laurie's blog

Mushrooming Success for Cambodian Farmers

Channy and Chantol, a young Cambodian couple, have seen many changes over the last few years, all thanks to a fungus.  They were among the first to adopt mushroom growing when World Hope began working in their village three years ago.  “We were skeptical at first, said Channy, “so we just built a small mushroom house to test it out.”  After realizing how beneficial mushrooms could be, they built a second, larger structure and their parents built two structures as well.
 
The couple works hard, and has become skillful mushroom growers.  Although they typically average an income of $300 per month, they have earned as much as $1,000 in a month from mushrooms alone.  This is especially impressive considering that the GDP per capita in Cambodia is $1,159.   On the off days between planting and harvest, Channy sells sugarcane juice for additional income.

As a result of their efforts, the couple has been able to purchase a motorbike, buy land, and build a new house. They are also raising chickens and ducks, and eating higher-quality food now, given their improved income. Their mushroom houses are still behind their parents’ home, but they plan to build additional structures on their own property soon. 

Although Channy and Chantol are in many ways model mushroom farmers, their success has not come without challenges.  Their parents recently filled in the land in front of their home, so when it rains hard, the water flows downhill into the mushroom house, bringing with it debris that can damage the growing crop.  In addition, now that others are also growing mushrooms, the necessary materials (rice straw and mung-bean pods) that were once readily available and free, are becoming very valuable and hard to find.


Cambodia East program
Led by World Hope
3 Communities, 340 Households, 1,700 Individuals



10/13/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Water Security Flows Into Food Security

During a severe 2014 drought, a neighboring community and its 10,000 head of cattle survived because of sand dams, the only source of water.  So, when the 15 members of a self-help group in FRB's Kenya Ngong Intashat program decided it was time to build one, they were able to recruit their entire community to pitch in.

These concrete structures, built across sandy areas along seasonal rivers, capture and hold water and sand from flash floods. As the raging waters slam into the dam, sand carried by the water sinks, and water collects in the sand in the hole dug for the purpose. More water is held in a pond on the other side of the wall, and used throughout the year for household needs, agriculture, and livestock.  When a drought hits and the pond is dry, water that’s been stored in the sand away from dirt and insects can be reached by digging. 

The dam in Kajiado County was inaugurated in April, and the community received instruction on its care and efficient use. Because maintenance is in the hands of the residents, they know it’s up to them to keep it in good order. They’ll be building a fence to keep livestock out, and directing water to collection points below the dam for cattle to drink.

This community has started a small vegetable garden near the dam site, planting kales, spinach and onions. Because most people’s experience and livelihoods are based on cattle, they receive training from MIDI, the local partner, on keeping bees, tending kitchen gardens, and creating small-business activities. Self-help groups are also learning dryland farming techniques to diversify their food sources and protect themselves from total crop failures.

Kenya Ngong Intashat program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and local partner MIDI
10 communities, 4,500 households, 31,500 individuals




09/28/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Childhood Malnutrition Drops Dramatically

FRB’s Castrovirreyna program is the only NGO presence in eight remote Andean villages in Peru’s poorest state. At up to 15,000 feet, temperatures are below freezing at night, and hailstorms, floods and droughts are common. Yet the inhabitants are so grateful for the assistance that they quickly put into practice everything they learn. The most remarkable result so far is a dramatic reduction in child malnutrition, from 55% to 22%.

The yield of vegetables from farmer Rubén’s greenhouse is so good he has extra to sell. His organic methods control pests and fungi, and he’s raising disease-free potato seedlings to share with his community. Rubén says, “More potatoes mean more income and a better life for my family.” His children are all in school, and he foresees a brighter future for them.

Mario and Lucía raise guinea pigs and chickens, grow vegetables in their greenhouse for home and market, and plant 100 different varieties of potatoes and tubers. Each has a special flavor, unique nutrients, and traits such as suitability for mashing, baking, adding to soups, or as an entrée, or can withstand drought or excessive rains.

Once Eusebia and Juvenal learned that storing cooking and eating utensils on the floor exposed them to parasitic diseases from their chickens and guinea pigs, they were quick to build recommended shelving. Eusebia says she can’t remember the last time her kids were sick, now that they boil water for drinking and cleaning and keep their utensils stacked in their new cupboard.

When Marcos and his wife, Basilisa, were asked whether the program should invest more in his community or expand to others, Marcos replied, “We’ve already been so blessed.  More people should be blessed like we’ve been.” At a loss for words in Spanish, their second language, to express what the program has meant to them, Marcos and other participants simply say, “Gracias. Gracias. Gracias.”

Pictured: Eusebia with shelving unit


Led by Lutheran World Relief and Local Partner CEDINCO
8 Communities, 112 Households, 557 Individuals

09/26/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Seeing is Believing

Land is scarce in Tan Son district in North Central Vietnam, and growing enough food to last throughout the year is a challenge. It is no wonder that farmers are hesitant to adjust their practices without proof that it will work. The Tan Son program is working to provide the needed proof, and farmers are slowly changing their practices. 

One of the major changes that is already being seen across the area is the use of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).  Farmers who are using it seem convinced that the wider spacing and use of a single seedling per planting station are making a difference and increasing their yields.  The main question most farmers still struggle with is about the amount and type of fertilizer they should use.

Fertilizer helps plants to grow well, so many farmers figure that more fertilizer is better, and use as much as they can afford.  The Tan Son program is encouraging farmers to experiment with three different approaches. The first is to use as much as the farmer can afford.  The second is the amount recommended by the local extension agent, applied at three different times during the growing season. The third is one application of slow-release fertilizer at a low dosage.  Each approach was modeled across several villages, allowing farmers to observe the resulting yields and decide for themselves which method works best.

Cuong experimented with a single application of slow-release fertilizer.  Using this method, she produced enough rice to last her family throughout the year. After seeing a 70% increase in her production with reduced fertilizer, she is enthusiastic about using this method again.

Uyen followed the advice of the district agriculture consultant and used three applications of fertilizer.  While she saw a 29% increase in production, she suspects it is from her switch to SRI, since she used the same fertilization method as before. She plans to experiment with several types of fertilizer during the next growing season to determine which works best.

Tim used both slow release fertilizer and compost.  Her yield has doubled thanks to the use of SRI.  One of her fields did not do well since fertilizer runoff from a neighbor’s overuse affected her field.  This helped her to conclude that it is very important not to overuse fertilizer.

A member of the Kim Thuong Commune Project Management Committee noted that the program has been instrumental in helping people learn to use fertilizer appropriately and enabling them to grow enough rice through SRI to meet their food security needs.

Vietnam Tan Son program
Led by Mennonite Central Committee and
People's Committee of Tan Son District
6 Communities, 512 Households, 2,212 Individuals

09/18/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Mulching Means More Maize

Salome spends a lot less time on farm work because the mulching she does suppresses weeds and frees her from hoeing, a task that used to consume most of her time.  

Like most farmers in this dry region of Kenya, Salome’s maize yields were increasingly disappointing until she tried a number of techniques aimed at building soil fertility and retaining moisture.  This harvest, Salome’s production tripled in spite of a lack of rain.  She had improved her soil with such conservation agriculture practices as minimum tillage, applying manure as fertilizer, crop rotation, agroforestry, and using drought-tolerate varieties. But, for Salome, the technique she most appreciates is mulching. With less overall work, her harvest increased from one to four 220-pound bags of maize in the same small plot.

She and other farmers have also started practicing better post-harvest grain handling and storage, including drying maize on tarps in the sun to prevent the poisonous fungus aflatoxin. Many are storing their grain now in hermetically sealed bags that prevent moisture and pests without chemicals. Higher yields and reduced post-harvest losses mean more overall food for their families, more to sell, and more to plant the following year.

Participant farmers are also planting trees to produce fruit, fuel, wood, shade, and mulching materials. All these and other improved practices are taught at the program’s two hands-on Farmer Field Schools and disseminated through their communities by trained facilitators. When they see the great results that conservation farming yields, area farmers go on to put their new knowledge to work on their own farms.

Kenya Tigania encompasses 7 Communities, 200 Households, 1,000 Individuals
Led by World Renew and local partner ADS - Mt Kenya

09/14/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Community Pools Resources to Overcome Drought

Once community members in FRB’s Kenya Magarini program realized they had the resources at hand to overcome food insecurity despite their challenges, including a regional drought, they poured themselves into making positive change happen. The inspiration came from a hands-on Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA) process that helped them analyze their challenges, identify solutions and create a community action plan to guide their development.  

“If it hadn’t been for this program and the PRA, we would not be farming as a group and we could not know the benefits of coming together as a community,” says Saidi, a trained community resource person.

He tells how they started with two Farmer Field Schools with demo farms. The first planting season was challenging because of the drought. They only planted a few crops -- just enough to establish a kitchen garden for the farmers to learn about crop diversification as a way to reduce their risks of crop failure. But when they also tried planting on their individual farms, the farmers harvested little or nothing due to the drought.

That’s when the field school members decided to join forces to plant a community garden. A member loaned them two acres of land that had adequate water for irrigation so they could produce vegetables for income and family consumption. They received a loan from their community-based savings and loan association to purchase insecticides and, with additional capital from members, they bought seeds.

"Member families had access to nutritious vegetables that they could either buy or receive on credit,” says Chrispine, a farmer in the program. At times members even received free produce to motivate them to work in the garden.

Saidi reports that they made a total of $773 from the sale of the second harvest, and $360 from the third. That harvest was smaller because of some challenges the group faced with the farm owner, but they are now clearing and preparing a different plot for their fourth planting season.

The community is buying PVC pipe and a water pump for irrigation, and bricks to construct a shallow well for easier access to water. They also have money in their account for fuel for the water pump, land preparation and farm inputs.

“The challenges didn’t stop us from doing what we love,” says Saidi. “We are really grateful.”

Kenya Magarini encompasses 10 communities, 1,842 households and 4,836 individuals

Led by World Renew and local partner ADS Pwani

06/01/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Devaputra Leads Neighbors in Adopting Organic Farming

Devaputra, his wife, and their six children are experiencing increased food and nutrition security from eating the traditional crops they now grow organically on their farm. They say they feel safer because they know there are no chemical residues in their food, and they appreciate the economic benefits of not having to buy seeds, fertilizer and insecticides.

Farmers like Devaputra are conserving and using native seeds and adopting organic farming practices to help them flourish in spite of this year’s drought and other weather-related effects in Southern India.

Devaputra has been a member of a farmers’ cooperative since 2013 which later joined FRB’s India South program. He has participated in a number of capacity-building programs and workshops that focus on organic agriculture and emphasize the need for genetically diverse food crops, especially native millet, in adapting to climate change. As a result, he and the other participants have been able to adjust their farming practices, maintain optimal soil pH and fertility, protect beneficial insects, and achieve greater yields.

As a member of his co-op’s governing body, Devaputra wants everyone to experience his family’s success. He has emerged as a role model for the other farmers of his village and surrounding villages, actively promoting native seed saving and conservation agriculture. He recently hosted a field day on his farm to show the benefits of organic farming.


India South encompasses 30 communities, 500 households, and 2,500 individuals

 

05/30/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Warming Trend: Winter Crops Increase Family Food Security

Tam and Oanh are neighbors and close friends whose small fields are side by side. Every day, when one of the women is ready to work on her field, she calls to her friend and they walk to their plots together. Mixed into their conversations about work, family, weather and more are the sustainable farming techniques they’ve learned through FRB’s Vietnam Tan Son program.

They participated in a training course on planting crops that would perform well in the climate and soil conditions of the winter season when, after two harvests, farmers traditionally let their fields lay fallow. Tam and Oanh agreed that the practice wasted precious resources that could allow them to feed their families without having to work on someone else’s land for cash.

The farmers were encouraged to experiment with rotational cultivation and increase the variety and number of crops in order to get more food and prevent soil diseases. After training, some pilot households received seed. Tam and Oanh were not on the pilot list, but their interest was high enough that they each bought seeds and committed to following what they learned at the training.

Oanh chose to grow sweet potatoes. Tam chose corn. Last year, Tam and Oanh were able to harvest their fields three times. By adding winter crops, their families did not suffer a food shortage. Tam notes, “We’ll plant winter crops next year. Having corn in winter makes us feel warm in our stomachs.”

The Tan Son program will continue to use agricultural models to evaluate and promote the effectiveness of different crops and farming techniques. Training activities not only help people in difficult areas achieve sustainable food security, they promote good relationships within the community.

Vietnam Tan Son encompasses 6 communities, 512 households, and 2,212 individuals

05/08/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Farmer Field Schools Lead to Lasting Changes for Douglas

My name is Douglas. I’m 43 years old, married with 3 children, and I’m a member of a Farmer Field School. I’ve worked the land all my adult life, growing corn and beans on my 5-hectare (12-acre) plot. We used to have set planting times, and prepared the land by burning and raking. Our yields weren’t so good, so we had to go to pick coffee on other farms for a few months a year to earn money for food and home expenses.

Thanks to the training workshops, I’ve made a lot of changes over the past year. They include waiting for the best time to plant by consulting with others and listening for crop and weather information on the radio. And instead of burning and raking, leaving the ground naked, I use careful placement of organic refuse to protect the soil from erosion. I’m also trying out different drought-tolerant seed varieties.

Now, I don’t just grow corn and beans, but have filled our land with other food plants. Corn and beans are expensive to cultivate, and have not yielded well in past years. Instead, we are planting more crops for our families to eat, and we are also learning to grow coffee, cocoa and other cash crops. In fact, I’m even intercropping my bananas, chocolate, coffee, and cassava to use my land more efficiently.

These changes have helped my family’s wellbeing. We’re improving our house, have bought a cow, and have replaced a part of our land that we had sold. Now we only go to the coffee harvest for a couple of weeks a year. I am working at convincing more of my neighbors try these new techniques so they can know the same success I have had.

FRB’s local partner, AMC, says that an initial needs assessment on each farm allows them to invest resources wisely. AMC staff has learned that adapting new practices is a long-term process with the farmers, so individualized technical visits to farms are a priority. Attendance at workshops is not necessarily an indicator of success, so follow-up with participants after workshops is a must to promote lasting change in attitudes in the farming families.

Nicaragua-Farmer encompasses 7 communities, 361 households, and 1, 625 individuals

04/10/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More

Surrounded by Problems, Jogindra Finds Help and Hope

My name is Jogindra. I am 55 years old. My father died when I was young, so I lived with my elder brother and helped him in his work. He arranged my marriage when I was only 14. It was hard for me to provide for my wife, but I was always thinking about how I could improve. I decided to lease land to start farming, and was eventually able to purchase 3 kattha [about ¼ of an acre] and began growing vegetables and rice. However, I often found it difficult to run my house as smoothly as I wanted. I was tense and found it hard to deal with my daily problems.

Then, one day, I had an idea: why not look into one of the farmers’ groups organized by BICWS Nepal? Since I joined this past year, my knowledge has been built up so much. We now eat fresh vegetables, and I grow enough food to keep us well fed. We also have enough to sell some of it in the local market. I’ve made 24,000 rupees ($228) in a season, with a profit of 16,000 rupees ($152), a significant improvement over the past. I plan to lease an additional 5 kattha of land [approximately ½ acre] to increase my production of vegetables.

I am thankful and happy that this program was there to help me when I was surrounded by so many problems. I have learned a lot by attending classes and training events on how to grow my vegetables, make compost fertilizer, and protect my plants from pests through Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Men and women farmers in FRB’s Nepal-Bhatigachh program receive training in vegetable farming, seed saving and making worm compost to fertilize their fields. In addition to rice, they have mainly been growing eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, chili peppers, potatoes, leafy greens, tomatoes, and radish. Most of the farmers had better yields due to sufficient rains in the last six months, and sold their excess produce at their local market. They used the money for family health and education needs and to cover a variety of household expenses.

Nepal-Bhatigachh encompasses 9 communities, 2,603 households and 13,748 individuals

04/10/2017 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment | Read More
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