During October 2019 Frank Mutesa (Tools for Hope’s Rwandan employee) was busy finishing a formal interviewing process to gather information needed for his USA visit with the TFH Board of Directors and many of our supporters, checking the farmer’s fields, and training the farmers on some of the agricultural techniques needed during the upcoming agriculture season (2019-2020 Season A).
Most farmers near the river (for irrigation) planted corn/maize, beans, and other vegetables. Frank trained them on the techniques needed to get their fields in shape to have good yields at harvest time. During this part of the cultivation season, farmers do most of their work on the field and, this is the time when some of them, if not advised well, can make mistakes in certain activities that later can destroy and or hinder their yields and drive their production down.
Utilizing the questionnaire interview to gather data
Frank interviewed the farmers using a formal questionnaire because we needed information on the issues that we are trying to solve. We needed to assess our Tools for Hope, Inc. (TFH) activities to ensure we are linking our efforts to the most important needs of the farmers. Frank conducts these interviews by approaching farmers in their homes and talking to them in a way that encourages the farmers to freely talk about their problems. Frank assured the farmers that this information was going to help TFH improve its efforts. We want to get to the core of their issues and to find concrete and effective solutions which will help all Twisungane farmers to be stronger economically and socially, implement sustainable development, and reach food security.
Frank conducted half of the interviews indoors. His purpose was to talk about social issues and to help them to change their mindset about such issues as household cleanliness and hygiene.
These farmers are extremely poor and, in the past, have had no hope for a better future. We have found that for many of them everything they do centers on their struggle to eat, and this hampers other activities that would enable them to live in more dignified conditions. TFH is trying to eradicate this mindset of hopelessness by helping them to imagine a brighter future for themselves and for their children. When Frank is talking to them in their homes, he teaches them basic aspects of cleanness, and discusses making plans and goals for their future. This helps them to dream and work to make their dreams come true.
Frank interviewed 17 of the 20 families making up the Twisungane group. The 3 remaining families were not present this month and, we will interview them later. However, we now have enough data to start our analysis. The data will help us to develop statistical and qualitative analyses to reach sound conclusions about how best to continue to provide the farmers with the necessary mentoring to help them in their fight against poverty.
Monitoring the farmers field and conducting agriculture system
October is the start of the agriculture season 2019-2020 Season A, and they need to start well so that they can increase their productivity. They have planted maize/corn, beans, cabbage, cassava, sweet potato, banana (already planted), and sorghum. The inputs must be prepared and the seed varieties to be planted need to be in good condition. Frank guides the farmers to plant good seeds and apply good, well prepared manure. In some cases Frank has advised them to use good inorganic fertilizers and to use the recommended quantities.
In addition, Frank mentors them on necessary activities such as weeding on time. Frank tells them that modern agriculture is not just using modern mechanization but also making sure they do their farming activities on time. The picture above shows a maize/corn plot with weeds. The weeds compete with the corn for the nutrients in the soil. Frank explains to the farmers why and how this is problematic. He encourages them to make sure they uproot the weeds which will make it easier for the corn/maize to yield a good crop with less nutrient competition. The picture above is of a typical farm. Too many farmers do not perform weeding on time, and this can reduce their yields up to 40%.
Other issues were a barn for livestock especially cattle/cows, and manure and compost making. Frank discussed those issues with them. He showed them how to re-build their barn using in-expensive materials and techniques. Frank explained that the most important thing is to make sure the livestock are well kept, in clean conditions in a proper barn and, that this will eventually increase milk production.
The above is the pile of manure and compost that Frank is checking. Although the farmer is trying to collect manure to compost, this pile is not well kept, which decreases the quality of the manure.
When manure is exposed to the air as in the photo above, it loses its nutrient content. Its nitrogen escapes to the atmosphere because of heating of the manure by the sun rays. Because nitrogen is volatile can escape, and the farmer is left with manure that is not of decent quality for the crops. Frank trained the farmers on how to make a good compost pile and encouraged them to find something with which to cover their compost to help improve the quality of their manure. In the past they did not cover their manure piles because they did not know the importance of doing so and now, they understand.
Conducting meetings, working together on issues related to the motorbike taxi business, and hearing the farmer’s ideas
Frank and the farmers conducted meetings to talk about issues related with their motorbike project such as the importance of making their payments on time and saving the gross profits to apply to future expenses e.g., insurance, maintenance, etc. Frank and the farmers also set up rules for expanding the business and for governing the group.
We have other families that need to join our group, or we may need to start another group; therefore, we need systems and strategies to allow more people to receive TFH mentoring. Frank and the farmers also discussed how to start to think of more (non-farm) projects and every member has the assignment of producing some ideas and especially ideas that generate money. Such non-farm projects which produce cash-flows from off-farm work are vital to the well-being of the farmers. Because of land restrictions our group of farmers cannot rely solely on farming for their livelihoods they need ‘off-farm’ employment. Viable, local small-businesses owned and operated by the farmers can help solve that problem.
Frank and the Tools for Hope (TFH) Board of Directors will discuss these ideas while Frank is in the USA in November 2019.
The above photo is of the farmers’ committee. We meet with them to share and to talk about ideas. This helps us create a bond of trust with the farmers. Frank told them about his upcoming visit to the USA for discussions with the TFH board and our supporters, and they all prayed for Frank to arrive safely in the United States and told him to pass their warmest thoughts to Tools for Hope.
The way forward
The group is now doing great they are learning a great deal from their motorbike (taxi) business. Significantly their attitudes are now changing, and they can see a better future and they are able to train their minds to think in a positive way. This is what TFH is doing, changing their mindset. Their agriculture activities also are conducted better than the way they used to be. Therefore, we believe this will be a successful way to eradicate poverty. Because when they feel better and think positively then it is easier for them to focus their efforts and have hope for a better future.