September 15, 2013

Farming God's Way... and apparently in God's Timing Too

Hey, it's Bill.  I've had a ton of stuff floating around in my head since attending the training for Farming God's Way a couple of weeks ago, and I've finally had the time to sit down and process it.  I'm excited for all the potential this holds for us, and for the people of Tanzania, and I have to share!

I learned a lot about the culture behind farming in Africa. Here people only become farmers as a last resort. Eighty percent of the population in Africa are subsistence farmers. To help you make the connection – it's their 'living off welfare'. In other words, they don't have a job, so they farm so they can eat. Literally. If you ask someone what he does for a living and he says, “Nothing” it means he's a farmer. Most of these farmers are unable to grow enough to even feed their own families. That is one reason for the high number of orphans – they can't afford to feed/care for their kids.
These farmers mostly grow maize (corn) which they attempt to sell for income. This is not to say that every farmer in Africa is poverty level – there are farmers here that are successful and choose to farm to make money for it, but the majority of farmers fall under the latter category.

The first step in FGW is to pray for your land. The dominant belief in voodoo here means that it's normal for a farmer to pay a witch doctor to kill a chicken on their land in order to 'bless' it. I won't get into the gory details, but this ritual involves the farmer wearing parts of the deceased chicken, while the witch doctor gets some KFC for dinner. :) The voodoo, coupled with all the unnecessary bloodshed from humans engaging in war, etc. places the land under a curse. So the first step in succeeding with FGW is to pray fervently over your land. For many of the farmers, this first step is one of the hardest. Turning away from their past beliefs and trusting in God alone (Prov.3:5-6) to provide for their harvest is a core value of FGW – in fact, the first day and a half of the training was solely on covering these principles.

Another core value of FGW is having high standards. God is a God of high standards, and to be successful at farming, the farmer should be too. This means planting in neat rows (it yields more harvest than random scattering), wasting nothing, being on time, and making sure the timing of everything you do is accurate (as you may guess, this is also a hurdle for the African culture). This is of utmost importance, not because FGW attempts to 'westernize' the African culture, but because it's crucial to harvest. For every day after the 'peak' time for planting the farmer is late in getting it done, 120kg of harvest is also lost. Most farmers here are two weeks late in planting. 
A home on the land right next to the new property.  And a goat.  Of course a goat.  
I also learned that FGW is designed for the poor farmer. All the tools he will need are things he already has: matchboxes, bottle caps, a hoe, rope and sticks. Another important piece of the farm is “God's blanket” - covering your land with leaves and plants and brush to keep it moist and provide rich soil for planting, so the farmer depends less on the rains.

The three day training in Arusha was packed with so much information, I couldn't begin to write it all here. My goal was to give an overview of what I learned – and all this for a city boy that has not one ounce of farming experience! When I mentioned that to Mike, another missionary here that was around when FGW started, he said it was to my advantage. As a 'city kid' I don't have any bad habits to break – I'm a fresh mind, ready to accept the ways of FGW, rather than compare them to ways I may have previously used if I'd had farming experience.

The conference got me very excited to get started. Global Effect, the organization Amanda is here teaching for, owns over 24 acres in another city, about 45 minutes from here. On a little piece of the land a girls' home is being built that will be a safe-haven for girls rescued out of abusive family situations. The villages nearby have begun to trust us, and GE is also helping out a school nearby. One of the goals in using this land to do FGW is to create a self-sustaining village. To teach the locals the principles of FGW, to give them jobs (we need the land cleared, a fence built/hedge grown, planters, keepers, harvesters, etc!) and to ultimately build relationships with them so we can show them the Father's love.
A school near the property that Global Effect is helping - we're helping them build (much needed) pit-toilets
We can't help but see God's hand in the timing of all this. Two weeks after we arrived in Africa, and told the Helblings (founders of GE) that I was interested in FGW (to which they responded they'd been praying for an American to come here that wanted to farm!), they went to buy another 10 acres of land – of which I got to be a part of! I watched them measure it out (in strides) and I even signed the paperwork as a witness. 
Signing the paper as a witness - they laughed at how long my name was!
A week after that, a twice-a-year-training for FGW was offered in Arusha and I was signed up to go with a couple other guys – all of these things wouldn't have happened if we came when the rest of the teachers came at the end of August. 

I may not be jumping in with this farming right away (for many reasons: the land is not ready, the fence/hedge isn't up, it's not planting season), but I'm still very excited for the possibilities this all holds, and can't wait to see how God uses me – a city boy from the states – to farm in the bush of Africa.
Standing at one corner of the property, marking it out.  That's rain on my shoulders, not sweat :)