After Frank’s return to Rwanda from consultations with the Tools For Hope, Inc. (TFH) Board of Directors, there were goals to be achieved. Frank started working on them immediately upon his return. He was pleased that the farmers are also willing to do their part. Frank discussed with the farmers the issues and related to TFH goals for food preservation, no-till agricultural farming techniques, off-farm income from small business activities e.g., their motorbike transportation business.
Frank managed to visit additional farms and provide them with some technical advice. He also solved issues related to the motorbike with the transportation authority in the country and now the farmers are back in the motorbike transportation business.
Food Preservation Techniques Used by Our Farmers
Preserving food is not new to Rwandan farmers but many of them do not practice food preservation for several reasons. They only consume the food they grow for a few weeks after the harvest. After that they are left with no preserved crops.
All our farmers are smallholder farmers, so they do not harvest much food that needs to be preserved. Of the food that they cultivate, they either sell all or, they sell half and preserve a little for home consumption. They cannot buy an adequate amount of food because their food will rot as they do not have enough skills regarding food preservation. They live by buying their food almost every day.
The crops they usually preserve are maize/corn, beans, cassava, Irish potato, sweet potato, and onion. The most common method used is drying, after soaking in water sometimes they dry the crops on the ground. We are now looking at the possible food preservation methods that farmers can start using.
Our farmers encounter economic and nutritional difficulties when food prices go up in the market. For example, the price of beans is extremely high in December, because beans are very scarce and difficult to get, especially in the rural areas. Resolving this issue of food/crop preservation will be another step in helping our farmers.
By having proper food preservation, they can store enough and use them during those periods when the price is high, especially during drought season. They can also preserve their harvested crop and sell the product when the price is good at the market.
Above are some of the old crop preservation methods. At top left is the local and normal way of preserving cassava by making cassava flour and keeping it for a long time. The photo at top right shows how to preserve sweet potato in a pit for use during drought periods when they are scarce. Bottom left – they store beans in sacks and usually dry them during the day and keep them in sack. Bottom right – they store maize/corn normally in their homes on the floor but during the day they dry them by hanging them outside their house roofs or in a hangar. The above methods are used by some of our farmers.
The no till agriculture practice is a process of planting crops without disturbing the soil or with minimum soil disturbance, maintenance of soil cover and diversification of plant species. This is one of the best ways of recovering soil fertility. Because our farmers have small pieces of land, their land is being overworked and this has resulted in the decrease of soil fertility and hence poor production which produces hunger.
From a soil perspective, the benefits of no-till farming far outnumber those of tillage-based systems. No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the soil surface. Improved soil structure and soil cover increase the soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources.
No-till practices also slow evaporation, which not only means better absorption of rainwater, but it also increases irrigation efficiency, leading to higher yields, especially during hot and dry weather.
Soil microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria, critical to soil health, also benefit from no-till practices. When soil is undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome (naturally occurring community of flora and fauna) is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.
After productive discussions with professors from the University of Tennessee, TFH has decided to start a no-till farming campaign with our farmers. At first, we will do research trials, where we will have plots of land with no-till treatment and regular tilling by hand and we will monitor the growth and yield parameters. Based on the results we will help the farmers make determinations about future sustainable agriculture production techniques.
Frank talked with different farmers and they have agreed to that plan, and we will start with the 2020, February season.
These are fields that we have found so far that have been abandoned for one season, so we will use these and other lands that farmers can provide for our no-till program.
Issues with Motorbike Transportation Authority
For a long time, the motorbike transportation / taxi business has been a flourishing business for many people in Rwanda. This was due in part to Rwandan topography and its lack of proper roadway infrastructure. Many people to use motorbikes as their way of transporting people and goods. With high use comes increased legal and insurance issues. Consequently, there are many regulations and laws to follow.
While Frank was in the USA, officials in charge of transportation wanted to verify the owner of the motorbike and to register the motorbike with the names of those responsible for the motorbike i.e., TFH. The farmers had to wait for Frank’s return, because the Twisungane farmers are not the owner. Frank, as the Rwandan representative of TFH, was required to provide the government officials his identity to be kept on file in case they might need to contact him for more information regarding the motorbike.
The government is extremely strict about such regulations and did not allow the farmers to use the motorbike, until Frank’s return. After getting back in the country Frank resolved this issue and they are now back in business as usual.
Other Potential Projects
Previously proposed projects i.e., 2 goats per family, sewing machines for the women and men who are willing to use them, and buying more motorcycles will be funded as TFH is able.
Recently TFH asked about the issue of clean water. Frank showed us the picture he took of Rwandans using dirty water to wash themselves and wash their clothes (see picture below).
This is one of the many challenges that the country suffers.
Clean water is a critical issue and, 70% of the rural population have no access to clean water. TFH is investigating clean water technology utilizing locally (African) made ceramic filters in conjunction with ceramic tablets embedded with anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and germicidal materials. The combination appears viable, economical, and suitable to the Rwandan farmers way of life. TFH will update you on our progress in implementing the processes.
Frank took this picture while working in the field. He was very much concerned because these people were coming from work, found something like a pond because it was raining, and started cleaning themselves with that water. Frank asked them ‘why are you doing this, don’t you know that this water is dirty’? They responded that, they do not have any choice. They know it is not good for their health but that’s the life they live, and they can’t go home with mud all over their bodies, so they prefer using that water to reduce the mud.
Water scarcity can lead to a variety of water-borne tropical diseases, such as typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and diarrheal illnesses. Other conditions, such as plague, typhus, and trachoma (eye infection that can result in blindness), are also common. throughout the continent, water scarcity and pollution continue to get worse.
A lack of clean water also affects the Rwandan people in other ways. Many families must travel significant distances to gain access to clean drinking water. The women and girls in the family often take on this responsibility of having to carry heavy containers of water back to their homes. Younger girls often must drop out of school and miss getting an education to help their families. These journeys to collect water are also dangerous and sometimes result in physical or sexual abuse of girls and women.