Through the 4 Pillars method of agriculture, the poorest families are at the core. With them, we designed its main structure. The results are good, and people dare to hope for a better future. We are still in the process of researching and adjusting the finer details and when sufficiently developed, proven and captured, we will be able to spread the 4 Pillars on a larger scale.
Pillar 1: No digging or ploughing
Instead of digging or ploughing the land, we treat a field once or twice with approved weed killers. Decent weed killers are now cheaply available and even the poorest families can buy them with a small loan, which they can repay after a successful harvest. The weed killer destroys all the weeds, leaving a mass of organic material on the soil. The killed roots leave pores in the ground, creating loose and airy soil. Sowing can, therefore, happen immediately by making holes in the organic mass. The farming families can hardly believe it, but it works! They are happily surprised by the growth of their crops. Even in dryer times, the crops seem to survive well. This makes sense, as the ground is covered by a blanket of organic matter, keeping it moist for longer.
Pillar 2: Use of green manure
Green manure is a crop, specifically grown to cover and fertilise the earth. After the crops such as maize, beans, sorghum, peanuts, and cassava have come up, the green manure can be sown. There are different types of green manure, some like Mimosa, re-sow themselves, and others, like Mucuna need to be manually sown every year. After the harvest, the green manure continues to grow, dying on their own in the dry season. Hence, the dead green manure will cover the entire surface, leaving weeds chanceless. This also protects the soil from drying out and leaves the field well manured. At the start of the rainy season, the family immediately begins sowing. So, no more ploughing, or the need to use any more weed killers.
Pillar 3: Clever use of fertilizer
The green manure creates great manure, but additional nutrients need to be added for sustainable production and a higher yield. We have developed methods for farmers to conduct simple tests in order to capture the status of their field. With some training and coaching, farmers can determine which, and what quantities of nutrients are needed. This minimises money spent on unnecessary chemicals, which happens all too often in the Congo. This clever use of fertiliser saves money, whilst the results are far better than the classic uses. With the 4 Pillars method, fertilizer is only used on fields that have not been ploughed and where green manure is in use. The surface is therefore protected and organically manured. A small and well-selected amount of fertilizer is just enough to fill the gap.
Pillar 4: Ensuring good quality seed
Seed loses its quality each year naturally. This is mostly due to viruses, which often spread through seed. Viruses will keep spreading if uncontrolled. In many cases, such as with groundnuts and cassava, almost half the plants are infected. This obviously has negative consequences to harvests. Another issue is inbreeding, such as in maize. Inbreeding also causes weaker harvests and exposes crops to plagues and diseases. We have developed techniques to help farming families produce decent seed. The quality is not perfect, but it is good enough. Inbreeding can be prevented 80% of the time, lowering the chances of sickness and plagues to less than 5%. The techniques are not difficult or labour intensive, which makes them perfectly implementable for the poorest farmers.