In January, at its quarterly meeting, the Tools for Hope, Inc. (TFH) Board of Directors decided to extend repayment of the loan for the twenty-two goats to eleven Twisungane families until March 2022. This allows the farmers an added year in which to grow their goat population, making it less burdensome to repay the loans. The Board also decided to loan funds for another motorcycle once repayment for the current loan reaches a satisfactory level and, to fund sewing machines for the Twisungane cooperative. (All TFH loans have zero-interest.)
Trials of the ceramic water filtration systems have started. Three volunteer families are evaluating the systems. If the systems are acceptable, TFH will work to help provide each family in the Twisungane cooperative with their own filtration unit.
We have been considering digital innovations and how to introduce them to our farmers. World-wide there are many innovations (e.g., ‘apps’) that have exciting potential in helping subsistence farmers. Suitable innovations will help development of rural communities through digital technology and the ‘internet of things.’
During January, we reviewed the existing knowledge base and preferences of the farmers about food preservation.
During January, the seasonal agricultural activities started as usual. The no-till farming trials were successful. Now the farmers are using the technique where workable.
Introducing Digital Technology to our Farmers
Digital technology in agriculture may be able to help in areas such as marketing, financial services, crop insurance services, data-driven targeted application of fertilizers and pesticides, securing weather forecast data, climate information, and soil moisture sensors, etc. Digital technology is getting greater emphasis in African agriculture. Use of digital technology may seem too sophisticated for smallholder farmers however, we believe that there are strategies we can implement to help the farmers take advantage of digital technology. For example, we may be able to set up the equivalent of agricultural extension agents to help the farmers in understanding and using internet connected devices such as smartphones.
A first step may be for the Twisungane cooperative to obtain a few smartphones. In Rwanda, such cellphones cost $100.00 each, plus service fees. With the phones, smallholder farmers can access more useful information. Such access can revolutionize how rural communities secure their livelihood.
In Rwanda, most rural communities can access the internet. In our Twisungane cooperative homes we counted only two smartphones among twenty-two members. Such smartphones are expensive for our farmers however, we need to show them the advantages in having smartphones for their development journey.
Farmers need prompt and correct information in the same way any small enterprise does. Smallholder farmers may get information through cell phones such as,
- weather and climate forecasting from national climatology/METEO agency.
- market information to buy inputs (seeds and fertilizers) and, to sell their products.
- irrigation and fertilizer advice for their crops.
- access crop protection advice and insurance.
Farmer Food Preservation Preferences
Food preservation is a valuable tool that our smallholder farmers can use to manage the small amount of crops they have. A lot of their harvest is lost due to improper food preservation techniques. TFH gathered information and made an analysis of the food preservation methods that are more preferred and useful to the farmers’ condition.
Our farmers have their preferences and knowledge in some types of food preservation. TFH met with them and saw some mismanagement caused by lack of knowledge about food preservation, and lack of proper tools. Some of the crops which they cultivate can be preserved e.g., maize, beans, cassava, sorghum, Irish potato, and sweet potato. They are reviving and using traditional preservation methods such as sun drying, salting, and cooling by digging a hole to store crops like cassava and potato, and changing some crops into flour to be used later.
Our Twisungane farmers are still having problems preserving some items such as fruits, and some vegetables. Our farmers know they lack the knowledge and ability necessary in some of food preservation techniques such as canning, vacuum packing, sugaring, and chilling.
Frank has been teaching farmers the benefits of food preservation such as,
- Save money – avoid buying more than they can use / preserve.
- Proper food preservation can help keep some of the food quality.
- Proper food preservation stops the growth of bacteria in food.
Agricultural Season B Preparations
The agricultural season B started, and farmers were busy preparing for what to plant. TFH encourages smallholder farmers to incorporate in their planning the PICSA approach (the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture approach evaluates current and historical climate information to predict local rainfall for the upcoming agricultural season).
At the beginning of each agricultural season Frank usually visits every one of our farmers to talk to them and to hear what they are planning and give them necessary advice that is tailored to their needs.
TFH is also encouraging farmers to plan together starting within the family (husband, wife, and children), this makes their family bonds stronger and, in doing so they can prosper together. After learning to plan as a team, they are better prepared to seek more advice from other farmers and, from local government agronomists where available.
Frank checked the possible agriculture inputs like fertilizers / manure, seeds if available and, field preparations. This included checking their tools that might help them.
The owner of the collective farm that Twisungane usually cultivate, at this time, has taken it back and Twisungane now are doing farming only on their individual farms (also rented). Frank will follow up and see what TFH can do.
The Way Forward
Farmers need to be introduced to digital ways of getting information to help them in their agricultural and business activities and to improve their overall knowledge to cope with life better. Smartphones can be especially important in their transition to more modern and productive ways of working. Food preservation is still an issue and we will put more emphasis and find the best sustainable solution of their farm produce.