We could never anticipate the road that God would take us on, when we took the first step of obedience. Looking back today, nine years later, we can truly say: “His grace was sufficient for us”.
During the last 9 years, we had to face many challenges, ranging from drought, floods, political shovelling, diseases and death. If you ask me how it is that we survived I will not hesitate to say that it was God, but what He used was trust relationships. From the start we had to build relationships with the local people even if we could not talk Chichewa.
There is something about a sincere heart, that moves beyond words. “When you touch me, I feel your heart and not your hand.”
We approached the project as a business that would financially sustain us and offer a surplus that could be applied to community development. Coming from a commercial cattle background, it seemed the most likely primary activity. We had to learn the hard way. The South African cattle struggled to adopt to the humidity and high temperatures, and we lost many, until we came to understand that God designed nature to find its own balance between the geographical challenges and the physical development of animals. This understanding brought about a drastic turn in our approach.
Later we introduced an investment opportunity for individuals to own cattle in the herd, but the challenges in communication and legal constrains on the slaughtering of animals, convinced us to relinquish the idea. Yet the people that jumped to the opportunity are still part of the program with a substantial growth in their livestock numbers. We redesigned the concept and will launch it in 2019 in South Africa.
The cattle form the backbone of the project, that has now diversified to other secondary activities, but it ensured that we could sustain our presence in the area, without being reliant on donations or other support.
Principles we learned:
A project must have a sustainable economic backbone that ensure financial support to ensure continued commitment from the people that is tasked to be the motivating force behind it.
True sustainable agriculture must grasp the balance God has established between the geographical location and the agricultural activities it was purposed for.
We are encouraging the local people to invest in cattle and there are a few small herds in the area. As part of our motivation, we introduced the “borrow-a-bull “program.
Within this program the cattle owners can come and borrow some of our bred bulls to cover their cattle. This goes a long way to help improve the local genetics.
As part of the program, we offer to buy back the off-springs of our bulls, to help the people with their cash-flow. They prefer keeping the heifers, but the we often buy back the bull calves.
It is a simple model that has no direct cost implication to the project apart from the risk of our bulls falling prey to wild animals or contracting a disease. As small risk to take considering the impact it has on the development of relationships.
Goats for the people
Apart from a few individual members of the around 20 000 people that live in the surrounding area of the project, was influenced by us to invest in cattle. We realized that cattle were to expensive for the rural family and that we need to incorporate something that was more inclusive of the community. We decided to establish a herd of goats alongside the cattle and spread the word that our ram would be allowed to serve local ewes if they meet our bio-security standards.
To our amazement, local people started to invest in goats, and we saw a reduction in alcohol abuse among those who chose to participate in the program.
Once we noticed that the whole herd of goats have broken out of their camp. Days of search delivered nothing, and we assumed the worst. On a Sunday afternoon, 14 days later, we heard the bleeding of thirsty goats, chased-on by a man. He arrived from a two-day journey to return the goats from a village 40km away where they were discovered.
Principles we learned:
Maximize the community participation by designing the project in a manner that people do not need to ensure huge expenses to participate.
Participation buys goodwill en helps resolve security and other destructive behaviour.
Since our arrival, we noticed that the local people are planting quite a bit of maize, but that their yields are poor and the cobs small. We are all schooled in the “Farming-God’s-Way” and plant a large portion of land under maize. We are trying to expose the local people to alternative ways of planting, but the local cultural world perspective, is destructive to development. As issue that we can only address through relationship and trust, and our focus is continually to build relationship.
The community keep going back to their cultural practices with very poor advice from the “witch doctors” even on planting maize, belief it or not.
Our current approach is to establish testimonies of improved growth by using the same tools, they are using, but with quality seed, manure and the “Farming-God’s-Way” principles. techniques.
Needless to say, the proof is undeniable. This is giving us legitimacy to address destructive cultural practices.
Measured on Google Earth, the surrounding communities are planting about 1000 hectares of maize by hand and we hope to see improved yields as we are influencing more and more people to improved planting techniques.
Principles we learned:
Start where the people are and slowly introduce them into the new. If a community is used to plant maize, start there and slowly introduce other more economical activities.
Suspicious people embrace a real-life testimony easier than training.
To be allowed to speak into people’s culture and lifestyle, you will need to build a trust relationship by serving people and being true to your word.
At the conception of the project, infant deaths were common phenomena and the community consented themselves with it. A father would bury his child, who died the previous day, during the morning, and return to work at lunch time as if nothing has happened.
The witch doctors will formulate various reasons for the deaths and in that manner control the communities though lies and fear. In reality the children are dying because of dehydration and malaria. Both treatable once diagnosed in their early stages.
We started to make the people aware of the true facts and more and more mother would come to the farmhouse with their children. It is our big joy to tell the stories of the numerous babies we saved and how we sometime have the privilege to name them, because the parents did not in fear that the child might dy.
The community quickly learned that the project would provide first aid help and we have treated everything from malaria, badly infected wounds, snake bites to a crocodile attack.
The nearest hospital is in Tete and we noticed that it can take a patient a day or more in total to walk to Masamba where they can arrange transport to Kazula to get a referral letter from the clinic. Go back to Masamba and arrange for transport to Tete. This all assuming they have money for transport. Knowing this we often have to drive patients to hospital, because then it is only a 3-hour journey.
Principles we learned:
We sometimes over complicate issues and it prevents us from starting at the most basic level of people’s real needs. Basic medical care addressed a range of health issue and prevented unnecessary death. If we focused on providing extensive medical care, we would have probably never started.
Medical care is free in Mozambique, but assuming that it is accessible to the people, would be a mistake. Distance and the lack of money for transport makes even the free option unaffordable.
The project started with zero infrastructure. When the first construction started in 2011, the nearest town Tete, was not at all as developed as it is today. Our planning and costing made it far more better to bring almost everything from South Africa.
In all of the construction we tried to empower the local people as much as we can. We brought some skilled builders, carpenters and thatchers from South Africa to come and help, but the condition was that they would transfer their skill to local people that we might be able to use in future. The outcome of this decision was fare more rewarding than what we anticipated. It was as if some local people in the village just waited for an opportunity to be empowered.
Our first task was to clear 18 km of road. The challenge was not to intrude on anybody’s property, but the jobs it created, went a long way to start to build relationships.
We had to train local people to make and bake bricks using a clay mixture. It resulted in a small brick making business starting in the village, employing people and seeing more and more grass and mudhouses reconstructed with bricks.
Cutting crass for thatching become a profitable business and soon dit the team of thatcher, we trained, made a name for themselves, thatching many houses in various villages and towns.
We needed crushed rock and building sand for construction and set a fair price per 20 litres. Many households could triple their monthly income and it bought us a lot of favour.
Our TLB dug kilometres of trenches for a network of water pipes for drinking water to the various drinking troughs. Buildinga reservoir on the mountain and gravitating the water across the 1000 hectares.
Today it is hard to imagine what it looked like initially. The main building is well designed to maximize ventilation and keep mosquitoes at bay.
Principles we learned:
Create opportunities for people to develop themselves in a save and controlled environment. Many entrepreneurs just need this kind of launching pad, to start them on their journey in business.
Development can not be driven from a place profit dueto an investment partner. It is first people and then profit. The challenge is to keep the balance.