Tag Archives: Farming

Bountiful Crops in Magical Light

Exhausted from a full day of travel, my colleagues and I piled into the back of our World Concern Land Cruiser. Thankfully, taking the place of Chad’s unforgiving sun, the cool (er) evening air began to breathe across our weary skin, bringing with it refreshment and renewed energy. We were on our way from Ade to visit a small village called Raibandala. As we drove, the tantalizing rhythms of Congolese music seeped out of the car speakers and into our ears while we observed the slanting sunlight generously bathing the rustling cattail grass and the endless fields of sorghum.

The land surrounding our vehicle was lush – a drastic change from the Chad I had seen in July. Apparently the rains had been plenty, the farmers had been working tirelessly, and the soil had returned the favor.

The Sila Region in Eastern Chad consistently suffers from droughts and floods – making life difficult for its many farming inhabitants. Whatever crops are harvested will be eaten, kept in storage, and sold in the local market. So when the rains are good, families have enough to eat. And when the rains are scarce, families struggle to scrape by until the next harvesting season comes around.

Arriving in Raibandala, the staff and I were warmly greeted by 45-year-old Zenaba Adam. Along with the rest of her village, Zenaba had recently received farming tools, seeds, and technique training from World Concern; her face-claiming smile evidence that she was eager to show us her bountiful crops.

“We formed farming groups in order to contribute money to purchase seeds and tools from World Concern,” Zenaba explained. “In the past there hasn’t been much rain, so our farming has suffered. But this year the rains have been good and we have been improving because of our new knowledge, seeds, and tools. Our farms are looking much better.”

Zenaba is in charge of the farming group in Raibandala. By merely observing her confident composure as she toured us through her fields, it wasn’t hard to see why she was selected as the leader.

“This is our first time to farm together as a community,” Zenaba proudly proclaimed. “We take turns to farm in order to help one another.”IMG_9879

Each farming group also operates as a savings group.  After harvest season, the members will put their earned money from their shared farm into one pool.  This money will then be given out to individual members in the form of loans – bolstering each farmer’s ability to improve his or her personal farm and yearly income.

Currently, World Concern is partnering with farmers in over 30 villages in Chad, empowering hundreds of people with the knowledge and tools to bring health to their farms, families, and communities.IMG_9969 IMG_9971 IMG_9985

“Though we haven’t harvested yet, I am already thanking God for the progress and for what I hope will come,” shared Zenaba, glowing in the magic (to any photographer) evening light. “I am happy for World Concern’s help and I ask that they continue to assist us.”

“We Can Now Taste Our Land.” // Fadumo Farming in Somaliland

Last week, while romping through seemingly untouched acres of northern Ugandan bush, an Ecuadorian priest and I kicked our feet through fresh red soil earth and two-foot tall swaying grasses.

It was late afternoon and the muted orange sun hung low on the horizon. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like an African sunset – more specifically, a Ugandan sunset.

As we trudged over anthills and leaped across dried riverbeds, the priest spewed unintentional wisdom from his weathered lips; wisdom that can only come from knowing a before and an after.

“If we would just listen to the earth, it could teach us a few things,” he said, toying with a dried piece of grass.

As we continued walking, examining rocks and tasting salty earth in the form of water pouring from an abandoned pump, the priest continued:

“We really don’t have to do much. In fact, our problem is that we are doing too much already,” he shared. “The land would produce on its own if we would harm it less and love it more simply.”

Picking up my mud-encrusted skirt I turned to walk back to the car, where we’d left our friends roasting local vegetables to celebrate the Easter holiday.

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Fadumo, 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and now farmer.

Fadumo. 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and recent farmer.

Backtrack one month to Ceel Ade [pronounced ‘Ehl-Ahdeh‘], Somaliland.

“We can now taste our land,” Fadumo explains.

We sit on the dirt floor of her home – a dome-shaped hut patched together with sticks, dried mud, emptied flour sacks, and tattered canvas bags – faded and brown from the wear and tear of Ceel Ade’s arid climate. Fadumo, her seven children, grandchildren, and in-laws all sleep, eat, and live on this small plot of land.

Home.

Home.

But Fadumo does not see the land as small. Forced to flee Ceel Ade during a previous famine, Fadumo and her family lived in an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps for over 15 years.

Pointing to the earth, she confidently states, “This is my motherland. Ceel Ade is better than the camp.”

Traditionally pastoralists, the Ceel Ade community is persistently suffering from droughts and famines that plague its arid land.

And for a people whose livelihood, as well as much of their personal value, is heavily determined by their goats, camels, and cattle – the consequences of a drought are truly extreme.

Recently, World Concern partnered with the community to build a number of shallow wells and rehabilitate berkads (a traditional Somali water catchment system). Reducing the effects of the predictably yearly droughts, water is now less of a concern for the people of Ceel Ade.

Fadumo's son shows off his multi-tasking skills - running while carrying water.

Fadumo’s son shows off his multi-tasking skills – running while carrying water.

Accessible, clean water is significant. Okay, more like HUGE. But Fadumo can’t seem to stop talking to me about farming. She’s infatuated.

With the help of World Concern training and tools – Ceel Ade has rapidly transformed into an agro-pastoralist community.

“We are very glad to be able to produce food from our land,” Fadumo shares with great joy – the curious kind of joy that comes from learning something new.

In the last five months, Ceel Ade has grown from a community of zero farmers to over 75. It is notable that multiple locals made sure to point that this is the first time they have ever seen a woman farm. 

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

Fadumo shares stories of old and farming anew.

Later, lightly tip-toeing over her newly budding soil, Fadumo says, “When I saw the people in our community growing farms, I requested for seeds. My neighbors taught me what they had learned from World Concern and now I am growing watermelon, carrots, maize, and many other things.”

Fadumo crouches down to run her fingers across a lush head of cabbage. My eyes trail off to the seemingly endless desert serving has her backdrop. The contrast is almost unbelievable and I do not blame Fadumo for never knowing that such cracked, dusty land could harvest such bountiful produce.

“We are thankful for World Concern because they have helped our community to make farms,” she tells me. “Before we did not know that our land had a good taste, but now we know it is good.”

Like others, Fadumo plans to eat and sell her farm’s produce, using the money to pay for her seven children’s school fees and improve the structure of her home.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

And with the genuinely selfless attitude that encapsulates every Somali I’ve met, Fadumo explains, “Yes, it is my goal to eat and sell and give food to my neighbor who has none.”

As the land has shared with her, so she wants to share with others.

My mind trails off to the Ecuadorian priest on that late humid afternoon, “If we would just listen to the earth , it could teach us a few things.”

 

Curbing Hunger [PART II] // Ox-Plows (or ‘ploughs’ for those of us who prefer proper English)

[Note: This is Part II in a III part series- please take time to read the intro blog & Part I]

If I were a 25-year-old South Sudanese woman living in Warrap State, South Sudan, chances are that…

–  I have already given birth to 3-5 children (and I’m expecting a few more on the way).

Momma love. // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Momma love. // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– I am married to a man with 2 or more other wives (possibly as many as 8).

– I am built with a beautifully tall 5’10” frame and magnificent bone structure. I have intricately unique facial scars that were given to me during my youth as a sign of bravery, beauty and tribal identity. 

World Concern Farmer, ___, displaying her beautiful beads, smile, and facial scars.

Ayak Long displaying her beautiful beads, smile, and facial scars.

– My tall and slim figure is strong- it can walk for miles to and from the market, gather water, work the land, clean the compound, and feed my children all before sunset.

– My long fingers and hands are calloused from years of physical labor.

Anok Awer // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Anok Awer // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– During seasons of cultivation and harvesting, you will find me in the field before the sun rises – while the air is still cool and fresh. While cultivating, I sit on my knees, using a malouda, to till the beaten and hardened earth, recently moistened by the new rains.

Malouda making // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Malouda making // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– Most days, the field work is up to me and me alone. If my children are too young for school, or I cannot afford to send them, they will occasionally assist. My husband can be found herding cattle, running a local business, or merely milling around the market playing games and talking to friends (sadly this is an all too common scenario).

– Despite waking early to farm, I have to break in order to clean and care for my family, inevitably heading back to farm later on under the scorching sun.

Mary // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Mary // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– I am proud of my land, my labor, my husband, and my children. I am thankful for the hard work because it is equivalent to an independent nation – it means I live free from war.

– I may still be healing from a 20 year war, but I am hopeful and eager to play a role in the rebuilding of my nation. 

In any South Sudanese household, farming is a shared role. Yet, many would argue that women do the large majority of the work (possibly even all of it). Given their busy daily schedule [note: the above does not include random visits from friends/relatives, breastfeeding/caring for an infant, religious activities, etc.], women work to complete household chores and farming as efficiently as possible.

This is especially true during the season of cultivation. Once the first few consistent rains have watered the dehydrated land, it is time to cultivate and plant every seed available  before the heavens open up (some may have been eaten in place of food during the hunger season – a last resort when all other resources have been depleted).

This may seem obvious, but solo-cultivation, using only a malouda, is far from efficient.

Ox-plows, on the other hand, can cultivate significantly more land in the same period of time it would take to do so by hand. But ox-plows require a strong, healthy ox and, naturally, a plow. Both of these can be quite expensive and difficult to come by (particularly the strong ox after an extended period of drought).

Along with dry season farming, World Concern has implemented a successful Rent-to-Own program to curb hunger in South Sudan.

Ox-Plow

Ox-Plow

Beneficiaries who are active members of a World Concern savings group are eligible to apply for an asset (bikes, sewing machines, solar panels, and more) – one of the most popular being the ox-plow. Using a payment plan agreement contracted by World Concern staff and the involved beneficiary, monthly payments are made to rent the plow from World Concern until it has been paid in full.

Without such a program, most families are financially unable to purchase a plow. The process of obtaining one is quite complicated. They have to be ordered from Juba, a 14 hour drive distance, taken to Wau, transported to Kuajok, then distributed to the farmer (who most likely lives a long bumpy ride from Kuajok town center).

Savings Group meeting with WC staff about acquiring an ox-plow // Kuajok, South Sudan

Meeting with WC staff about acquiring an ox-plow // Kuajok, South Sudan

Just after receiving an ox-plow through WC’s Rent-to-Own Program // Kuajok, South Sudan

Due to the difficulties caused by expense and transportation, ox-plows are a hot commodity.

Let the stories of beneficiaries who’ve purchased ox-plows through World Concern speak for themselves (and on behalf of their extended communities who often equally benefit from the same plow):

Achol Ayek // Malual, South Sudan

Achol Ayek // Malual, South Sudan

After gulping down a cup of piping hot tea (on a 95+ degree morning) and throwing on our field boots, Max (WC Rent-to-Own Manager) and I hopped into a vehicle and drove almost two hours from the Kuajok World Concern compound. Stopping along the way to re-register with the local government, kill a snake (take that as you wish – both meanings proved true), and cross a massive dried riverbed, we found Achol Ayek diligently working on her shared compound.

Achol & children // Malual, South Sudan

Achol & children // Malual, South Sudan

Among many other things, Achol is a mother of six children and one of nine wives living on a large compound. Like many in her village, she is a farmer by trade and feeds her family from what she is able to harvest. Neither she nor her husband are employed outside of their land.

In the past, Achol cultivated her land primarily using maloudas. She often found herself so exhausted at the end the day that she could not muster the strength to boil water for her children (I have never been a mother, but I am guessing that reaching the point of disregard for clean water can only come from extreme fatigue.This is in no way to say that Achol is a bad mother, but to emphasize the difficulties of farming and motherhood in rural South Sudan.)

Achol & 2/3 of her children.

Achol & 2/3 of her children.

When I met Achol, it had been exactly one year since she rented, and paid off, an ox-plow through World Concern. She was quick to mention that, “The ox-plow has changed my life so much. It allows me to farm about two acres per day.” 

Achol shares the plow with the eight other women living on the compound, distributing the work and more efficiently preparing the land for the coming rains.

Achol's shared compound.

Achol’s shared compound.

Upon my visit, the rains had yet to water the weary land. Achol seemed a bit apprehensive of what was to come. Last year, massive floods destroyed many of her crops and hard labor, leaving her family with little food to last through the dry season. Though she is worried this could happen again, Achol is determined to continue plowing, trusting in the Lord’s favor, “we know that the Lord brings water from the heavens to cultivate.”

Come this harvest season, Achol looks forward to growing enough dura, maize, sorghum, and simsim to feed her family and sell the remaining in the market.

Similarly to Achol, Mabok Duar purchased an ox-plow through World Concern. This ox-plow has been a great assistance with feeding many beautiful little mouths (as well as numerous other mouths in his community).

Daddy time. Mabok & his many children that he works hard to feed. // Malual, South Sudan

Daddy time. Mabok & his many children that he works hard to feed. // Malual, South Sudan

 

Like Achol, for years, Mabok and his three wives labored by hand, producing few crops each harvest season.

Two harvests ago, he cultivated 5 sacks of groundnuts, 2 sacks of simsim, ½ sack of dura. Last harvest, after using his ox-plow, Mabok produced 50 sacks of groundnuts, 2 sacks of simsim, and 5 sacks of dura!

“I was very poor before this plow but now I have improved my situation. I am able to provide for the family, pay for school fees, help my sick children, and improve the conditions at home.” 

With the increase in last season’s harvest, Mabok paid for three of his children to attend school, had enough food to last his family through the dry season, and has had the capacity to assist his community, “I help people free of charge. For example, I plow the fields for a woman who has no husband.”

Mabok and his ox-plow // Malual, South Sudan

Mabok and his ox-plow // Malual, South Sudan

Despite last year’s flooding, Mabok is hopeful for a bountiful harvest season. I can’t wait to visit his gorgeous family again when the land is lush and bellies are full.

Grand in seasons, culture, and size, South Sudan is not lacking in space or open land. Without ox-plows, many families are only able cultivate the land located nearest to their compound. With ox-plows, and permission from the local government, the open land is a family’s for the farming. An increase in cultivated land means an increase in crop yields, which means a decrease in the impact of the hunger season and the further curbing of hunger in South Sudan.