the gift of one goat, the local chef allows the cutting down of the forest. Once such a group has established itself, the beautiful jungles are gone. The young men cut down all the trees without exception, after which everything is set on fire. It is total and irreversible destruction on a large scale. Fortunately, one of our employees contacted them, explaining the 4Pillars. Two 4Pillar groups have now been formed. These have made a solid start with the application of the first techniques. It is urgent because most people of this population group still continue the cutting down and burning of the jungle. There were only ten 4Pillar projects here.

7. Guiding the poorest families in the 4 pillars.

It rained a lot and regularly in the past quarter. The participants in the 4Pillar groups were actively preparing the fields, sowing and weeding. According to the first pillar, there is no ploughing or digging; one sows directly in dead or dying organic material. Some group members have started sowing green manures (Pillar 2). A larger number have stopped burning weeds and crop residues and leave all the organic material on the bottom (Pillar 3). We provide as much improved corn seed as possible and healthy cuttings of cassava (Pillar 4).

The many new groups require intensive supervision. The local trainers were quite busy with this. Some of them have been away from home regularly for several days to help groups in remote areas. For this they received financial compensation from the 4Pillar budget. The costs of transporting trainers gradually increase. To stay within the budget, we will require contributions from the population for this. We expect people will be prepared to do this, given the great interest in the 4 Pillars.

We currently estimate the total number of 4 Pillar groups at fifty. We do not know exactly because new groups are spontaneously added. All seven groups that received credit in the past year have paid off their debt. Due to this good development, we increased the number of credit groups to fourteen.

8. Spread the 4 pillars.

Originally, our mission was limited to Faradje District, Haut Uele Province. The previous quarter we started with a 4 Pillar centre in Bunia, in the neighbouring province of Ituri. Recently we have made contacts with representatives of the people and of the Church in the important border towns of Aru and Adi. The doors seem to be wide open in these places for the 4 Pillars.

An important step in the distribution of the 4 Pillars is the appointment of Ndane. Ndane is an evangelist, around sixty years old. Everyone knows him because of his distinct personality, his zeal for the gospel and his humour. He showed great interest in the earliest phases of our mission. Both for us personally and for our work. Since this term, he has been exempted from full-time service within the 4 Pillars by the Church. We are very happy with this important representative of both the Church and the people. From the 4Pillar budget, he does not receive a salary but does receive reimbursements for travel and communication. Ndane takes responsibility for the organization and supervision of many training sessions and travel. It is nice for the local trainers and for the 4Pillar groups when he is there. Ndane brings atmosphere and cheerfulness. With him, the Bible opens, and the gospel is preached.

9. Evaluations of the work.

Does not apply in this quarter.

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

This trimester does not apply.

11. Consult with our supporters about the future, concrete planning and action.

Besides doing executive agricultural work, we also focus on doing agricultural research. We formulated our research questions with the advisor of the 4Pillars and a plan was made for the research activities. The questions concern both technical and organizational issues. If you want to view these, you can request them by email to remkevantil@gmail.com. We would like to exchange ideas with you.

At the request of our home front team, we have written a short document in which we explain the use of weed control and plant protection products within the 4Pillars. This document is also available by email to remkevantil@gmail.com. We would also like to discuss this with you.

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

Quarterly report 5, January – March 2019

Mission Roelof and Remke van Til – Congo (DRC)

Quarterly report 5, January – March 2019

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

1. Establishment and residence in the Faradje district.

Our house is ready. Getting the floors, walls and ceilings right was a long process but at the end of March we could, to our relief, finally move in. The cottage has walls of wood and clay, a cement floor and a corrugated iron roof. The ceilings are made of plywood. It has a fairly large storage space, intended to store agricultural equipment, including stocks of highly qualified seed.

2. Alignment of expectations with the population, local churches and local government.

We notice that there are fewer and fewer questions about the way we carry out our mission. It is now well understood that we are not here for free handouts and very limited in our capacity. When groups of people who are further away want to receive training and guidance, they will have to organize themselves, buy their own materials and seek help from someone who has had sufficient training in the 4 Pillars. At the same time, it is known that people can be called upon to provide larger workshops and explain the 4 Pillars to government officials who have questions and check the quality of training and guidance.

3. Participate in the conference “Development Faradje”.

Not applicable this quarter. The next conference is scheduled from April 14-18. It is likely to be delayed due to Covid:19.

4. Regular visits to the poorest families.

Since the new rainy season has started, we have visited a number of fields of the poorest families that are part of one of the 4 Pillar groups in Lanza. We have supported these families in planning for the upcoming farming season with things like: how to manage the weeds, which crops to sow when, how to get good seed and how to fertilize the soil.

We were well aware of the limitations of this type of planning. During the previous rainy season it became clear that whole harvests can be lost because of a small setback. For example, physical limitations can lead to outright disasters. One family even lost the entire rice crop because the man and the woman, both very old people, were too sick to chase the birds during the ripening period. Another crop largely lost the harvest because it was impossible to weed in time due to illness.

Understandably, people prefer not to make ambitious plans. So the mindset it: ‘if you feel reasonably well, try preparing a field for sowing, if you succeed, look for someone to borrow or give you some seeds and then hope you have the power to weed and guard the field.’ It is known that the 4 Pillar method helps to improve production with less effort, but being reasonably healthy and fit remains a condition for success, a factor which can be highly uncertain. The people we visited the most in the past quarter therefore seek their assurance exclusively from God. Our method is welcome, but their hope is in the Lord alone.

5. Prepare for training in the 4 pillars.

We made additional investments in irrigation, workers and storage so that we could make full use of the dry season – December to February – for the production and storage of seed and green manures. A large part of the research could also continue and we could purchase agricultural inputs for the 4 Pillar groups.

We have now conducted more than a year of field research to ensure that the 4 Pillars optimally match the reality of the farming families. We have gained a lot of knowledge and insight. These are indispensable for the proper distribution of the 4 Pillars. Each pillar involves a number of new techniques that people must learn. This only works if they are presented and practised in a simple way. Full attention should be on matters that really matter, less important things should be left out. We are happy with the answers we have already received to quite a few research questions. This allows us to make better choices about what is and is not important. We are grateful for the support we received and receive from Klaas Plas, the agricultural advisor of the 4 Pillars. We also benefited from input from a colleague in plant breeding.

We have used our experiences and insights to adapt our presentations and training courses. Our material is now available in French and in Lingala.

6. Provide training on the 4 pillars.

In the past quarter, we again received a lot of requests to deliver training. At least ten places had spontaneously started setting up 4 Pillar groups, with the official invitation to come for support. In consultation with Church leaders, we have decided to accept five invitations. The choice of places was based on the central location and thus the possibilities to further spread the 4 Pillars from there. In total we made three visits to these five places. The first visit was for the general presentation, making contacts with local leaders and supervising the organization of the 4 Pillar groups. The second and third visits were for practical training.

A highlight was the presentation in Makoro, one of the chosen places, 55 km from Lanza. The invitation to us came from the Catholic Church. This church held a large seminar for their ecclesiastical pastors from a wide area. During this seminar, we were able to give a presentation about the 4 Pillars, in the central cathedral. People were very interested. The leadership of the Catholic Church expects a lot from the 4 Pillar method and actively promotes our work.

Due to the intensive training delivery and the many trips that were required for this, we have had relatively high costs for transport and personnel.

7. Guiding the poorest families in the 4 pillars.

At the beginning of the rainy season, mid-March, many of the 4 Pillar employees, spread across different 4 Pillar centres, were involved in guiding families in the application of the 4 Pillar techniques. The techniques of no longer ploughing and digging and the use of good seed were central.

The necessary agricultural inputs can be bought or received on credit. We purchased supplies for both destinations. Meanwhile, some of the inputs have actually been bought by people, with the money being returned to the 4 Pillar budget. The repayments of the credits are also reversed.

8. Spread the 4 pillars.

There are now 6 centres for the 4 Pillars: Lanza, Bovi, Todro, Aba, Faradje and Chadu. A depot has been established in Todro for the storage and sale of agricultural inputs. The administration of this is in the hands of the manager of the guesthouse of the church in Todro. This seems to be going well for the time being. The only concern is to regularly supply the depot with goods. The demand for 4 Pillar related inputs is enormous and it is difficult to supply enough material in time.

9. Evaluation of the work

See Appendix. NB. The evaluation led to a revision of the total 2019/20 budget. The total amount is 5,707 euros higher, The total budget is now 53,707 euros, instead of the original 48,000 euros. This budget increase is possible because more than the budgeted monthly contributions came in in 2019 and in the beginning of 2020.

In the first quarter of 2020, we had relatively large expenses. This is due to the intensive preparations for the rainy season of 2020, including many extra trips and the purchase of many materials and agricultural inputs. We expect spending to balance income in the coming quarters. In this way, the total revised budget will cover the expenditure.

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

Not applicable.

11. Consult with our supporters about the future, concrete planning and action.

Besides doing executive agricultural work, we also focus on doing agricultural research. We formulated our research questions with the advisor of the 4Pijlers and the initial plan was made of the research activities. The questions concern both technical and organizational issues. If you want to view these, you can request them by email to remkevantil@gmail.com. We would love to exchange ideas with you.

At the request of our home front team, we have written a short document explaining the use of weed control and plant protection products within the 4Pillars. This document is also available by email to remkevantil@gmail.com. We would also like to discuss this with you.

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

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.

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.