As we started May, the lockdown in Rwanda ended but with some restrictions still in place. Tools for Hope, Inc. (TFH) activities were still taking 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. The farmer’s motorbike taxi transportation business is coming back, now with a strong emphasize on showing people how to use the cashless ways in paying for services. This is a challenge with our farmers, but we are obliged to show them its importance.
We have started to emphasize the necessity of growing vegetables and fruit trees in their back yards (kitchen gardens) to ensure they get the proper foods and thus improve their immune systems as one of the measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have been also monitoring our research trials, the no-till research trial, and the individual farms to see how they have been affected by the heavy rains that occurred in Rwanda during the April-May period.
We have been doing surveys, observations, and talking with various people about securing clean water and how they see the various technologies working in their community.
Also, we have been searching for other vulnerable farmer groups that we may be able to mentor as this is one of the goals for TFH.
Emphasizing and Training Farmers to Focus on Growing Vegetables and Fruits in Their Backyards
Vegetables and fruits high in vitamins C and E are particularly important in boosting the immune system, and they are rich in antioxidants. TFH has been stressing to the farmers to cultivate these in their gardens. Frank has been trying to make and grow his own fruits seeds for the farmers to use. For example, Frank has tried to make orange tree seeds sprout from a ‘store bought’ orange. Using his knowledge of agricultural science Frank produced good orange seed sprouts ready to be planted. Frank planted them in a pot and soon he will be transporting them to the farmers backyards for transplanting after they have shown a good germination rate.
This is Frank’s own trial and he is going to plant the seeds and help the farmers to try to grow their own oranges. If all goes well, after four years the farmers will not need to buy oranges in the market. They will be selling their oranges in the market and eating fruit more often.
They also have personal vegetable farms. Below are two photographs of one such kitchen garden. It is of Samuel’s (Twisungane group leader / president) vegetable plot which we are using as the farmer field school for our group and for other farmers around the community.
During the time that we have collaborated with them, the farmers have understood the logic of working together and of planting vegetables in their personal kitchen gardens. In the picture above, Samuel is holding the beetroots that were planted in his backyard. Our program emphasizes cultivating nutritious vegetables in their kitchen gardens. This has been a strong message also from the government which is emphasizing people to eat a balanced diet as one of the ways to fight the negative impact of corona virus. (see https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277432 for information about the benefits of beets)
Monitoring our No-till Research Trials and Other Individual Farms Affected by Heavy Rainfalls.
Usually in Rwanda, during April-May, we have rains, and sometimes heavy ones. During this recent period, we had heavy rainfalls which resulted in flooding farming activities and even deaths in parts of the country. In our no-till research farms we experienced slight flooding especially the plots that are near the river, but this hasn’t destroyed our data because we had replicated our treatments and therefore in the analysis we will use the remaining plots.
The picture above shows the small part of our no-till research that was destroyed by flooding of the river due to heavy rainfalls and the fullness of the aquifer in our lands. Therefore, we have emphasized to our farmers to always accept the environmental awareness advice of not practicing any cultivation within 10-20 meters of the river, depending on their soil type.
Frank has been teaching them how to practice soil and water management measures. For example, the ‘ridge and furrow’ method is a highly effective soil and water conservation method that can help in catching water, helps slow down runoff, and helps in infiltration rate (water into soil). This is one of the best soil and water management practices. Frank has encouraged the farmers to always think about this whenever they are going to prepare their lands. Because most of the time the agricultural season starts few weeks before the start of the rainy season.
There are also other government infrastructures that were badly destroyed by the heavy rainfalls. More than 10,000 acres of rice were destroyed.
Clean Water Issues
The lack of clean water is a major hazard in our farmer communities and, has been for years now. They are full in accordance with any decision and strategy that will bring clean water to them. We have been discussing this with farmers and now Frank is planning to discuss this with the local leaders to see how we can best help them. We hope soon we will get the proper strategy for this issue and be able to deliver clean water to our poor families.
Possibility to Adopt Another Group of Poor Farmers for Mentor-ship Program
TFH has also surveyed different areas to look for other poor families who are vulnerable, need significant help and to mentor and to help them to help themselves. Frank has been talking to them and assessing their lifestyles and he has performed analysis of the potential groups.
The groups Frank has seen are extremely poor and vulnerable. We are still assessing our next steps. Our decision will be based in large part by what they think it is best for themselves.
Our Way Forward
We are happy that we can now continue our work and that life has started to be normal as before. Frank is planning to teach farmers about the use of the ‘cashless’ business model which is often now the only option for doing business, and thus will require the mobile money training (providing / using financial services on mobile devices) and how they can connect their banking accounts and their phones.
Tools For Hope, Inc.
1540 Robinson Road
Knoxville, TN 37923
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