Foods Resource Bank Blog

Native Seeds: The Once and Future Crops

Local partner Chethana recently held a village rally to convince more farm families to try native seeds and organic farming methods. There was a good turnout of local officials, farmers, seed-saver groups, women’s self-help groups, school children and Chethana staff. Chethana is promoting a return to traditional crops as a means of improving food security now and preserving plant diversity for future generations.

Traditional farmers see the native varieties and sustainable farming as their protection against crop failures and famine. Higher yields mean families have enough to eat and still save seed for the next crop. Returning to traditional legumes and cereal grains – in combination, they provide a complete protein – also improves nutrition and health. Intercropping them prevents erosion, enriches the soil, promotes bio-diversity, and controls weeds and pests.

More and more people are willing to experiment with low-cost methods that bring higher yields and reduce expenses. For years, area farmers have grown only rice. In recent years they’ve experienced low farm productivity, scarce rainfall, depleted groundwater, and water shortages, and they worry about crop failures and famine. Many are deeply in debt from poor returns on investment in high-cost chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

At the recent rally, successful “seed saving” farmer groups displayed native varieties of millet, okra, sorghum and a perennial legume called red gram. Observers noted with interest that these plants are acclimated to the dry conditions, require less water, and respond well to applications of organic compost.

Caption: Harvesting native okra

India South Program
Led by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Local Partner Chethana
30 communities, 500 households, 2,500 individuals

03/14/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Forging Ahead Despite Challenges

Despite multiple challenges in post-conflict South Sudan, local staff has been hard at work training farm extension agents and health technicians to ready farmers and their families for better days. The civil war has ended, yet there continue to be security and infrastructure issues. The remoteness of the area means that people are not in direct danger from residual conflict, but also that basic services are lacking, including phone communications. Recent heavy rains brought flooding, and widespread illiteracy makes training much more difficult. Yet much has been accomplished.

The focus is particularly on women farmers – the backbones of the community. They need to get up to speed quickly on the most effective ways to manage their crops, vegetables, and homes.  Health extension workers have trained “hygiene promoters” to distribute supplies and show women how to treat both well water and river water. Families received soap and instruction on the importance of handwashing.

Agricultural extension workers also identified training needs and mobilized farmer groups to attend training sessions at demonstration plots.  They’ve taught basic principles of crop husbandry and growing vegetables. Because these farmers are starting out new, it has been necessary to distribute seeds and basic farming tools. Farmers are now concentrating on planting okra.

While challenges seem to be vast, it is clear that the will of local partner staff is strong. FRB’s implementing organization, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is confident that the agriculture and health extension training is laying the groundwork for success for these people as they return to normalcy following the war. Your support and prayers are much needed and greatly appreciated.

Caption: Farmer groups during agricultural training

South Sudan Uror Program
Led by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
1 community, 400 households, 2,800 individuals

 

03/13/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Milking Infants' First 1,000 Days

Newsletter: 

Evaly and other mothers are finding ways to overcome many of the logistical challenges of farm work so they can breastfeed their babies for a longer period. The Nicaragua Río Coco program is focusing on maternal and child nutrition and the first 1,000 days of babies’ lives, the most critical for the healthy development of their bodies and minds.

Evaly explains, “A lot of us start to feed our children solid food at three to six months. We have to leave them with neighbors while we go to work in our fields, which are far from home. They can’t give them breast milk, so they feed them mashed potatoes or a little porridge. We’re learning through this program that infants get much better nutrition from our milk, so we’re eager to make any changes that will keep our little ones healthier.”

Local partner Acción Médica Cristiana teaches women how to plant kitchen gardens close to their homes. A community health agent comes to talk to them about nutrition, and expectant mothers and families with young children actively seek her advice. With workshops on cooking and how to combine the vegetables they grow, the health of mother and child alike improves. Participants also learn how to market and sell their surplus produce, and the extra income is helping meet other needs.

Evaly says she has a much better understanding of the nutritional importance of breastfeeding, when and how to start a baby on solid food, and what to do if a child is malnourished.  Her daughter, Kati, is starting off healthy because she’s been putting into practice everything she’s learned.

Caption: 1) Evaly and daughter Kati
Photo credit: Laura Curkendall, CWS


Nicaragua Río Coco Program
Led by Church World Service and Local Partner Acción Médica Cristiana
17 communities, 1,325 households, 10,370

03/09/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Bunthoeun Made the Grade and Now Teaches Others

Because of his success and hard work at learning a wide variety of environmentally-friendly farming techniques, Bunthoeun has made the grade. He was selected as one of the program’s model, multi-purpose farmers. He’s receiving additional training, and will go on to teach other farmers in his community.

Things weren’t always so great for Bunthoeun. In his 20s he moved to Thailand to look for work, and stayed for about a year. He was unhappy living so far from home, so he returned to his remote Cambodian village, took up rice farming and raising a few chickens again, and occasionally worked in construction in the village to earn a little cash.

When World Renew started a hands-on Farmer Field School nearby, he jumped at the chance to enroll and learn better ways of farming. He took advantage of every workshop and opportunity, eventually focusing most on expanding his chicken operations.

Like most farmers in the area, he used to grow only rice, and only one crop per year. He now produces rice, vegetables, fish and chickens throughout the year on the piece of land he received from his in-laws when he got married recently. He makes a good income from his farm by selling his surplus.  

Bunthoeun shows a high commitment to improving his agricultural knowledge. As a multi-purpose farmer, he will have a big impact on other farmers in his village by modeling innovation and sustainable farming practices.

Caption: Bunthoeun with poultry

Cambodia South Program
Led by World Renew and Various Local Partners
15 communities, 840 households, 3,600 individuals

03/06/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Easing the Effects of Drought

Considered a kind of miracle by some, sand dams are easing the effects of a devastating drought in these Maasai communities in Kenya. With your support over the years, participants have built dams over seasonal rivers. People and cattle use the water in the reservoir, and even when that dries up, can continue to draw water trapped in the sand.

While the drought has been extremely hard on cattle, families have turned to raising chickens and growing produce in kitchen gardens. These activities demand less water, enabling folks to get by despite the severe challenges.

Emmanuel, one of 15 members in his self-help group, got the idea of raising chickens during one of the program’s agricultural learning tours. He’d kept a few chickens before but, with training, he learned how to increase his efficiency, reduce losses, build better coops, and manage his business.

A little over a year ago, he started rearing 200 chicks, and they are now producing eggs. He collects about six trays of eggs a day and sells them at the nearby Ngong market. Emmanuel says keeping chickens is more profitable than cows.

He plans to expand his operations now that he has the experience, knowledge and skills. Emmanuel is also trained as a model farmer, and three other farmers have followed his lead so far.

Captions: 1) Women scoop water from a sand dam 2) Emmanuel’s chicken operations

Kenya Ngong Intashat Program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and Local Partner MIDI
10 communities, 4,500 households, 31,500 individuals

03/05/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

A-maize-ing Results: “My Family is Better off All Around”

At the close of this program in Timor Leste’s Viqueque region, Manuel says his family is better off all around. “We don’t have to buy as much in the market so it’s a saving for us. And, a few months ago, I sold some of my harvest and earned enough to cover my family’s basic needs. I also bought some equipment to improve and expand my planting area,” he says.

Another farmer, who only used to be able to grow enough for five months, says, “Nearly a year after harvest, we still have food.”

Manuel says he is getting greater yields of improved-quality maize and has learned to dry it and protect it from pests and mold by storing it in airtight containers like water bottles. Besides maize and rice, he plants a wider variety of foods – beans, taro root, cassava, papaya – for better nutrition.

According to the program’s final report, all of the farmers who took part in the training are using one or more of the environmentally-friendly farming techniques they learned.  At the start of the program, maize yielded around 1,036 pounds per hectare (2.5 acres). Everyone met or exceeded the target of 1,343 lbs./hectare, some harvesting as much as 2,320. And, by drying and storing maize in airtight containers – instead of hanging it in unprotected sheaves outdoors – their losses to mold and pests are minimal.

Local partner staff and extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture live and farm in the same villages as program participants, and will continue to model improved farming and storage techniques on their own land. The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to assist farmers with seed, training, moisture testing and new ideas.

Caption: Manuel’s great results from improved seed and environmentally-friendly farming

Timor Leste Viqueque Program
Led by Catholic Relief Services and Local Partner Fraterna
5 communities, 380 households, 3,268 individuals


03/02/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Men Get Cooking!

To promote growing and eating legumes, the Zimbabwe Mwenezi program's local partner SCORE recently held an entertaining and informative “Men Can Cook” competition among farmers. Since cooking is traditionally a women’s role, SCORE designed the competition to encourage men to participate in this household task.

Competing in teams, the men came up with their own recipes, prepared delicious meals that were judged by local officials, and then had the opportunity to taste each other’s creations and feed the women as well. One competitor, Mr. Tamuka, said, “Now that we know how to cook, men are becoming the best chefs in our households!  I want to make a meal for my in-laws some day.”

The competition was a milestone in SCORE’s mission to improve family nutrition and gender equity. More farmers are intercropping grains and legumes and feeling empowered by being able to eat better on locally-grown foods.  As another farmer, Mrs. Sibongile, put it, “My wealth is in the soil.”

The men and women farmers had previously received training in improving their soil and conserving moisture by planting legumes like lablab and pigeon pea. At workshops on meal prep and nutrition led by local home economics teachers, they learned that legumes combined with grains like rice or millet form a complete protein. Mr. Tamuka said, “Lablab is my favorite legume, and it is good for my health!”

Caption: “Men Can Cook”competitors show off their aprons and prizes

Zimbabwe Mwenezi Program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and Local Partner SCORE
2 Communities, 320 Households, 2,240 Individuals

03/01/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Lives Bloom with Mushrooms

Where they once had to face hunger months and mounting debt, Ngor and her family have experienced a complete change of fortune by growing mushrooms through the Cambodia East program. “I am grateful for the chance to improve my family’s life,” Ngor says.

Before this opportunity, the family scraped by on the rice and cassava they grew in a small field. When food and money grew scarce before the next harvest, Sron, Ngor’s husband, would migrate to distant towns to find work. Ngor and her three children would often subsist on snails and crabs they found in the rice field. The couple was unable to pay for their children’s schooling, and if anyone became ill they could not afford treatment. During times of crisis, they got into debt by borrowing money at high interest rates.

Fortunately, the program offered them a chance to turn their lives around. In addition to becoming a mushroom farmer, Ngor belongs to a women’s Self Help Group whose members support each other and save money together. She and Sron have earned enough to buy seedlings for a variety of crops, build storage for raw materials for their operations, get electricity in their house, and get their children back in school.  The family’s long-range plan is to buy a small truck and motorbike, drill a well, and build a toilet.

While the program was originally intended to help women find a sustainable source of income, it has ended up increasing the standard of living for the entire area. In fact, growing mushrooms is providing such steady money, and there is so much work available, that most husbands no longer need to migrate.  

Participants learn from program staff and local mentors how to build mushroom houses and grow the fungi, which is in high demand in their country. Thera Metrey, a company formed by World Hope International, purchases mushrooms from participants at a fair price and transports them to the wholesale market in Phnom Penh.  The program also helps participants learn to sort and grade their produce, and is seeking alternate markets for products that were previously seen as worthless, such as small mushrooms.

Caption: Ngor and family in front of their mushroom house

Cambodia East Program
Led by World Hope International
5 communities, 1,100 households, 5,500 individuals

02/23/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Getting Creative

María Francisca’s sales of her handmade soaps and hair gels may have started out modestly, but some small-business training has helped her take them to the next level. She initially sold what she made to neighbor women. Word-of-mouth advertising reached a beauty salon in a nearby town which now stocks her products. As a single mother of five, she’s grateful for the additional income.

Since many men in these indigenous Maya Mam communities have migrated for work, local partner CIEDEG staff prioritizes women, food security, and income opportunities as they develop programs. Kitchen gardens are popping up everywhere thanks to training on growing vegetables. If there’s any extra to sell, the women use what they earn to buy school supplies or to cover household expenses.

Women’s groups, or Sociedades Femininas, often meet in churches to share their experiences, organize, or receive training. A workshop on nutrition and creative cooking led to experimentation: radish leaves in omelets, anyone?

Besides María Francisca, other entrepreneurs have felt encouraged to act on their great ideas. Lucía and her sister started a small grocery store in the front room of their home. And three sisters – Juana, Catarina and Santa – have capitalized on their cooking skills to open a small restaurant. In addition to coffee, smoothies, and standard-fare meals, Juana makes chocolate-dipped bananas and, her own inspiration, chocolate-dipped orange slices.

Photo caption: María Francisca shows her wares
Credit: Bethany Beachum, CWS

Guatemala Nebaj-Quetzaltenango Program
Led by Church World Service and local partner CIEDEG
20 Communities, 771 households, 3,855 individuals

02/08/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Beekeeping Proves to be One Honey of an Opportunity

My name is Sara.  I live with my husband, José, and our two daughters, 8 and 5. We recently learned beekeeping through the program, and we love it! Once you’re set up, the bees do all the work to make the honey. We harvest every 15-20 days in the summer, anywhere from two to 60 one-quart bottles, depending on how many coffee trees are flowering around our hives. Our honey is high quality, and we can sell it for a good price – $6.00 a quart. The money allows us to buy food and medicines, and we’ve noticed that eating honey keeps us healthier, too.

José breaks rocks in the quarry for construction, and we both work as laborers during the coffee harvest. So, when [local partner] PAG offered training in beekeeping or raising pigs, chickens or tilapia, we started dreaming about earning more by selling honey.

Initially, we spent time with a beekeeping family in another community, learning about bee management and honey production. After that orientation, PAG gave us technical training, two beehives, and bee-handling equipment. Once we had a little practice, we began to find and capture natural bee swarms in the mountains, and expanded our honeybee operations to ten double-box hives in less than a year. We are preparing two extra hives to give to the next family as part of the “pass it on” program run by PAG.

Our goal is to have 30 double-box hives to provide us with a good additional income for our family. We’re thankful to God and the program for this opportunity.

Photo caption: José shows the family’s double-box hives

Honduras Comayagua Program
Led by Church of the Brethren and Local Partner Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG)
22 communities, 180 households, 1,960 individuals

02/06/2018 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More