Digging Contours at Fred Mollel's Farm

The second project that the team of college students from Belmont University did was carried out at Fred Mollel’s farm.

Fred Mollel proudly showing off his trees.

Fred Mollel proudly showing off his trees.

Most Tanzanians own land that is not optimal for farming. The best land has been taken for development, and poor farmers are left with the marginal, sometimes barely inhabitable, land.

Steep slopes.

Erosion.

Infertility.

Lack of water.

All of these things create immense challenges for farmers who depend on the land for their health and even survival.

Here, you can see the very steep slope on the land of this farmer.

Here, you can see the very steep slope on the land of this farmer.

Just a quick look at Mollel’s farm showed me that he has taken a piece of difficult land and already improved it through innovation and hard work. He has an impressive plot of agroforestry trees, beehives for honey, rabbits for manure, and GMCC’s from ECHO.

Mollel’s farm stands as a success story for ECHO’s training and as example to the community.

You can see contours, intercropping of maize and  lablab , newly planted bananas, and a protective thorn fence.

You can see contours, intercropping of maize and lablab, newly planted bananas, and a protective thorn fence.

His field of maize and lablab was located in the middle of two intersecting hills (a small valley). This is advantageous in the dry season, when water is scarce, but as soon as the rains come, the water threatens to wash all his work away.

What has he done to prevent that? He has dug contours and planted trees.

The contours are trenches along the field, stopping the water from carrying away the soil, and he planted grass along the contours to stabilize the trenches. There are bananas freshly planted throughout the field, diversifying his crops and creating an agroforestry system. And there is a large acacia tree, providing shade, stabilizing AND fertilizing the soil, and housing a beehive. He has a thorn fence around the parameter made of dead thorn branches to keep out passing livestock.

What a beautiful, innovative plot! 

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Our team dug another contour. It took the team only a few hours to dig a trench that was waste deep and a meter wide.

We then planted 30 fruit trees around the field. We intentionally chose fruit trees because of the many children that pass through the area. These trees will be able to provide extra nutrition and extra income at little cost to his family and the community.

This area will soon be a beautiful and productive agroforestry plot, providing over 15 different yields! 

The students with their finished contour.

The students with their finished contour.

The potential productivity of the land here is great. All it takes is a little education and access to some basic resources, and the land can be transformed from barren and eroded to lush and productive.

Thank you Belmont for your investment in the people and future of Tanzania! 

Fred Mollel wanted me to take a picture with him in front of his beehive!

Fred Mollel wanted me to take a picture with him in front of his beehive!

Planting Trees at Mama Jessica's Farm

Mama Jessica has been a faithful worker of ECHO for the past three years, caring for the tree nursery and gardens.

80% of Tanzanians have a farm, whether it’s their primary occupation or on the side, her family is no different.

After working hard every day at ECHO, she cares for her land and animals in the evenings and on weekends. For most Africans, work never stops at 5 o’clock. Her farm provides food for her family, and some extra income. Typical of most farms, they raise livestock and grow maize and beans.

In the middle of her property is an 80-meter deep ravine. The steep sides drop straight down, revealing the soil profiles’ many colors. Why is this there? At the bottom, you see a small stream.

Water.

Over the years, water has continually carried more and more of the soil away, creating a deeper and deeper ravine. When you look around at the water catchment area, all of the hills are bare. The have been plowed, and now little maize and bean plants are sprouting up.

When the heavy rains come, there is very little there to prevent the water from running off the sides of the hills and into this ravine–trees have been cleared, grasses have been grazed down, and the soil lies bear in the off season.

The water can’t penetrate into the soil, instead, it concentrates at the lowest point and rips it way deeper into the earth year after year.

What can be done about this? How can we stop the water from carrying away more soil? How can we prevent the ravine from getting deeper and wider?

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Trees. Planting trees.

This past week, ECHO hosted a group of 23 students from Belmont University, located in Nashville, Tennessee USA. As a part of their coursework, they came to ECHO to do a conservation agricultural service project.

After touring ECHO, we led them on a trip to Mama Jessica’s farm to plant 500 trees along this ravine.

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A student planting a tree among the maize and beans.

Mama Jessica showing the group how to plant it properly.

Mama Jessica showing the group how to plant it properly.

The trees, as they grow, will send down roots that will stabilize the soil, preventing the rains from washing it away. These trees will also provide shade and habitat for wildlife and insects.

The students planting in front of the ravine, which you can see behind them.

The students planting in front of the ravine, which you can see behind them.

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Mama Jessica and her family were immensely blessed by the work of these students, saving the family’s time and backs. The trees were gifted to the family as a part of the service project. The family will continue to make improvements to their farm, utilizing the conservation agricultural techniques that ECHO promotes.

April Adventures

Bwana Asifiwe! Praise the Lord!

Elena and I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful lakeside city of Mwanza in April!

Mwanza is located in the northwestern part of Tanzania, right next to Lake Victoria. Unfortunately the lake water is too salty to drink, but it is an important food source for the city. Lake Victoria is famous for being a source of Nile Perch…. and also for being infested with crocodiles and hippos! We definitely didn’t go swimming, but the sites were beautiful! There are also amazing rock formations in Mwanza.

We traveled to Mwanza to help facilitate a training of the Empowered Worldview, led by World Vision and hosted by African Inland Church of Tanzania. This training emphasises that we are all created in God’s image, and as such it’s our joy and responsibility to steward all of our resources to improve our communities.

As the week progressed, we saw the trainees grow in confidence. The participants were leaders from the AICT church who had traveled from different parts of Tanzania for this training.

Our team was incredible! We numbered ten members: five women and five men, five African and five American. We represented four countries: the USA, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.

Our team represented four countries: the USA, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda

During this week, Elena and I also got to meet with several missionary families that we had met during ECHO East Africa’s Symposium in Arusha in February 2019. The missionaries that we met during this week are doing a wonderful job of integrating faith into their development work. Elena and I were both extremely encouraged and inspired by these wonderful people who are labouring in and around Mwanza.


After the trip to Mwanza, Elena returned to Arusha and I (Savannah) continued on with the USA team to Nairobi, Kenya. In Nairobi we were hosted by Parklands Baptist Church. After a couple of days fellowshipping with the church in the capitol, we journeyed west to the county of East Pokot. Our host for this trip was Christian Impact Mission (CIM). CIM has been working in East Pokot for many years, planting churches, supporting schools, and conducting trainings. Pokot is an area that is crippled by drought and lack of development. The Pokot tribe is often at war with their neighbours, and the people feel very marginalised and overlooked by the people of Kenya. Our trip was meant to encourage, inspire, challenge, and assure Pokot that they are loved.

We spent one night camping out in this area. Because of the conflict, the villagers came to sleep around us as our protection. As we visited brand new churches, schools, and farms, we encouraged the people and assured them that we would continue to pray for rain. The drought in this area is very bad.

The church in Pokot is growing and joyful! When we arrived we were greeted by singing and dancing. The peoples’ faces shone brightly, and they thanked CIM again and again for coming and bringing church to Pokot. We met several people who had journeyed great distances to come and ask for churches in their areas. Two men we met had just come 56km (about 35 miles) to ask CIM to plant a church in their village. Another woman had walked 14 km ( about 9 miles) to ask for a church as well. The Gospel is spreading like wildfire!

Two men we met had just come 35 miles to ask CIM to plant a church in their village. Another woman had walked 9 miles to see us and ask for a church as well. The Gospel is spreading like wildfire!

But the God’s Kingdom is not preaching alone. The work in Pokot is holistic: planting churches along with assisting schools and conducting agriculture trainings. I was privileged to conduct two short seed-saving trainings. The community members and I looked at God’s amazing creation of all types of plants and seeds in Genesis 1:11-13, and we discussed how saving our own seeds decreases dependency, increases food security and nutrition, and preserves cultural heritage. Because we are made in God’s image, we ought to use our God-given abilities to steward the earth that we have.

As part of the trip, we also distributed food, seeds, and hygiene kits to the community as an offer of love and support. We pray that in the coming years, the community will be strengthened to the point that they no longer need help from outsiders. My prayer is that these villages will become “Cities on a Hill,” centres of growth and strength that will inspire the communities around them.

Will you with me in praying for this community?

What We've Been Up To

Elena

I've quickly realized how short my time here is actually going to be. There are many things to do, but I am limited by time, being here for only four more month, and space, being just one person.

> Inawezi kana kufanya vitu vote.

It is impossible to do all the things.

I'm feeling the tension of a very classic community development principle. I'm coming face to face with great need. Now, I have the option to try to do things myself, which might be quicker and easier, but not long lasting or sustainable.

OR

I have the option to get the staff to see the needs and have them come up with solutions, which is a much longer, laborious process that might not even get the results I am hoping for.

I've decided that my goal during my time is to equip the staff to do their jobs better. I feel that that is the best use of my time, and it will last long after I'm gone.

How am I going to do that?

Well, to start, I've been leading a series of weekly staff development meetings. I've been fascilitating activities and discussions that will bring greater self-awarness and spirit of unity among the ECHO team. That's the goal, at least.

So far, we've done a short bible study from Genesis 1, where we discussed God's work ethic and how that should reflect in our own work. Then, we discussed how that fit into the mission and vision of ECHO. Before we started to work our way towards talking about our roles and responsibilities, I first led an encouragement/affirmation activity to help inspire a culture of affirmation amongst the staff. I wanted them to know first and foremost that they are valued, appreciated, and do good work. We have been doing a few different activities to look at how we spend and prioritize our time. I am hoping that we will continue to celebrate the areas we are excelling and create a plan of action for where we find gaps.

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Staff development meeting

Equipping and empowering the staff

I've been spending the rest of my time working with the nursery, helping figure out an efficieint and appropriate inventory system, along with helping with small tasks around the gardens, seedbank, and any events.

I feel like I have settled into a routine and am enjoying my days, even though they are hot and dry (pray for the rains to come soon!). I am excited to see how these activities will progress in the coming weeks and months.

Savannah

Like Elena, I have been feeling the tension of being limited by time. It is quite clear that God has brought us both here intentionally, and part of our assignment is learning to balance our time and relationships. Honestly, I don't have it all figured out yet, and I am still working on how to be most effective with my time.

I have focused on helping, encouraging, and learning from the staff here.

Currently, I am working together with the Appropriate Technologies manager as he trains local students to develop creative and sustainable solutions to challenges in Tanzania.

I have been able to witness wonderful community empowerment through the building up of local engineers, businessmen, and farmers.

I have also been able to learn more about the specific challenges that Tanzanian farmers face: challenges of pest pressure, climate change, and marketing. The staff here is proactively researching and addressing many of these challenges in collaboration with the local farmers.

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Testing the Maresha Plow

The latest appropriate technology project

East Africa Symposium

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!

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Elena’s highlights:

  • 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!

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  • 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.

Savannah’s highlights:

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  • 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.

I was privileged to meet Joseph Alimua during breakfast one morning, a farmer from Uganda. We got to chatting about the week, and he said, “After this conference, I want to teach the community. I have all this knowledge, but I need to share it. I cannot keep it just to myself. Every one has something. All these farmers have all these resources that they don’t know about and aren’t using. Manure, animals, plants. Someone just needs to show them. I want to show them what they have."

I was privileged to meet Joseph Alimua during breakfast one morning, a farmer from Uganda. We got to chatting about the week, and he said, “After this conference, I want to teach the community. I have all this knowledge, but I need to share it. I cannot keep it just to myself. Every one has something. All these farmers have all these resources that they don’t know about and aren’t using. Manure, animals, plants. Someone just needs to show them. I want to show them what they have."

  • 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!

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We are here!

Savannah and I have been in Tanzania for five days now! The first few were focused mainly on getting over jet-lag and introductions to our host family and the ECHO staff.  

As we are getting settled, little things you normally never think about all have to be reevaluated with much care. When do we eat meals? Where can I get money in the correct currency? How do I set up a phone line? What is the proper way to greet someone? The simplest tasks take an in ordinary amount of mental energy! 

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Our host family and the ECHO staff have warmly welcomed us, and we are now beginning to take steps in language learning, project assignments, and­– mostly importantly in my opinion– relationship building.

It is a slow process, making a new place your home. I feel like a toddler sometimes, unable to feed myself and incapable of going anywhere on my own. What an adjustment for us Americans who value our independence! But, in those moments I take a deep breathe, have grace with myself, and humbly ask for help. Right now, I am thankful that for a culture that genuinely cares for others, even doe-eyed foreigners!

We are looking forward to growing in our Swahili speaking, getting started on some projects, and allowing the Lord to lead us day-by-day!

In Christ,

Elena

It's Not About Us

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Written Thursday, January 17, 2019

 

The time has come, we are leaving for the ECHO office in Tanzania on Sunday!

The last several months have been a time of intense preparation leading up to this moment. Support raised, sacrifices made, and hard decisions have been brought before the Lord who sees us and loves us. We’ve packed and studied and prayed. To-do lists have been checked off and important meetings have taken place.

And now, during the breath of time that is orientation week, Elena and I pause to reflect on the fact that this isn’t about us. This is easy for me to forget, because I love to focus on practical tasks and objectives. And yet, the reason that I have committed to six months at the regional office in Tanzania is not that I might check things off my to-do list while I am there, but so that I can serve my Awesome God and “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:3).

Working at the regional impact center isn’t primarily about developing professional skills or gaining important experiences. This time is about serving Jesus and His people in East Africa: His church, His work, His plan for the country of Tanzania. This six months is about praying for the impact team, joyfully engaging with them in their duties, and witnessing gently to unbelievers.

Lord, may your kingdom come and your will be done!

Will you join Elena and I in prayer that we would keep our eyes focused on what Jesus wants? That we would look to Him for guidance every day the way that a servant looks to her master? (Psalm 123:2)

Asante sana! (Thank you!)

-Savannah Froese