Dec 9, 2019

This Work Is a Process: Growing Expertise in Rwanda

A family garden plot in Rwanda.
A family garden plot in Rwanda.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Bob Kacvinsky, an agronomist and longtime SPI partner. It’s a rare treat for us to receive such a detailed report of seed distribution and training. We often say that our resources are not a handout. Gardening is hard work, and Bob’s report is a good illustration of the planning that goes into a good program. Bob’s lifelong work shows how a collaboration between local leaders and our partners can provide a community with a level of expertise that will sustain them for generations to come. Rather than summarizing Bob’s work, we’ll share a series of excerpts from his report:

In late March-early April of 2019, a group from Bethel Lutheran Church, Madison, WI traveled to Kigali Rwanda on a mission trip through PICO/Faith in Action International. The host for the trip was Pastor John Rutsindintwarane, Faith in Action coordinator in Rwanda, whose mission is to create networks for community development and improvements. PICO has been rebranded as Faith in Action International.

Rwanda is a small country in east central Africa about the size of Maryland. It is a mountainous geography with steep hills and an average elevation of 5500 feet, resulting in a temporal climate with lows in the 60’s and highs typically in the 80’s to low 90’s even though it is just south of the equator. The capital is Kigali (+1.5 million) and served as our home base.

In the rural communities the focus is on education, employment which involves cottage industries such as brick/clay roof tiles kilns, but for the most part food production. The steep hillsides are heavily terraced for production from tropical fruits (bananas, plantain, mangos, avocados, etc.) and vegetables. Some lowland river valleys support white rice production; the upper mountains in western sections had extensive black tea production of which 97% is exported. Common vegetables included root crops like potatoes (including a white sweet potato), taro, carrots along with peppers, tomatoes, legumes, and several types of leafy cabbage, spinach, and amaranthus species.

Much of the ground is either government owned or operated by community cooperatives that collectively work, grow, and market the produce. Village farmer markets flourish and the youthful general population nutrition seems to be quite good. Diets consist of some meat (goat with some beef), dairy, fruit, and vegetables. Vegetables were one of the focuses of the mission projects. 

Locally grown seed is best but is not always available, especially if access to local knowledge is limited. In 2007 I connected with Seed Programs International that reprocesses vegetable seeds for global mission support. Over the past 12 years I have distributed 5400 packets of vegetable seeds to Honduras, Tanzania, and now Rwanda. 

For the Rwanda trip [we worked with] 100 packets each of Cabbage, Carrot, Chinese Cabbage, Lettuce, Yellow and White Onion, Bell Pepper, Hot Pepper, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, and white and orange marigold flowers for a beautification project along the new airport road. 

During the 2019 Rwanda mission trip, I was able to conduct four separate training projects. … The first seminar included basic nutrition training, diversity chart, brief example of the destruction from tuta absoluta to tomatoes, and examples of vegetable seed packets (SPI) that will be available to villagers. Normal planting timing cycles with the wet season that begins in early September. Pastor Alexis invited the local province administrators to the seminar.

On the following Sunday morning after joining the village of Nyamata for church service, the village broke into two groups. The first group joined me for a demonstration of planting a small family garden. Garden preparation including digging out a foot of soil, fracturing the second foot for easier root penetration, then mixed compost/cow manure into the top foot of soil and replaced it. The purpose was to create a slightly raised bed, compost as fertilizer, and create an area wide enough to reach for planting, weeding, and harvest without any physical traffic. By eliminating traffic there is limited compaction so the garden bed can be used for continued cycles without heavy tillage. The young lady was the caretaker of the garden although all the surrounding people participated in the training. We planted 4 different vegetables on that day to use as education on diversity and spreading out crop risks. 

[A] photo was sent to me of the garden we planted. Note the thin crop and sticks lined the sides. Apparently they had a goat issue and lost much of the first planting to their goats until they erected a stick fence. A learning experience that will help for the September planting season.

The...photo includes the village planting ornamental plants along with the marigold flower seeds from SPI as a beautification project along the new airport highway. The project was part of their beautification project along the new highway. The project was approved by the Provincial Administration. This networking process is by design to get “everyone’s buy in” and sets up a contract /commitment to follow through.

The third nutrition/gardening training was held at Nyange Village in Ngororero Province. The village is located high up along a ridge between two beautiful valleys of terraced potato, vegetable, and fruit production. The valley vegetable production is coordinated by the village leaders and worked collectively. The group gathered on a grassy hill under the shade of tall cypress trees providing a perfect backdrop for a mountain top experience. 

The village community had built a clay firing kiln for the production of clay bricks and roof tiles. The kiln was 6’ wide by 30’ long and almost 20’ deep. The clay used to make the pottery was located at the bottom of one of the valleys about 500’ in elevation below a very steep pathway. 

The vegetable training included nutrition background from diversifying vegetables around both nutrition and spreading out risks. We provided samples of the seed packets from SPI to the leaders and the rest of the seed would be distributed closer to the planting season in late August. This concept was new to the group but they were very receptive. After the training we had several conversations and gathered for a group photo with the community leaders. The President of the group had been circulating within the group and presented to me the hand written contract that they committed to implementing the training into their vegetable production practices along with the SPI seeds. This is a common practice within their culture as a thank you and compliment to the visiting teacher. Today that photo and contract is prominently displayed on my office wall.

The final training program was held at a school in Rwanagana in east central Rwanda province. The students were 11-12th grade college prep group focused on Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The students participated by becoming soil nutrients and they formed H2O, CO2, Glucose, and simple amino acids as building blocks of life using sunlight as the source of energy to fuel the process. Most of these students will be going onto college and 2 of them were applying to the Un of Nebraska under a special exchange program.

Only a few packets of seeds were distributed as examples and training materials. During the following months till September Pastor John will be distributing the remaining seed packets as he uses the laminated training materials provided to continue and reinforce the process. I have received a photo from the garden planted in Nyamata with several vegetable plants growing. The plants were thinned due to local goats having a lunch break before a makeshift fence was constructed. Mission work is a process, not an end all.

Bob’s final sentence says it all — this work is a process, not an end. The commitment required to establish or grow a community’s expertise is great, and it cannot be made by our partners alone. As Bob shows, collaborating with local leaders and eliciting a community’s buy-in is critical. We hope his report has given you a good picture of what a local context looks like.


We’re grateful to Bob for his work, and we are grateful to you for your support of Gardens Give Hope, Health, and Income in E. Africa. From all of us, and for Bob and all those who gained access to training and seeds because of this project, thank you.

— The SPI Team

Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Demonstration of planting a small family garden.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
Bob conducting a student training in Rwanagana.
Nov 26, 2019

Hope Opens Doors in Northern Nigeria

Harvesting Greens with Hope Opens Doors
Harvesting Greens with Hope Opens Doors

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Kathy Barrera, the Program Director with Hope Opens Doors in Nigeria. Hope Opens Doors works with Mothers Welfare Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care for some of the most vulnerable women and children in rural Northern Nigeria. Many of the people they serve have been displaced by violence, which has forced them to leave behind livelihoods and the means for providing for themselves and their families. This same violence also destroys crops, which disrupts the supply chain and makes it harder for everyone to access food. In a situation like this, vegetable seeds are a valuable resource.

Kathy Barrera wrote us recently to share their plans for the SPI vegetable seed they received earlier this year. She says:

“We have planted some seeds to get started. At the five sites, we planted green beans in Kuta and one farm at the school and also some family plots. In Sanban they planted Laraba spinach, amaranth, and local greens as well. We grow Chaya [a kind of leafy green] and mornings for soups. At our house, we planted a lot of mustard and turnip greens, plus beans, and amaranth beside the beans. If the rains start letting up, we will plant the tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins…”

About those rains — she writes that vegetables are usually planted in September at the end of the Northern Nigerian rainy season to avoid water rot. There are usually only three rains in October, which are called Sweet Potato Rains since that’s usually enough to grow tuber vegetables. However, the rainy season has extended into November this year, making farming difficult. She’s happy to report that the seeds are germinating well despite the rains!

Gardens are only one part of the services offered by Mothers Welfare Group and Hope Opens Doors. They also serve children and adults with special needs, providing housing, education, and healthcare in addition to their rural development projects. Looking ahead, their agricultural program will be trying new ways of growing vegetables. Like some of our other partners, they’ll be using old grain bags to grow vertical bag gardens.

The attached photos show some of the harvest from the garden. Kathy included a beautiful photo of Annie, smiling with a fistful of greens:

“Annie has cerebral palsy, but that does not stop her from harvesting mustard greens, turnip greens, amaranth, and okra for the Sunday chicken stir fry.”

Your generous support of this project put seeds in the hands of Kathy and Annie. From them, from Hope Opens Doors, and from us here at SPI, thank you.

— Team SPI

Harvesting Greens in the Garden
Harvesting Greens in the Garden
Annie harvesting Greens with Hope Opens Doors
Annie harvesting Greens with Hope Opens Doors
Sep 13, 2019

Gardens Support Whole Health

Garden Selfie!
Garden Selfie!

Hi folks,

If you’re familiar with our programs, you might know that many of our partner communities are located in outlying or isolated regions. Today’s report from the Rotary Club of Manila 101 in the Philippines is different. Working with schools throughout the Philippines, this Rotary focuses on gardens that can thrive in an urban environment.

“Urban Edible Gardening at the FMGES hopes to have pupils, as well as their parents and the community realize and be inspired with the benefits, feasibility, and potential of growing food for one’s own table.” — Urban Edible Gardening purpose statement

Their Agripreneruship and Environment flagship program, Urban Edible Gardening, introduces students to urban gardening concepts. This isn’t only a technical introduction — students are encouraged to explore their connection with the land and gain an understanding of how gardens and gardening can promote personal wellness. Learning about the connection between the land, where food comes from, and wellness is important in an urban setting where this connection may not be obvious.

Urban Edible Gardening engages the entire family in holistic wellness. At the Fernando Ma. Guerrero Elementary School, the program starts with a training of the trainers. Rotary Club of Manila 101 partners with a local expert to offer a session on “Healthy Soils, Healthy Crops, Healthy Lives.” The children’s parents then prepare the garden plot, while children are led through mindfulness exercises connected to planting the seeds. One such exercise, led by Past President Majella, aims to “create joy, peacefulness, and happiness within.”

The school’s children then sow their seeds: lettuce, mustard, okra, eggplant, and marigold that will provide some of the school’s supply of organic vegetables. Training continues throughout the season, including sessions about the use of fertilizer, growing seeds into healthy seedlings, and general nutrition and wellness. For instance, students were treated to a “Health is Weatlh” talk by the Rotary President that includes a section about dance as exercise. How fun!

“Thanks to Seed Programs International for making this possible for our nation through their seed donation grant program!”

It’s worth noting that a program like this requires a tremendous amount of collaboration. A lot of resources are needed to succeed at this scale, and Rotary Club of Manila 101 is doing a fantastic job of enrolling the next generation of healthy farmers. Through your support, and the support of other programs like Rotarians Against Hunger, these students are gaining access to the resources they need for future livelihoods and wellness.

From us, Rotary Club of Manila 101, and a generation of students — thank you!

— The SPI Team

Working with seedlings.
Working with seedlings.
Parents preparing the garden plot.
Parents preparing the garden plot.
Consulting about seedlings.
Consulting about seedlings.
 
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