Sunday, December 14, 2014

A real development success story and how you can help

When we first moved to Mozambique back in 2003, it was one of the poorest countries in the world.   And although in recent years our host country has slowly climbed up the development scale, the vast majority of our friends live in abject or absolute poverty.  In 2014, Mozambique ranked number 178 out of 187 in the UN's Human Development Index (Haiti and Afghanistan rank 10 and 9 spots higher, respectively).  Over 70% of the population live in "Multidimensional Poverty" and over 80% live on less than $2 a day (for more info click here).   Statistics like these are, at the same time, both mind boggling and misleading because the situation in Cabo Delgado, the province where the Makua-Metto people are most concentrated, is even worse.  It is the furthest from the capital (where much of the economic advancement has been concentrated) and the rare person with a job earning more than two dollars a day is supporting his or her family on that income as well as a large group of extended relatives. 

Our team is committed to ministering in a way that integrates both the spiritual and physical aspects of life, so in this context that means addressing the giant of poverty - the challenge though is to discern which initiatives are worth pursuing.  We've tried our hand at a number of development-like projects that eventually failed like the Lorena stoves and my non-profit chicken business that was a little too non-profit, if you know what I mean...(cut to Alan shaking head, sadly).

Lately, our team has chosen to be involved in three specific projects that we believe are making a real difference.

One of the projects is partnering with a Peace Corp worker in our town to build a pedestrian bridge over the Montepuez River (to learn more about that, click here). 

Also there is an ongoing project that Martha Smiths works with called, Urerihana.  It is an association of women who make jewelry and bags to sell - they make some great stuff if you need some ideas for Christmas presents...just here to see some samples or this video to learn more.

But today I want to share about a third initiative that has had a much longer incubation period before finally experiencing some success.  The Makua-Metto people we work with are mostly subsistence farmers and we learned that by making a few changes to their practices they could greatly increase their crop yields.  There are a number of organizations that teach sustainable agriculture principles and we were able to send two men to go through the training in Nampula. The principles include crop placement and rotation, making of compost, not burning the fields and planting at the right time.  Also we encourage them to put a blanket of mulch over their fields so that the rain and nutrients soak in well and fields don't suffer from run-off.

It took us a while to figure out how to get people to implement these principles.  We tried a number of avenues with little success.  We did seminars here on our team's property.  We tried experimental plots for people to come and observe. We offered a bicycle as a prize for the person who produced the highest yield.  But, nothing seemed to work.  In retrospect, I can't believe that it took me so long to realize that we needed to change trainers and let the person who is actually using the principles in his farm teach others (duh!) and that we needed to take the seminars out to villages where we had strong connections and find a way to get communities of interested people to use the methods together.

I figured that making those changes would help, but the way this project has functioned since the end of 2012 has been better than I imagined!

Yesterday I met with Goncalves Inancio to evaluate the Sustainable Agriculture Program and assess progress on our 10:100 vision.

The goal of the project over the last two years was to form 10 associations of farmers (actually we have formed 12 associations, though only 10 of them are going strong) who are using these principals in local, communal plots.  The ultimate end goal or objective of the project is to see 100 Mozambican families implement these principles and practices in their own personal farms. 

The trainer (who is a gifted teacher and preacher and has lots of credibility as a farmer) and I work together to plan out seminars in different places.  I will list below the village associations that have been formed.  These groups have been visited multiple times each year and they have all used what they've learned in communal plots.

Namuno District - Mukolo, Masha, Talelane, Jaiani.
Balama District - Regadillo, Mwalia, QueQue.
Chiure District - Namitil, Mutota, Milamba, Mahipa, Mitekiani.

This year's round of sustainable agriculture seminars is completed and participants are getting ready to plant once the rains begin in a few more weeks.  We are on our way to meeting the goal of 100 members using the principles and practices in their personal plots.  Praise God!  When that happens there is greater potential to see these ideas catch on with their neighbors and friends.

This project has cost us about $1000 a year for the last two years.  The project  currently does not have funding for this next stage.  If we had a commitment of between $1000-1250 for 2015 and 2016 (total $2000-2500) that would allow us to pay for a follow up visits and seminars in the 10-12 "old" associations as well as begin at least 3 new associations in different villages that have requested the training.

Okay, admittedly I could have streamlined this post and made a neater, nicer (and maybe more effective?) pitch, but I have two reasons for sharing all this background information with you.

First of all, for people trying development projects in places like Mozambique, I want to encourage you that "real" development projects are like this.  It often takes a number of failures (even in good projects like this) where you feel like giving up before things finally begin to click.  So, don't lose heart...unless you realize the benefits won't be worth the investment...then you'll need to make that call.

Secondly, to those of you who might consider giving to support this initiative, I want you to know how this sustainable agriculture program fits in with the rest of our team's ministry.  Most development organizations work on projects with a short time period and then they are gone.  They often are disconnected with the rest of the life in the village (they don't speak the local language or know the local culture).  Since we've been here for over a decade people trust us and I think we have a greater chance to truly make a holistic difference (effecting both the spiritual and the physical spheres of life - for example, one of the association members in Namitil became a part of the local church after working alongside its members in that group).  I hope that makes sense.

If you are interested in helping, email me or put a comment below and we'll figure out how to get in touch.  This could be a great Christmas present, one that would give a lot to help our Mozambican friends...just saying :)

Grace and Peace,

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