With your support, hard work by the Rwandan farmers, and the wide-ranging advice from Frank Mutesa, Tools for Hope, Inc. (TFH) achieved its primary goals for 2020 and made progress on an added goal toward sustainable development for the Twisungane cooperative. Frank Mutesa, TFH Rwandan employee and mentor to the Twisungane families, led the way in incorporating no-till farming techniques, off-farm income producing projects, and crop and food preservation improvements. Additionally, we made progress supplying adequate, economical, clean water to the cooperative members. Too often they are using water from the river which is dirty, and this has affected their health for so long.
During April 2020 Rwanda implemented a nation-wide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown TFH supplied rice, corn flour, and cooking oil enough to sustain them for 2 months. Normally, TFH does not give such free aid. However, the COVID-19 problem is unique. TFH supplied the (Rwandan currency) funds to the farmers to buy their food supplies from local Rwandan businesses. Supplying free food to the farmers from outside their country (e.g., from the USA) would have the effect of undermining local businesses. No Rwandan businessperson can compete with free goods and services.
In early 2020, Frank began a trial to determine the efficacy of no-till farming for the farmers. He set up six plots, three using no-till farming and three using typical land preparation / farming techniques. Each plot was planted with the same crop (beans), used the same fertilizers and other inputs. The farmers did all the work, TFH guaranteed that the farmers would not lose income if the no-till technique failed, and Frank oversaw the process.
The results of the trial showed the superiority of the no-till technique. More food was produced with significantly less labor (the farmers have no farm machinery), lower costs of inputs, and soil fertility was improved. Through 2020 and into 2021 the farmers are now using the no-till technique.
Frank has thoroughly trained them in how to sustain this significant improvement to their farming. He also teaches them how to calculate rainfall distribution data from METEO-RWANDA, and how to plan which crops to cultivate and which agricultural system to use as regards the amount of rainfall predicted for the upcoming season. Frank introduced the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA) approach. The PICSA approach evaluates historical climate information and uses hands-on tools to develop and choose crop, livestock, and livelihood options best suited to individual farmers’ circumstances.
In February 2020, Frank and the farmers held discussions on their up-coming goat purchases through loans from Tools for Hope (TFH). The goats were delivered the first of March 2020. Eleven farmer families agreed to the terms of the TFH (one-year+, no interest) loan and each family received two goats (~$60.00 per goat). Their goat project has been going very well, all their goats have given birth. Their goats are being kept in good conditions.
The off-farm project of their motorcycle transportation business is doing very well. Their revenue is good, and they continue to pay the loan as agreed upon. So far for repayment of their (no interest) motorbike loan (~$2,600.00), every two weeks they deposit 42,000 Rwanda Francs (~$43.85) into a local TFH bank account. However, their business was suspended during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In May, the lockdown in Rwanda ended but with some restrictions still in place. With the end of the lockdown TFH employee, Frank Mutesa, was able to verify the farmer’s activities, to hold meetings, and to give technical support as usual.
Because their farms cannot produce enough food and income our smallholder farmers depend on informal day-work. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic measures to minimize travel. Our farmers could not travel to find work. Without income from day-labor and while waiting for their primary crops to mature they were down to one meal or less per day. Crop and food preservation therefore took on added importance.
We emphasize the necessity of growing vegetables and fruit trees in their back yards (kitchen gardens) to ensure they get the proper food and thus improve their immune systems as one of the measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food preservation is one of the most critical problems that the farmers need to solve to combat hunger. Most of their crop yields are lost or were sold at minimum market prices because farmers had no suitable techniques for food preservation. With focus on proper harvesting, effective post-harvest techniques, implementation of preservation techniques such as drying and converting some crops to flour the farmers have been able to significantly extend their food supplies. We will continue to pursue acceptable and practical techniques to further secure their food supply.
For the farmers, obtaining clean water is among the difficult issues that they experience all their lives. We bought ceramic water filters to evaluate the viability of ceramic water filtration (ceramic pot-shaped filters with silver embedded in the porous ceramic). We need to find out if this technique will work in our farmer’s area.
The Twisungane group families, Frank, and the Tools for Hope, Inc. Board of Directors thank you for your support. We continue to operate with no administrative overhead (no rent, no utilities, no website fees, no USA employees, etc.). Annual Rwandan travel, Frank’s salary, and zero interest loans to the farmers form ~95% of TFH expenses. With you support TFH continues to improve its ability to help more subsistence farmers. The current group has grown from ~15 to ~100 members. We anticipate expanding the group or adding a new group in 2021.