by Aloisio Assis and Zoe Hogan, ChildFund Timor-Leste
Rosita is no stranger to the difficulty of feeding a family. For more than 20 years, she has been farming a small plot of land, growing what vegetables and crops she can, to support her 10 children. A few months of each year, Rosita and her family experience the “hungry time,” when harvests are sparse. During this time, some families sell a pig or some chickens to buy enough rice to eat, while others struggle to make do.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough food,” Rosita says. “Normally, the children would eat three times a day, but when we didn’t have enough food they had to eat less. Sometimes we didn’t have very nutritious food, but we just had to eat what we could find.”
Rosita has been farming for decades but just recently learned about new farming techniques that could help her feed her children throughout the year. In 2011, she joined a farmer’s group assisted through ChildFund Korea’s food security program. Since then, ChildFund Timor-Leste has worked closely with that group to facilitate training sessions on horticulture and coffee production and has provided farming tools.
For Rosita, the training sessions have already had an impact – she now sorts through her coffee harvest, dividing the beans in terms of quality. As a result, she can sell her high-quality coffee beans for a better price and increase her overall income.
Rosita is also now able to grow enough vegetables to feed her family and sell the extras. Twice a year, at the end of each harvest, she earns an estimated US$200 from selling her surplus crops. She uses the additional income to cover school costs for her children and other basic needs of her family. “With the money from vegetable harvests, I can buy uniforms, books, pens and bags,” she says.
Through the provision of seeds, vegetable cuttings and a new water tank, ChildFund Timor-Leste is also helping to establish a small aquaculture enterprise in Rosita’s community. Farmers are able to grow more, which increases farm productivity and enhances the nutritional value of families’ meals.
“During the hungry time from January to March, we usually just eat cassava, maize, jackfruit and bananas. We had to conserve foods so we’d have enough to eat at that time of year,” says Rosita. “The project is supporting us with seeds and cuttings to plant in our farm.”
After school, Rosita’s 9-year-old daughter Elia sometimes helps her mother by watering the vegetables. She says her favorite vegetable from her family’s farm is black mustard. If the farm continues to improve, Elia will have the opportunity to pursue an education, an accomplishment Rosita has experienced with only one of her children.
By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Guns have been silenced. Instead of soldiers and guerrillas battling one another, farmers are fighting to rebuild their lives beneath the scorching sun. Land that was once overgrown and strewn with landmines is today lush with golden paddy and green crops. Life has changed for the better in the Poonakari area of Sri Lanka’s northern Kilinochchi district, which bore the brunt of a 30-year war between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The violence claimed thousands of lives and displaced even more from their homes. During the final stages of the war, hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict were sheltered in camps. They remained there for months after the war ended in May 2009, depending on aid provided by the government, the United Nations and NGOs.
When the resettlement process started and people began moving back to their villages, they faced the dilemma of rebuilding their livelihoods. The fierce battle had severely damaged everything. Agricultural assets and livestock were devastated. The population continued to depend on assistance for the basic necessities of life. Knowing the outside aid would soon end, families were increasingly worried about food security. Most of the children were undernourished due to the inability of their parents to provide enough food.
Working with UN agencies and NGOs, the government designed a Joint Plan of Assistance for all humanitarian and resettlement efforts in Sri Lanka’s north. Aligning with this plan, ChildFund started implementing an agriculture rehabilitation project to rebuild livelihoods and ensure food security of returnees to Poonakari and neighboring Kandawalai. The project provided 1,650 small farmers with water pump sets to resume cultivation of irrigated rice paddies, other field crops and small-scale commercial vegetable cultivation.
The most vulnerable households (women-headed, high number of children and children with disabilities) were the first to receive the pumps. Local farmers also received training in crop planning, pest control and water management to effectively farm their land. ChildFund also distributed seeds and trained community mobilizers to frequently visit and connect with the farmers to provide support.
For most of the farmers, waiting on that first crop to mature was worth it—they received a good yield. In addition to providing their children and the whole family with nutritious food, the surplus crop brought a good income to the family.
Today, many families have reduced the dependency on dry rations and reached self-sufficiency through good farming practices. They have increased their income and are better able to meet needs of their families.
With savings from their successful crops, some families have started a second income-generating enterprise such as raising poultry or starting small businesses. They’re also saving the cost of buying seeds to plant next season by employing the technical knowledge received at the training on how to select and store seeds from the harvest.
Because of the increased income and reduced expenses on food items, families have increased spending on their children’s education. They are now able to send their children to schools in towns and to supplementary classes.
Pushparani is a beneficiary of the program. She lost her husband during the war, and now she and her son live with her parents. “With the support from the project, I was able to start cultivating paddy and vegetable. This was a great thing as I didn’t have a proper source of income. I earned about Rs. 69,000 (US$530) selling the harvest last time. I used it for food, to construct a well, start a small poultry farm and my child’s education. I feel that I have been highly benefited from the project.”
Peace has brought a new purpose to families in northern Sri Lanka.
Reporting by ChildFund Zambia
As any small-scale farmer will tell you, it takes a lot of hard work and a fair measure of good luck to raise sufficient food to feed a family.
And if you start out with little experience, inferior soil and inadequate equipment like David did, the odds are stacked even higher against you.
“Life was really difficult for me,” David, 22, recalls. “I depended on peasant farming for a living, but due to lack of proper farming implements, my yields were usually very poor.”
David and his family usually ran out of food and had to depend on doing odd jobs within the Chitemalesa community to make ends meet.
His story took a turn for the better two years ago when a friend introduced him to the Chongwe Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) being implemented by ChildFund Zambia.
“After joining this program, my life has changed,” David says. “I have been equipped with knowledge about farming that I could never have had a chance to acquire on my own.”
As the program got under way, David was instrumental in clearing the field for the community banana plantation, planting and watering the new plants. Along the way, he learned a lot about agricultural management techniques and how he could improve his own small farm.
In addition, David became a beneficiary of ChildFund’s goat pass-along program. Several families receive a pair of goats, and as new kids are born, they pass on a young goat to another family. David received four goats, which have multiplied to 14.
After receiving the goats, David also received training in animal husbandry. ChildFund then connected David with the local Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre, where he learned how to convert goat manure into a natural fertilizer.
“The knowledge in organic farming has considerably reduced my farming expenses because I don’t entirely depend on inorganic fertilizers that are very expensive and contribute to soil degradation. I now make my own fertilizer using a simple methodology known as – tea manure,” David says.
He explains that the process involves filling a 50 kg polythene bag with goat manure, securing the bag with a strong rope and immersing it in a large drum of water for two weeks. Every day, David shakes the bag to ensure thorough mixing. After two weeks, David removes the bag from the drum, which now contains a strong natural fertilizer. The tea is diluted with water on a 1:1 ratio to reduce the concentration level. David then applies one cup of tea to each plant.
“Using this tea manure, I managed to produce 50 bags of maize this growing season,” David says. “I’m planning to sell the maize to the co-operative here in Chongwe.” Pleased by this year’s success, David is eager to pass along his newfound knowledge to his neighbors. “I have started training other members of the community in making the manure so that household food security can increase in Chitemalesa,” he says with a smile
Now, David has his eyes set on starting his own banana plantation. No one doubts he will succeed.