Mission Roelof and Remke van Til – Congo (DRC)
October – December 2020
1. Establishment and residence in the Faradje district.
In January 2019 we settled in Lanza, district Faradje where we live among the farming community. It is a safe area and we have reasonably good access to shops with agricultural supplies. Every day we feel grateful for having chosen Lanza. We have good relationships with those around us and with the leaders of the community and the church. From Lanza, different population groups can easily be reached, each with its own culture and language. We also enjoy being in nature and having plenty of space.
We speak the regional language, Lingala, almost fluently. There are no language barriers to our work and participation in church life. We do not, however, speak the tribal language, Dhongoko. It is very difficult to learn and spoken exclusively by the Dhongo people.
The first year we lived in a kind of church barn. Now, we live in a house constructed of wood and clay whilst we are in the process of building a modest stone house as a more permanent home. We have solar panels, which gives us light and charging points for phones and computers. We extract drinking water from our own dug well and we cook and bake on charcoal. Most of the time we feel healthy and full of energy; life is good.
2. Alignment of expectations with the population, local churches and local government.
We work within the remit and at the invitation of the CECA, the largest evangelical denomination in northeast Congo. The Church proclaims the gospel of salvation through Christ with word and deed. The 4 Pillar programme is an important means for CECA to reach the population, both Christians and non-Christians. We work closely with church leaders at national and local levels. Bible reading and prayer are paramount when we gather with groups of farming families. We and local church leaders regularly take the opportunity to call on people to give their lives to Christ and follow Him. More than 95% of the population is officially Christian, of which just over half are Catholic. However, many live in fear of ancestral spirits and have not yet experienced the liberation by Christ personally.
Along with the national leaders of the Church, we have written down our tasks and approach. There has been little confusion about this and we feel supported and encouraged by the leaders. At a local level, church leaders had to get used to the fact that we are not your average missionaries. The expectation was that we would act as supervisors or at least teachers of the local pastors. At first, they thought it strange how we lived and worked as ordinary church members, with a mission for evangelism and agriculture. But now they like it.
We have also had virtually no issues with the community in the alignment of expectations. We have been clear from the beginning: materials used for demonstrations are free but for all other purposes they must be paid in full. There has never been any discussion about this. Farming families who want to apply the 4 Pillar method know that they must pay for the materials. They either save up for this or take through a credit system.
There are many government officials in and around Lanza but the gap between the government and the population is very large. Delivering agricultural training to government officials therefore has little effect on the population. We work on building relationship with the government, but do not invest more time and energy into it than is strictly necessary.
3. Participate in the conference “Development Faradje”.
The annual conference “Development Faradje” was held only once, in April 2019. This conference was important to us and for the 4 Pillars. We had ample opportunity to present our approach and plans at the high district level and to answer questions. Hence, we won the support of representatives from most of the public institutions. Due to COVID:19, the conference did not go ahead in 2020.
4. Regular visits to the poorest families.
We spend a lot of time with the poorest farming families. The 4 Pillar method exists primarily for them. But are they willing and able to participate? Is the method well enough adapted to their circumstances? Which credit system works best for them? We are slowly gaining more answers to these kinds of questions and are learning to think more and more through their perspective and reality. In Congo, development happens through relationships and this principle certainly applies to the poorest farming families. First and foremost, people want to feel loved, valued and respected. This will form the foundation for new ideas and progress. We will therefore continue to invest in these relationships.
We consistently prioritize the importance and participation from the poorest families in training courses and in the 4 Pillar groups and expect our employees to do the same. By now it is well known everywhere: the 4 Pillar programme is for every farmer, but the poorest are the priority.
5. Prepare for training in the 4 Pillars.
In 2019 and 2020 the 4 Pillars was going through its start-up phase and required a lot of technical and social research. We needed answers on questions about the local conditions of the soil and the climate. When should you sow which green manure for corn or beans? What are the effects of different green manure on the development of weeds? How do crops react, in the short and long term, to the technique of sowing without ploughing? Which method is most practical for sterilizing the blades with which you cut cassava plants? Etc. In Lanza we have several hectares of land at our disposal which we used for extensive experimentation and observation through which we have found answers to the most important questions.
Equally important are the social questions. Can the poorest families participate in farming groups? What is the optimal arrangement of these groups? What educational material is suitable for people who are illiterate? We have also experimented a lot in this area. In the end, we opted for a rigid information programme, whereby each family goes through a set learning journey. It begins with some theory, including pictures of 4 Pillar techniques and its results followed by substantial practice. Gradually, the families expand their crop area until they farm an acre using the 4 Pillar method.
The families are arranged in groups which we call the 4 Pillar groups. They visit each other’s fields and learn to apply the new techniques together. Everything is ready for the roll-out phase which is planned for 2021 – 2023. Our goal is to support a thousand farming families, gathered in 4 Pillar groups of 10 – 20 families. The poorest families are included in this. We want to guide the groups until all participating families apply the 4 Pillar method correctly and consistently by the end of 2023. They will encourage and inspire others to do the same. The increase in yield and the substantial reduction in labour will be the method’s natural advocate. Eventually, people will also see the value of saving forests and biodiversity.
6. Provide training on the 4 Pillars.
Immediately after arriving in Lanza, in January 2019, we started training the representatives of the farming community. We began locally, Lanza and in neighboring villages and trained in both theory and practice. Quickly we had about 20 farming families who could start implementing the first pillar: sow without ploughing. People started on a small scale to test how it well it worked. When the results turned out to be positive, the families started to apply this technique to larger fields.
The news of the first Pillar spread quickly and we were asked to provide training in a wider area. Aba, a town on the South Sudanese border, was the furthest away. It takes a whole day for us to travel there.
Soon we started training people who can mentor others. These people have been there from the beginning, have successfully followed the training courses in Lanza and applied most of the 4 Pillar techniques to their own fields. It proved difficult to find women for the mentoring positions. Women are much less flexible and able to travel around than men due to family obligations.
The participation of women is very important for the spread of the 4 Pillars. The work in the fields is done by the whole family and it is important that both heads of household participate wholeheartedly in the agricultural renewal. We therefore call on both men and women to participate in the training sessions. Gradually, the women are starting to realize that the 4 Pillar method is certainly also in their interest and they are increasingly coming to the workshops and practice sessions. When we see that women are greatly underrepresented at a workshop, we make a point by postponing the session and going home. This has made a difference.
7. Guiding the poorest families in the 4 Pillars.
The keys to mentoring of poorest farming families are friendship and perseverance. Poor families have less energy and manpower and sometimes find it harder to learn new techniques. Even more so than other farming families, they are focussed on short term goals and on survival. Partaking in the 4 Pillar groups, consisting of about 12 farming families, is not straightforward. Don’t they slow down the workshops? Are they not an obstacle to the agricultural development of the group as a whole? These questions often arise in conversation we have with people in the villages. Within the 4 Pillar programme, the participation of the poorest is compulsory so solutions must be found. Usually, they are by the stronger ones helping the weaker ones along.
We have had to accept that we cannot help all poor families, mostly in cases where the father is addicted to alcohol or drugs. The prospect of a better life through the 4 Pillars does not help them to make a change. Their problems and worries of every day are too urgent and too great. The proportion of families suffering from alcohol addiction is very high, probably more than 20%. Fortunately, we often manage to explain the Gospel and pray together. There’s hope.
8. Spread the 4 Pillars.
The method of the 4 Pillars has spread faster than we expected. Especially the first pillar, seeding without ploughing seems to be popular. But also Pillar 3, using different fertilizers, is catching on well. Many more trees are left among the crops than previously and farmers now leave the weed and crop residues on the land instead of burning them. The farmers’ groups have also made a good start on Pillar 4, the use of good seed. Pillar 2, the application of green manure, is still in its infancy.
The number of individual farming families applying some of the 4 Pillar method is estimated at 600. Not all are part of the 4 Pillar groups. The ones that start on their own are usually relatively wealthy farming families, who do not wait for the formation of a group. They gather information from conversations with farmers who have experience with the 4 Pillars and try it out for themselves. Often, we are surprised by the proper application of the techniques and the positive results. However, sometimes we see that things go wrong so we recommend that they come to the group training sessions.
There are still very few families who apply all the 4 Pillars correctly and all four are needed for optimal and sustainable results. We will need three full years to support 1000 families in this.
9. Evaluations of the work.
In January and February 2020, our work was extensively evaluated by representatives of the population and of the Church. It was nice to see our approach and method being well received. The highlight for us was the statement by church leaders that the work is a core activity for them. The combination of agriculture and evangelism is particularly celebrated.
10. Presentation of the 4 pillars to the Ministry of Agriculture.
In February 2020, we visited the Provincial Minister of Agriculture. This was in our neighbouring province, Ituri, where the church’s headquarters are located. The minister was enthusiastic about the 4 Pillars and his advisor organised a workshop with us in the province capital, Bunia. This formal support is definitely important, but we do not expect the government to make concrete contributions to the dissemination of the work.
Overall, we have invested less in relations with the ministries of agriculture than planned. Due to the Covid:19 restrictions, we have postponed a scheduled trip to Isiro, the capital of our province (haut-Uele). We will carry out this trip as soon as we can and include visits to the minister and to the governor.
11. Consult with our home front team about the future, concrete planning and action.
Our home front team has guided and supported us very well over the past two years. All financial and other reports have been reviewed and corrected in detail where necessary. The team has also been actively involved in the strategic planning of the next three years.
The team consists of two members of our home church, Sefanja Harderwijk, a friend with a lot of passion for Congo and experience of living and working here, a family member with experience of living in Africa and a family member who is an agricultural engineer. The team stands behind us and encourages us through phone calls, WhatsApp messages and fun surprises. They also promote our work within the circles of church, family, and acquaintances. We receive valuable feedback and advice on the content of the agricultural programme.
Over the next three years, we want to help 1000 farming families to apply the 4 Pillars fully and properly. The budget remains unchanged: EUR 2000 per month. For more information, please see our video presentation “Help poor farming families in Congo” on www.4pillars.nl
Our budget for the start-up phase, 2019 and 2020, was EUR 48,000, EUR 2,000 Euros per month. The total expenditure amounted to EUR 50,926. The total income was EUR 60,882. This results in a positive balance of EUR 9,956. The money is benchmarked for the roll-out phase of the 4 Pillar programme.
Our project expenditure matched our budget. The main overspends were on the costs for the mentors and their transport. This is due to the great interest in the work among the population. The cost of communication was also slightly higher than budgeted. We spent less than budgeted on visits to the government (see point 10) and on the “Faradje Development” conference (see point 3).
All donations from donors have gone directly to the project costs. We have paid for the cost of our living expenses, personal travel and insurance ourselves, helped by specific gifts from a few people. Over the next three years, our personal expenses will be reimbursed by the German Christian organisation CFI (Christliche Fachkräfte International). Income from the donors will continue to be spent on the 4 Pillar program.
We are very grateful for the healthy figures from the last two years. We hope and pray that our donors continue to support the program so that we can work without financial constraints toward the goals we have set for the next three years.