From Our Farm to Your Table: Income-Generating Agricultural Projects That Make A Difference

If all goes well, the chilies that we have been growing on our farm at Cabrini Ministries will soon end up in bottles of Tabasco sauce.

This is the magic of connections that make things grow. Toby Ward, a friend who helped us pick up the pieces after the storm damage, suggested we get in touch with someone at an organization called Technoserve, which helps small farmers find markets for their crops.

We have had good success with growing chile peppers in the past, as they like our very hot weather. We’ve produced surplus of this crop- beyond what we needed to supplement the nutrition of the OVC children in the hostel and our 800 health care patients a month- so we wanted to sell the extra peppers for income to put back into the agriculture project in the hopes that it will be able to support itself soon enough. Where we needed help was finding people to buy our surplus produce. We tried approaching grocers, but many already had their chosen vendors and we couldn’t find larger-scale buyers that would make the project worth it.

Enter Technoserve… They not only provided the marketing connection to a top-notch company like Tabasco, but they also offer a lot of great technological advice about growing crops. For example, when growing chilies, the crops must be planted and grow very straight, otherwise they grow ‘J roots’ that prevent good peppers from forming. This kind of advice is critical to our Swazi agricultural staff members and volunteers, because we can grow better crops and generate more income for the project to make it more sustainable, and everyone can take the agricultural knowledge home, share with their communities, and grow better crops on their homesteads. We’ve started tilling the soil and making plans to grow Tabasco’s special breed of chile. If all goes well, we should have 4-5 acres of chilies for Tabasco by December.

Click below to see a video about Technoserve’s work with farmers in Swaziland:

We’ve also made a connection with SWADE, the Swaziland Water and Agriculture Development Enterprise. They have put in a dam near us for irrigation for poor farmers to grow cash crops. They’re going to use two acres of our land, put in irrigation, grow experimental cash crops, and teach the local people how to grow the crops on their own homesteads. They provide all the ‘input’- the seedlings, the labor, and technical advice, and we get to keep the produce for the children and our patients. They will also help us find markets for the produce. One of the first experimental export crops will be gooseberries- apparently there is a good market in Australia and South Africa for gooseberries.

We’re beginning to feel very hopeful about the longer-term sustainability of our agriculture project due to these developments. We’ve always been able to grow good produce, but the marketing has been slow-coming for us. These projects are helping us get our foot through the door and helping local people improve their abilities to support themselves.

Cheers to good friends, good ideas, good health, and good food!

Srs. Barbara and Diane

Life in a Changing Climate

There have been several very difficult things affecting this community and this country lately. They seem to be all related- each situation causes the next, then all the situations complicate all others. Climate change caused by a variety of factors seems to be contributing to a long-term drought, and this has caused the worst harvest ever, which means people are hungry. When people are malnourished, it is very difficult for them to improve their health, well-being, and resources. As a country develops, with more people, jobs, and money, such signs of development as more cars, cattle, and land stress become factors that can cause climate change like this drought. This is a cycle that many other developing countries are battling with as well.

SWAZILAND: Facing Climate Change 7/20/07
A long dry spell has destroyed crops. Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN

The article linked to above (click on the title to read) describes how people in Swaziland are beginning to relate the drought and bad weather with several practices that create excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, such as field-burning.

People often set fire to their agricultural fields to clear for new crops, such as on sugar plantations and farms. The government is lax about laws against burning. In the past few weeks, the fires have spread out of control, and have been declared a national emergency in Swaziland.

Other factors that contribute to the excess CO2, soil erosion, and the desertification that causes drought are monocropping, people collecting firewood for cooking over open fire (most Swazis do not have electricity), deforestation by timber and paper companies, cattle and goat-grazing, and cars.

The number of car registrations in Swaziland doubled last year, though it still represents a tiny fraction of the population- because 70% of people in Swaziland live on less than a dollar per day. (The US is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases in the world, with China catching up for first place.)

Swaziland: UN asks for $15.6 million to save 400,000 people 7/25/07
Swaziland faces the worst harvest in living memory. Photo: WFP/FAO

The article linked to above reports that 40% of Swaziland’s people are facing dire food and water shortages.

Traditionally, rain would come from October to May, but temperatures have been higher than normal in the last 15 years, and rainfall has declined by 50%. There is drought in January, when the crops need it most- as they are ripening then. Food prices have thus inflated to be beyond the reach of even some middle-class Swazis. Also drinking water sources have been drying up, including the river nearest to Cabrini Ministries.

The people hit hardest by such conditions are children, the elderly, and sick people- which represents many people here.

Children are most vulnerable. Photo: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund

One thing that can break this cycle is renewable energy. This means not only for Swazis but everyone all over the world. The link below discusses an initiative in Swaziland to invest in renewable energy. The major hurdle to overcome for all of us with renewable energy is the initial start-up costs- it may be higher for hydropower, solar power, and biofuels, but these forms of energy often pay back in the long run, in many ways.

Swaziland: Start-up costs limit access to power 8/9/07
Bringing power to the people: a transformer being installed in the Manzini region. Photo: IRIN

Another thing that really makes a difference is the generosity of individuals that step forth to help. We want to leave you with some very powerful positive images of what that can mean. With the food we receive from the World Food Programme and what we grow and purchase through private donations to Cabrini Ministries, we are able to feed the OVC children in the hostel, and 800 HIV positive patients in the community (yes, that’s right, 800 people!).

Our philosophy is to keep HIV+ people healthy enough with nutrition to keep their CD4 counts up (immune system cells), and keep them off of the need for antiretroviral drugs. I never really believed in all the ‘health food eating’ stuff to stay healthy- I wasn’t necessarily a proponent of that and just felt like food was food. But I have to admit I saw people’s CD4 count going from 300 to 400 in one month once they started getting peanut butter, Morvite (which is a tasty high-protein drink that people love here), and vegetables in their diets. We eat lots of spinach and butternut squash (see photos below), and we see people’s CD4 counts go up.

Our farm, and the miracle of our irrigation project that makes things grow here, were all made possible by the donations of some generous individuals.

Blessings, love, and thanks to all our friends, family, and supporters,
Sr. Barbara & Sr. Diane

Johannes and the spinach crop

Tomatoes- do you like our stakes?

Themba with butternut squash

Our Bountiful Farm- A Photo Album

Click on the links below to read other posts about the drought, our farm, and irrigation:
Food Crisis in Swaziland
St. Philip’s Mission Irrigation Project
Julie’s Garden