On Wednesday Major Tsilulu and I headed to Menkao, within Bateke around 100 kilometres outside of Kinshasa city. Our mission was to meet with farmer’s associations who are part of a new Salvation Army project which teaches sustainable farming techniques to combat deforestation and soils devoid of nutrients. The project will work with 15 different farmer’s associations, with 10 members each, teaching them to grow acacia trees mixed with cassava and maize crops. The densely matted root system of the acacia trees stabilises the soil and prevents erosion, and as its leaves fall, they fertilize the crops below.
Each farmer’s association has a plot of land donated by one of their group members which serves as a demonstration plot for the farming techniques. Our project staff meet with the associations once per week at the demonstration plots where they work together to care for their crops using the new techniques. Each association member also farms his or her own plot of land in which the new techniques are employed. In total, the project will plant 35,000 acacia seedlings and 1,000 avocado tree seedlings over three years, benefiting 150 households.
As I interviewed members of the farmer’s association, David’s observation from Uganda became increasingly evident – there are no ‘Climate Deniers’ in Africa. Each and every member told me how climate change had made farming incredibly difficult since the rainy seasons were no longer predictable. They mourned the loss of their forests and the dire condition of their soil. Climate change to them was not political or abstract, it was a harsh reality.
Members were excited to continue implementing the new farming techniques they had learned. One even told me that he had let his land lie fallow when crop production became so low, but with the coming of the project he was once again convinced to plant his fields.
Kavwaya Water and Sanitation
On Thursday we left early in the morning for Kavwaya in the Bas-Congo province. After around 2.5 hours of driving we were greeted by members of CODESA, a Committee on Health and Development based at the local Salvation Army clinic. The committee, made up of community members, health workers, and local leaders, proposed a project to protect 28 natural water sources within 23 villages. I was visiting to learn about the local water situation and their ideas to decrease waterborne disease.
We hiked down to two different natural springs, each serving around 500 households. In the Congo, it is the women and children who walk daily to gather water for drinking, cooking, and washing. As I spoke to the women who were doing their washing at each spring they told me many of them walk an hour each way to collect the water and that often their children are sick from drinking the dirty water. I watched in awe as the women carried 25 litres of water on their heads up the narrow muddy path. While myself and the men who were empty-handed, or in this case empty-headed, stopped to rest, the women steadily made their way up the steep slippery path. The children also carried 5 litres of water or huge baskets of now clean dishes. There was something deeply humbling about hiking with those women knowing that at the end of the day I would merely turn on a tap for my shower.
This project would cover the natural springs to protect them from contamination. The technology is fairly straightforward and has potential to save many from suffering from disease.