Quaterly report 3

Mission Roelof and Remke van Til – Congo (DRC), Quaterly Report 3 July – September 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.

Remke and I are getting closer ties with the people in and around Lanza. We have been with them for seven months now. Working together in the fields, praying together, being together in joy and sorrow. We are now really getting used to their worldview and culture. And we find it increasingly easier to connect.

The preparations for the construction of our new house are progressing slowly but surely. More than half of the required bricks are now pressed and are drying. Thanks to the decisive action of our chief employee, the heavy rains of recent times have caused little damage.

In September we were in the Netherlands. We had a wonderful time of meetings with our children, family, the home front team, the church community, friends and our supporters. The immediate reason for our stay in the Netherlands was the application for a new visa for Congo. Applying for a visa is cumbersome nowadays and can be delayed without a clear reason. At the end of September we received the message that our visa will not be granted soon. We have contacted our employer in Congo, the CECA church. The secretary of the CECA has promised to approach the immigration service in the capital Kinshasa in order to put pressure on the embassy that handles our visa. We await the results of this, hoping and praying. Our return trip to Congo is now provisionally booked on October 14.

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

Local families, government, and Church leaders are now beginning to understand our mission and approach. We receive fewer and fewer requests for free agricultural goods, such as fertilizer or improved seed. It is accepted that we only make these things available on a small scale, with the aim that people gain experience with them as a group. For the rest, one has to organize into so-called 4-Pillar groups. After intensive training, these groups are eligible for a first credit round. But the number of groups must also remain limited, because we want to retain sufficient time and resources to further investigate the many practical questions we have.

3.          Participate in the Conference “Development Faradje”.

Not applicable this quarter.

4.          Frequent visits of the poorest families.

We often come to people’s homes. The lack of basic amenities always affects us again. Recently Mrs. Safari asked Remke if she could borrow a plastic container to be able to store seeds. Others ask for borrowing a rake to rake up crop residues, for a shovel for digging a toilet, or a claw hammer to straighten old nails for reuse.

We saw many sick children again. Remke asked about its nature and possible causes. She was increasingly convinced of the need to take action herself. She contacted the leaders of the church and the health center in Lanza. It was agreed that Remke would work one morning a week in the health center. She has now done this four times. She discovered that the monthly consultations of children aged 0-5 do not work. The children are not weighed regularly and also receive the necessary vaccinations only sporadically. Most mothers have no idea if their child is vaccinated and against what. Remke wants these consultations back on track. Mothers with young children can visit the center at the agreed time, Wednesday morning, and the children can be weighed. The mothers receive a card for each child on which the weight and the previous vaccinations are noted. In this way, there is a clearer picture of the health situation of every child. Regular vaccinations will start from October. Remke also helps nurses with the purchase and management of medicines and with facilitating the supply of vaccines from larger centers. Remke’s commitment is greatly appreciated by the population. It is therefore always a busy time on Wednesday mornings.

5.          Prepare for training in the 4 pillars.

The crops grow exemplary on the demonstration fields. Local employees of the 4 Pillars are busy harvesting about half a hectare of corn. The best ears are selected and are used the following season as seed for the population. We have 2 improved maize varieties that we have kept virus-free and whose seed can be propagated by the farming families themselves. This requires further training and guidance. Not only on our demonstration fields, but also on the fields of the people at home. We count on approximately 750 kg of good seed, enough to help more than a hundred families on their way to significantly improve the cultivation of maize.

The green manure crops are also growing well. Both species, mimosa and mucuna, appear to thrive well in the loam soils around Lanza. The use of green manure is completely new to people. But they are slowly getting used to it. In the demonstration fields they see how the green manure grows in corn, beans and rice. They see how well they cover the soil. They understand that this effectively combats the weeds and that soil fertility will improve. The green manure have now flowered and we expect good amounts of seed. This will be used at the start of the next season.

To improve the genetic diversity of our varieties, we have obtained extra seed from Uganda. For that we have visited various seed suppliers in Ugandan towns. Ultimately, we were able to purchase good seeds from two new and good corn varieties. We have also been able to find good seeds from a new bean variety. And we bought a bag of pigeon bean, which is widely grown in Uganda. This bean is grown there for both consumption and for improving the soil. I myself have often wanted to experiment with this crop and now we have the opportunity.

To install the new varieties and crops, we have expanded the demonstration fields by approximately one and a half hectares. We have used extra manpower and money for this. We have also invested extra in monitoring the fields. For the crops that are almost ready for harvest, it is the different types of monkeys and baboons that lurk. Birds and rats are a major threat to the newly sown fields.

6. Trainings on the 4 Pillars

We have invested a lot in the supervision of the existing 4 Pillar groups. A 4 Pillar group consists of an average of eight farming families, a mix of very poor and less poor people. We visited the fields of individual group members, where all group members commented and provided each other with feedback. How were the 4 Pillar techniques applied, what could be better, what are the results? People are eager to learn and they are happy with the feedback. It is nice to see that the families like to show their fields to us and to the other group members. People are eager to show that progress is being made and that new techniques are being used. Both men and women are proud of their work. For us it is always surprising that farmers’ families are so open to innovations in agriculture. Apparently, the tradition and the respect for the ancestors do not prevent them from taking new paths.

Sometimes the mutual feedback is sufficient to ensure that the learning process runs smoothly. Then it is necessary that we provide additional information or instructions. This applies, for example, to combating and preventing pests and diseases. Preventing the transmission of viral diseases in crops in particular requires a lot of attention and it will take a lot of time and energy before taking the right measures. This important topic will require a lot of attention in the coming period.

In July, the head of the ethnic group, the Dongo, organized a seminar about the 4 Pillars. He asked us to present our farming method and explain it to all the leaders of the tribe. We did this with pleasure. It was nice to meet the elite of the population and to take them into the 4 Pillar method. We used photo material from the demonstration fields and from the fields of the members of the 4 Pillar groups. Among the notables were a few who themselves belong to 4 Pillar groups. They supported our story and came up with examples from their own practice. At the end of the seminar it was decided that twelve of the notables would play a special role in the further development and distribution of the 4 Pillars. Remke and I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is nice that there is so much interest and support. On the other hand, intensive and formal cooperation with the leaders of the tribe requires accurate coordination of expectations and clear financial agreements. We do not yet know whether this is realistic in the short term.

7.          Guiding the poorest families in the 4 Pillars.

The number of 4 Pillar groups has risen to eight. More than sixty families are part of this. The guidance of the groups and the individual families is the main focus of our mission.

Six of the eight groups function well. They have good leaders, men and women, and have regular meetings for planning and learning. For the time being, the focus is on the first pillar: no plowing / digging. The families are enthusiastic: the work has become much lighter and larger surfaces can be cultivated. We see that most families do not have much trouble with applying the first-pillar technology. The group leaders were intensively trained by us and they are very willing to share their knowledge and skills with their group members.

We ensure that group leaders are in contact with each other as much as possible. That way they can share experiences and learn from each other. Moreover, we can provide feedback and additional information in an efficient way. The contact between the group leaders is not yet very structured. We usually let this depend on the occasion of the moment. If one of us visits a 4 Pillar group, we call group leaders in the neighbourhood to come along. This works well in practice. But we do get signals that they would appreciate a bit more structure in the contacts. For example, once a month a formal meeting with all group leaders, where everyone can present his or her work in the groups, where joint new insights are obtained and where agreements can be made about the follow-up processes.

The 4 Pillar group that is directly under our supervision is probably the worst of all. The chairman has been ill for a long time. He has since recovered, but remains physically weak. Visiting the fields of other group members is not an option for him. That’s why we jump in ourselves. We now know the group members well, know a lot about their concerns and hopes, and understand the way in which they try to survive. All group members have started applying the first pillar and see good results. But mistakes are also made. One of the most persistent mistakes is cleaning the fields too much for sowing. According to tradition, a piece of land is first completely cleared of weeds, trees and shrubs. Then the soil is dug and crushed. When a field is completely clean, sowing takes place. The first pillar is about leaving as much organic material as possible on the land. Sowing takes place in or between this organic material. This requires a considerable change in thinking. But our own 4 Pillar group is also on the right track.

8.          Disseminating the 4 Pillars.

The 4Pillars now has two areas; the first in Lanza, the second in Bovi, 40 km away. In Bovi in ​​particular, the work is going very well and interest is increasing rapidly. This is because Bovi is really an agricultural region,  populated more densely than Lanza, located along a major road and close to major trade centers. More than in Lanza, farming families are used to producing agricultural products for trade. After getting acquainted with the 4Pillar method, people see opportunities to improve their income.

We regularly go to Bovi to guide the two 4 Pillar groups there. These groups function particularly well and are tightly led by the elected board. Apart from some technical instructions, we have little work on it. In the meantime, we learn a lot from the farming families in Bovi. The soil types there are different from those around Lanza, the weed pressure is different and the choice of crops is different. After the necessary trial and error, the farmers appear to adjust the 4-Pillar method fairly easily.

During a recent visit to the district capital Faradje, we consulted with the department of agriculture. The head of the department informed us that he was very interested in the 4-Pillar method. He proposed to organize a seminar this coming November. There we will have the opportunity to train opinion leaders and government officials in the agricultural sector in the theory and practice of the 4 Pillars. The government turned out to be willing to pay part of the costs of the organization. That is exceptional for Congo.

We are happy with this government initiative. The involvement of agricultural engineers at district level can assure us of valuable feedback. We can also use the contacts with them to strengthen relationships at higher levels.

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.

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