This past week at the ECHO EA office, we had our 5th Biennial Symposium on Sustainable Agriculture Best Practices, focusing on the reduction of poverty and malnutrition, the sustainable increase of yields, and the restoration of the land. Through presentations, workshops, and networking opportunities, a space was created where ideas could be shared and connections could be made. What an honor it was to attend!
The 160 attendees were an impressive array of people, making networking a dream for Savannah and I! Farmers, development workers, missionaries, government officials, researchers, university professors, students, businesses, and NGO’s–what a wealth of knowledge sitting in one room! It was an honor to engage in conversations with so many of them during the breaks and free time. As I am beginning to think about my next steps after Tanzania, I was able to get advice from some seasoned development workers and missionaries about where my skills and passions best fit in the world of overseas work. I know Savannah and I both came away from the week greatly enriched by the interactions we had and also with a list of contacts we want to reach out to while we are here!
One of my favorite parts of the week was teaching a workshop about fruit tree propagation! I was also able to assist our nursery manager as she taught other workshops. We were able to share practical methods for growing more fruit trees, we did 3 sessions on propagation by seed, by cuttings or air-layering, and by grafting. I spent a year of internship in Florida working in our nursery, so I was excited to be able to share the incredible knowledge that I had gained. I also discovered a newfound love for teaching! The attendees were engaged, excited, and very inquisitive! We fielded so many questions about how to apply these skills to their specific contexts. How exciting that they are wanting to take what they’ve learned back home with them! Being able to equip others to improve their farms, gardens, or nurseries was truly a highlight for me!
This week, we really got a broad view of what the major challenges, successes, and interests of agriculture in East Africa are. What are farmers doing well? What are the struggling with? What do they want to learn more about? Here are a few of our major observations:
Green Manure Cover Crops (GMCC’s) seemed to be a large theme for the week. Legumes, such as lablab, jackbean, velvet bean, cowpea, and pigeon pea, where a major point of discussion each day. Their potential for soil fertility improvements, nutrition, and increase of yields is huge!
The momentum for combing nutrition and agriculture is rapidly increasing. There were many people working in the area of nutrition and health, using agriculture to spearhead their work with communities. The collaboration between these two disciplines will be vital as we move forward in our work.
There is a demand for curriculum that combines scripture and agriculture. We were able to attend a session that did just that! Savannah will elaborate on that below.
As Elena mentioned, I also loved spending time networking with the delegates during this week! During this time in Tanzania, I am hoping to get more clarity on the possibility of working with different missions organizations in the future. I talked with many of the delegates and received invitations to visit the work that they are doing around Tanzania. As a result, I am planning a work trip in April to Mwanza (to the north west of where we live in Arusha). I am planning to stay in the home of missionaries that I met at the Symposium, and visit their Bible training, agriculture, and health education projects. As I learned about others’ projects, I feel this information is giving shape to my time here in Tanzania. Hearing the successes and challenges of other workers has helped formed my own interests and plans for the future. Personally, I am very interested in how agriculture leads to better nutrition. I recently was accepted into a PhD nutrition program, so I will be starting that in the fall. I am hoping to observe nutrition trainers here in Tanzania.
Incorporating farmer feedback: Another big highlight for me was seeing how ECHO staff and other presenters are very intentional about incorporating feedback from the people that they are trying to help. This sounds like an obvious element of research and development work, but in reality organizations sometimes forget to work with farmers instead of just for them. There were also several Tanzanian farmers that came to the symposium. Swahili translation services were provided so that people could even ask questions in Swahili.
The most impactful session that I attended was a training on how to integrate Bible study and agriculture trainings. The Bible speaks a lot about agriculture, and the Creation Story (Genesis 1-2) alone has many implications for farmers. The training material can be found here I appreciate that the curriculum is not trying to advocate for any specific agriculture techniques, but is faithful to what is found in Scripture. The trainers have found a lot of positive feedback from trainees!
What a rich week indeed! Lots of time and energy was spent in organizing and executing the symposium, so we pray that the diligently sown seeds will reap an abundant harvest in the lives of farmers around East Africa!