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UMCOR trains farmers to expand food supply

    June Kim of UMCOR visits children in Jeduako, Ghana, where villagers have been trained in crop and pest management. UMNS photos courtesy of June Kim.

By Linda Bloom*
July 15, 2008

United Methodist missionary Mozart
Adevu (right) receives honey from beekeepers at the Ganta mission
station in Liberia.

When June Kim recently visited Ghana as an executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, she asked people there if they were aware of a worldwide food crisis.

They were not, but acknowledged to Kim that the price of a cup of rice had doubled in the past year. Prices for fuel, materials and labor also had risen.

UMCOR is addressing the food crisis in Ghana and other parts of Africa through its Sustainable Agriculture and Development Program. When Kim visited Ghana and Liberia in late May and June, what she saw "reinforced the fact that we’re using the right approach."

The key to success, according to Kim, is focusing directly on farmers and the community as a whole rather than relying on institutions. The UMCOR program uses an asset-based approach to community development and trains participants to think about combining available resources.

"UMCOR’s strategy is investing in people’s knowledge," she said. "Part of our training program is to build local capacity of leadership among the farmers."

In 2006, for example, UMCOR brought farmers from five countries to Ghana for training in order to build technical teams that could serve as resources in their own communities and countries.

Besides Liberia and Ghana, the program operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

Subsistence farmers 

In Liberia, the program started in 2001 but was interrupted until 2004 by the continuing civil war. Many participants are subsistence farmers whose families have been farming for generations. "They are harder to convince about trying different things, but once they catch on, it’s like wildfire," Kim said.

Most training is conducted at a farmer’s field or a field the farmer has chosen. "We’ve given them training in appropriate technology that minimizes dependence on high-cost, petroleum-based fertilizers," Kim said.

Moringa seedlings grow at a community farm in Barnesville, Liberia.

The farmers in the program learn to make natural fertilizers, using the leaves of the neem tree. "It takes a bit more manual labor, but the cost benefit is advantageous to the farmer," she added. The trainer stays with the farmers for an entire season as they try various fertilizing methods and evaluate which method produces the best yield.

The Sustainable Agriculture and Development Program in Ghana, which dates from about 2005, includes a focus on the Moringa tree, which "provides the basic nutrients an individual would need at a very low cost," she added.

The edible leaves and pods of the Moringa have twice the calcium of milk and four times the Vitamin A of carrots. In addition to being a nutritional supplement, parts of the tree can be used for a variety of products, including animal feed, medicine, and fertilizer.

"The Methodist Church of Ghana has gotten behind the Moringa," Kim said. "With the church leadership behind it, Moringa is sold and seen everywhere."

She gives credit to Mozart Adevu, a missionary with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries who serves as UMCOR’s Africa regional coordinator for the agriculture and development program. He is chairman of the Moringa Association of Ghana, formed in early 2007, which focuses both on education about the benefits of the plant and practical issues, such as certification by Ghana’s Food and Drugs Board.

Adevu also has been instrumental in the program’s overall training of farmers, which relies on the strategy that those who are trained will return to their communities and train others. "The results of our efforts in mission towards reduction of poverty in Africa could be likened to the biblical parable of five loaves and two fishes used to feed the thousands––a true reflection of God’s presence in restoring hope to the hungry," Adevu wrote in a November 2006 newsletter.

Beekeeping provides income

Beekeeping is another aspect of sustainable agriculture used by UMCOR, both in Ghana and Liberia. In addition to serving as a source for food, honey can be used as a salve and for cough and asthma relief. Beeswax can be used for batik textiles, which are then sold at market, and propolis, the glue that bees collect from particular tree buds, can be used for furniture construction.

The beekeeping project at Ganta mission station in Liberia has resulted in the sale of honey at $15 a gallon. "That additional $15 U.S. is a huge boost to their household income," Kim said.

The average hive yields two to three gallons. Since the project started, about 1,200 gallons of honey have been harvested, raising more than $40,000.

Since the Sustainable Agriculture and Development Program is open to everyone, the building of community has extended far beyond the denomination, according to Kim. "In Sierra Leone, our training brought Muslims and Christians together for the first time," she said. "They were able to build trust in each other."

Kim would like to expand the program to more countries in Africa, as well as to Latin America and Asia. "We’ve always been under the radar," she said, but added that as a response to the food crisis, "there’s something we can do immediately."

Donations to support UMCOR’s Sustainable Agriculture and Development Program can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 982188. Checks can be dropped in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or online at www.givetomission.org.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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