We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Women in Agriculture

"Hodi!" We called out the customary greeting as we approached Mama Naomi's home. She came to meet us and she and Tim, Mum, Peter and I exchanged greetings. Naomi is one of the many women who has recently joined the agricultural project in Lutale village, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Naomi, like many of the women we are now working with, has a difficult life. She told me that God in heaven needed six of her children. She has birthed eight children, but now has only Winnie and her 14 year old sister. Naomi led us to the small area behind her house that she farms for her family. There is little there; the soil is incredibly dry and very sandy. Our first aim is to improve the quality of soil and so Peter has been working with her, planting nitrogen fixing beans and teaching on the importance of mulch. It has been a struggle for Naomi to get mulch, but soon, once the beans grow and spread, there will be a natural cover to retain the water.

Before we left, we sat awhile on wooden stools outside Naomi's home and then she gave us her sweet potatoes - a taste of Lutale, especially for Mum.

Mama Naomi shows us her small plot of land to farm

Jackbeans starting to shoot up.
A gift of sweet potatoes from Naomi
We went on to visit Bibi's shamba (I don't know her actual name, we just call her "Grandma"). She is elderly and she is poor. Maybe not what you might imagine when we say we are working with "farmers," but she needs this farm. There is not much to look at in this plot. The area is small, full of weeds, with just a small amount of mulch material. But Peter has also been working with her, encouraging her to remove the weeds, to keep mulching and now, even without the much-needed rain, her jackbeans are coming up! We hope that we can help Bibi work this soil to be productive and help her harvest far more from it.

Bibi's small plot of land
We continued on our traipse across the fields, and found this cheerful lady, Adella, also in our conservation agriculture group. She has carried water up from the lake and is watering her seeds. The lack of rain is beginning to be a concern. We had a few days of rain last month, and thought the rainy season was starting early. Many have planted, but then the rains stopped and everything has once again dried up. Where we had good mulch, a lot of water was retained and beans are doing well. But as we go around and pray with each woman, we are really praying hard for rain now!


The miracle of jackbean and maize coming up through the mulch despite the lack of rain!

This mama was using whatever she could find for mulch material on her small patch of land.
She had grasses, leaves, banana leaves, even old tomato plants spread as a cover for her seeds.
Jackbeans emerging through a variety of mulch
In this village of Lutale, most of our group are women. This wasn't planned, it's just the way it worked out. And it's a good thing. From what we have heard, many of the men in this village are lazy and many drink too much, leaving the women to struggle to provide for their families. While we do want to be sure we teach these conservation agriculture principles to the young people and farmers of influence in the region, to those who will carry farming into the future, we cannot forget these women. Yes, their farms are small, their land is in poor shape and we can't expect great yields. Yes, some of the women are old and it's doubtful many will ever be able to teach these things to the next generation. But as the church, we have a responsibility to help these older women and widows. As I hugged Naomi thanking her for her gift as we said goodbye, it was impossible not to notice the bones sticking out in her thin body. These women really need a harvest. And the younger women we hope will be able to teach their children. We pray that they will move past subsistence farming, developing value-added products that will better support their families and help their communities.

May God bless these Lutale women in agriculture!

This well-mulched farm of another woman in the group is doing well,
again despite the long, dry conditions

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