“Today, with my production, I am a happy woman,” says Beatrice Monga. Photo: Courtesy of Foods Resource Bank.
By Julia Kayser Frisbie*
September 22, 2014—Beatrice Monga is a mother of seven who lives in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At this time last year, her situation was desperate, but through her hard work and dedication, with support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), she and her family are now thriving and helping others to do the same.
A year ago, Monga’s husband was out of work, they couldn’t afford their children’s school fees, and the youngest child fell seriously ill. When church friends encouraged them to take the child to the hospital and helped pay those fees, it was an answer to prayer. But Monga knew it was a temporary solution. She wanted to find work that would sustain her family for the long haul.
Then a friend told her about an agricultural training program offered by UMCOR. The friend was participating in the program and told Monga, “In agriculture, we could earn a decent income.” So Monga went looking for UMCOR.
UMCOR has eight program offices around the world where UMCOR staff work with local communities in development projects. The UMCOR country office in DRC has a field presence in Kamina. The agricultural program there that Monga heard about is funded by UMCOR partner, Foods Resource Bank. It offers committed individuals a year of training in how to grow food.
Even in a country like DRC where there are many subsistence farmers, this training can be a great advantage. That’s because the push toward technology and easier agricultural methods that use chemicals have devalued traditional, local knowledge of how to grow nourishing food while also stewarding land and water resources.
In addition, climate patterns that were reliable for generations have become less so because of climate change. And big agribusiness has pushed many families off their historic plots and onto less productive land.
All of these factors contribute to food insecurity and malnourishment among subsistence farmers in DRC.
A new way to farm
So, on land that belongs to The United Methodist Church in DRC, 90 farmers have been learning a new way to farm with a minimal amount of chemistry. Organic methods such as composting, creating organic pesticides and seed preservation are emphasized. One of the major obstacles facing smallholder farmers in DRC is the lack of affordable and quality seeds and fertilizer for sale in local markets.
Margot Bokanga, program manager for UMCOR’s work in DRC, explains: “This community relies solely on the middleman and the traders because of the lack of a good transportation system.” Getting supplies this way is costly.
The training aims to help farmers gain independence from this cycle. “It is helping people move from below subsistence levels to having a small enterprise. It is enabling them to ensure that the family has reliable access to food, health care, education and other life necessities that we take for granted,” says Alice Mar, executive secretary of UMCOR’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security programs.
When Monga arrived at the UMCOR field office in Kamina, she made her case. “I told them that I am eager to get trained in agriculture. UMCOR informed me that I was not living within the targeted community, but since I pleaded that my request be granted, I was accepted to receive training.”
In return, she committed to passing on her newfound knowledge to others in her area who were struggling to survive. That’s another way that this program seeks to be sustainable: after each cycle, the students become teachers for a new cohort.
Training bears fruit
In Kamina, there are two growing seasons: wet and dry. Monga’s training started in April with the planting of vegetable seeds. Vegetables, both for the families and for the markets, are grown throughout the dry season. Meanwhile, latrines, wells and household water filters are built in each community where the training is offered. That’s because nutrition, access to safe water and basic sanitation are inextricably entwined; waterborne diseases and parasites can undermine nutritional and health gains.
When the rainy season starts in September, the last of the vegetables are harvested. Then, traditional staple food crops are planted: maize, cassava and beans. Soy and moringa are also grown during the rainy season to provide an affordable source of protein and vital nutrients and minerals. Participants are trained in basic nutrition as well as agriculture.
“I got the training,” says Monga, “and at the same time, [I implemented] learned skills on my field. I started to produce vegetables—and I’m still doing so. My vegetables are selling well in the market.”
She already has earned the equivalent of about $290 in US dollars this year. That paid for supplementary food, healthcare and school fees for her family, and she even had some money left over to donate to less fortunate members of her extended family.
“Today, with my production, I am a happy woman,” she says. “All I can say is thank you to UMCOR and all the facilitators and donors. May God bless you all.”
Today, Monga is working to pass on that gift by training other people in her neighborhood. How will you pass along the gift? Donate to Congo (DRC) Development, Advance #198400, to support programs like this one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
*Julia Kayser Frisbie is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.