Frank Mutesa, Tools for Hope (TFH) Rwandan agricultural mentor, continued to train and encourage the Twisungane Cooperative farmers.
During March, the most important agricultural activities were weeding, pest, and pathogen control.
During April we expect to begin the clean water treatment trials, with the consent and approval of the Twisungane Cooperative leadership.
Frank continued encouraging food preservation in the Twisungane community to ensure they are not losing their yield due to lack of proper preservation.
TFH and cooperative representatives continued discussions on projects enabling sustainable development e.g., an added motorcycle taxi, and sewing machines for a tailoring business.
Weeding, Pests and Disease Control Techniques
When weeding is not done on time farmers can lose more than 50% of their yield, as weeds compete with their crop for nutrients necessary for crop growth. To reach sustainable and decent quality production in agriculture they employ specific and frequent management methods for crop growth. Management involves deciding which activities to follow in each stage. TFH continues to train and encourage farmers in all those aspects.
In March, the most important agriculture activities are weeding, pest, and disease control. Many of our farmers cultivated beans in this season and the weeding activity was done using a hand-held hoe. This is an important activity in agriculture, because if not done on time, then farmers can lose more than 50% of their yield, as weeds compete with crops for nutrients.
TFH also helps farmers in detecting and finding deficiency symptoms in their crops. Frank mentors them in differentiating between nutrient deficiencies by field observations and, pest and disease damage to the crops.
Frank’s primary role is to encourage good management. To that end he explains to our farmers the danger of not doing the weeding on time and its importance in agriculture and crop production. Weeds are an important biotic constraint to crop production because they compete with crops for the same resources i.e., water, nutrients, light, and carbon dioxide. Frank is simplifying the scientific language for local understanding and is happy that our farmers have understood these concepts. Farmers have understood that weeds can be the alternate hosts for crop pest and pathogens, and they are the major yield reducing factors. This knowledge is very important to farmers and it is good that they put this knowledge in practice.
Clean Water and Food Preservation Technologies
In Rwanda, an estimated 57% of the population has access to safe drinking water within 30 minutes of their homes. The issue of available, clean water is significant for our community. Presently, they boil their water to make sure bacteria are killed. Boiling their water is expensive for smallholder farmers and poor families.
TFH is trying to supply a solution for this issue. Our proposed solution is based on using specially manufactured ceramic filter units. The units are inexpensive and last for several years with little to no maintenance. The input water can come from mud puddles or polluted streams. We have 3 such ceramic water filter units to be evaluated by the farmers.
As always, we have discussed this with our farmers. They are asking for more explanations about how the ceramic filtration system works. Some of them have used mud pots in the past to filter water, and they think that our proposed ceramic filters are in some way like those mud pots.
Frank spends the necessary time with the farmers to answer their questions and to explain how the proposed system will work. (the ceramic filters are impregnated with silver to kill pathogens in the water, the filters also are made with holes small enough to filter out pathogens and still allow water to flow through; such filters are highly effective. TFH proposes to add a step to ensure that the filtered water is pathogen free i.e., via a solar disinfection technique)
Frank also continued his discussions with the farmers on the issue of food preservation. This is one of the TFH high priority goals towards sustainable development.
The oldest methods of preservation are drying, refrigeration, and fermentation. More modern methods include canning, pasteurization, freezing, irradiation, and adding of chemicals. Our farmers are now using drying and fermentation (sour milk) systems and adding chemicals to aid in preservation. TFH encourages farmers to keep using the safest ways of preservation according to their capability and financial means. Most of our farmers lack the financial means to apply the modern methods of preservation and lack of modern and advanced packaging materials e.g., canning or pasteurization.
Non-Agricultural Enterprises for Sustainable Development
TFH and Twisungane farmers agreed together that, the development of smallholder farmers cannot just be achieved with agriculture alone. Although their agriculture is improving day by day, however because of the size of their land and lack of modern technologies, agricultural development for them is extremely limited.
They need other, non-agricultural alternatives. TFH and the farmers continue to discuss and investigate other business channels that Twisungane cooperative may engage in e.g., their transportation business, selling small items that are consumed in the community. They are also focusing on businesses that our women can engaged in. They are now discussing the tailoring business.
The cooperative members and Frank are encouraging TFH (USA) to supply support to buy three sewing machines and another motorcycle for the taxi business. TFH supplies such funding when the farmers present a workable business plan and loan repayment agreement.
The Way Forward
Twisungane farmers are doing their best to plan for their future with the help of TFH. Frank is now collaborating with the farmers to develop the necessary business plans as bases for the support to continue expanding their business and be able to take care of other pending projects.