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.

A new year in Lanza

We entered this year with fresh energy. Last year, we started the work of the 4 Pillars on a small scale in order to examine several uncertainties, together with the residents of Lanza. Some of those were; which green manure works best with which crop, what are the best time to sow and how would the poorest farmers pick up the new techniques. We now have the most important questions answered.

It is therefore time to gradually begin expanding more widely. We received requests in the towns of Faradje, Aba and Todro within the district of Faradje. These are all places with a large CECA church present and within 200km of Lanza. Since we’re in the dry season the roads are not too bad, so it is time to travel. Mid-January we made a tour through the above-named places. Apart from a problem with the breaks, which was solved, the journey was a great success.

It was very special to return to our previous hometown, Todro, after a year and meet with old friends. This time we were there for two nights and had more time to spend with people. We also had time to hike up the Todro mountain, which we did so many times when we lived here.

There was a lot of interest for our workshop in all three places. We were accompanied by two trainers in training: Mateso and Elisa. Each time we gave them a little more ownership over the presentations, providing feedback at the end. It was incredible how quickly they picked it up and how well they processed the feedback.

Every workshop concludes with a practical demonstration, followed by a planning meeting to determine groups and designated contacts for each group who Mateso and Elisa will follow up with. When the groups have been sufficiently trained, the contact will inform us, and Mateso and Elisa will return to the area to examine the group’s skills. If they pass, they can start to practise the first pillar: Sow without ploughing (no till).

The 4 Pillars are also spreading closer to home, in the adjacent council of Bovi which is 40 km away from us. There are already trained groups there who have received their first credit for crop protection at the start of the growth season. The credit has been paid back. They celebrated with a large party to which we were invited. The fact that groups of farmers can receive credit for this purpose and pay it off is ground-breaking and cause for hope that many more people can be supported in this way.

Yvonne from Bovi is very happy with the 4 Pillar method. We asked her to why she likes to practise the method. She is the breadwinner in a large family since her husband is often sick. She therefore organises the farm on her own and paying people to plough 1 hectare of land gets very expensive, very quickly. Consequently, she is left without enough income to sustain her family. With the new method she can easily manage 2 hectares on her own, whilst saving money on maintenance and sowing of her crops.

Mona is a practical instructor from the Lanza area who has already trained up two 4 Pillar groups. His first group received £120 credit for plant protection products which they paid off in full. Now his first group can receive the second credit and his second group is ready to receive the first credit. Mateso is in a similar situation, his first group repaid their first credit in form of rice, about 200kg.

This week we were invited to a village across the river. We travelled there by motorcycle and a canoe to cross the river.  The children there had never seen white people and we were received with a lot of interest and handshakes.

This is how our work spreads and we are so pleased it is happening so successfully. There are many more requests waiting for us, nearby and further afield. 

We are so thankful for your interest in our work and the way you express your support through emails, WhatsApp messages, financial donations and prayer. Your prayers have been very important, and we ask you to keep lifting our work up to God.

We thank God for:

Our health

Sufficient financial means for the 4 Pillar project

The spreading of the 4 Pillar method

The repayment from groups for their first credit

Our passports with visa’s which are waiting for us in Bunia!

Please pray for:

Wisdom in spreading the work

Enough and continuous devotion to the poorest families

Safety in all our travels