Tuesday 27 August 2013

Flood Recovery in Congo Quarter, more ebbs & flows:

If you’ve ever made a sandcastle on the beach and then tried to fill its moat you’ll know that sand does not retain water.  Indeed on a hot day the surface sand on a beach can drain and dry out between each tide.  For beach picnics and sunbathing this is great, but when the expanse of sand in question is covering farm plots 1,000 miles inland in western Uganda, it poses a problem.

If you read my “D-Day” blog article (6/6/13), you’ll know that I’m referring to the massive floods which devastated parts of Kasese in early May and the ensuing dilemmas about how best to help the community of Congo Quarter where the Nyamwamba river destroyed last season’s crops, turned about 1/3 of their farmland into re-routed river, and covered most of the rest of their land in sand, 1m deep in places.  Traditional African rain-fed agriculture is doomed to fail in sandy soil which drains faster than it rains.

After two months of research, consulting experts, thinking, praying, a bit of practical experimentation and another written proposal, I’m glad to be able to tell you that we’ve started a project that will help the 340 residents of Congo Quarter to re-plant their land this season and to get the best out of their sandy soil.  Part of this is about applying some of the improved farming methods with which BMS colleague Alex Vickers has achieved great success with farmers in Gulu, northern Uganda (see http://www.bmsworldmission.org/news-blogs/archive/dignity-dreams-and-development-uganda-food-project-success); notably crop selection, targeted digging, crop spacing, using natural fertilisers, and mulching.  However, the crux of this project is about turning a problem into an asset.  In this case the river Nyamwamba.  Although the river is responsible for so much agricultural destruction, it can also become a source of salvation by providing enough water to irrigate the sandy soil between rains .  Using rivers to irrigate crops is not new.  The success of the ancient Egyptians is probably attributable to their success in harnessing the waters of the Nile, but irrigation is not widespread in Uganda.  Moreover the geography of Congo Quarter makes it difficult to employ fixed irrigation:  farm plots are higher than the river, there are uneven slopes, any ditches would have to be lined to retain water, and the inherent instability of the braided weave river means that it could re-route itself again next season so any irrigation ditches or fixed pumps could be either completely flooded or left dry.  The solution had to be a pump which can lift water 2m from river to bank, push it 100m along a hose to peoples’ plots, be easily set up anywhere along the river bank and not require expensive fuel or non-existent electricity or working-animals to operate. 

Following helpful discussions on Skype with Richard Cansdale, a retired British water engineer who worked extensively with “Rower” pumps in Nigeria and Bangladesh in the 1970s and 80s, we then discovered a newer version of much the same design right here in East Africa; Kickstart’s “Moneymaker Hip Pump”, manufactured and used widely in Kenya and Tanzania and also sold in Uganda and Rwanda.  When combined with an exact list of 42 households in Congo Quarter and the size of plot available for them to farm, compiled by local leaders, this was enough to submit a project proposal to BMS.  I’d like to offer a big thank you to all of you who contributed to the BMS Disaster Relief Fund following our earlier posts about the Kasese Floods.  They come up trumps with a quick grant of £1,250 with which to deliver this project during this planting season, which has just started.  Then all I had to do was make 3 different measuring ropes for accurate crop spacing, purchase a large quantity of seeds of different types and weigh and subdivide them into ¼ acre bags, produce a training sheet and translate it into Swahili (a first for me) and get hold of, and test, the 6 pumps and hoses.  With assistance from the ever helpful Isaiah, we got these jobs done and went to Congo Quarter last Thursday to deliver the pumps and the training.

We delivered the training on the banks of the river with as much practical demonstration as possible.  Holes were dug to reveal the good soil beneath the sand in which to add manure and plant seeds, measuring ropes were used to space hole intervals, and grasses were used to demonstrate mulching.  We rigged up 2 hip pumps by the river, one with longer (100m) and one with shorter (50m) hoses so everyone could try using them.  Pr Alex translated for me and the elected Local Chairmen (LC1 & LC2) were very helpful in the practical demonstrations and dealing with questions and queries, so it was all going well with people amazed at the water pressure generated by simple hand pumps and their potential for irrigating their land.  Pr Alfonse was also with us and as we started to discuss moving from the training to the seed distribution a heated argument arose, mostly in Lukhongo, which I don’t understand.  I must confess that my immediate reaction was to wonder why Alfonse seemed to be provoking trouble during an amicable and successful day.  However, I’ve known Alfonse long enough to know that he’s rarely wrong, has an aptitude for sniffing out discrepancies of which I’m often blissfully unaware, and has the real Christian gift of advocating for the voiceless.  We agreed to postpone the seed distribution until the following week.

There seemed to be two threads to the argument:  One was over the fact that some people had already cleared their land ready for planting, as they had been requested to do by the LC1, while others hadn’t, probably waiting to see with their own eyes the project they’d heard about before committing their labour.  This was easily resolved.  Having seen the pumps in action they know for sure that we are “serious” – a big deal here in Uganda.  They then had a few days to get to work on their land.  The other issue is harder.  The list of names and dimensions of plots we were given was signed and stamped by the LC1, LC2 and LC3, who in Uganda’s highly decentralised system of government, are the locally-elected officials for Congo Quarter at sub-parish, parish and sub-county level.  It is difficult to get a document more official than that, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee its integrity.  One of the local landowners was “proving stubborn” about sharing some of his land with those who had lost their entire plots to the new riverbed as had been previously agreed, and another was alleging that the LC1 and LC2 had put “their people” on the list at the expense of other residents.  Land ownership is complex in Africa, highly politicised, and best not interfered with by white people who have a shameful track record regarding African land.  I had to trust that Pastor Alex and Isaiah could mediate between the local officials and their community members and to pray that God would ensure that a new list could be produced which was honest, accurate and endorsed by everyone involved. 

Thankfully I got the call last night that these issues had been resolved and so we headed back into Congo Quarter today with a big box of seeds for tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and okra, specially selected as locally popular and suitable for sandy soil.  It was wonderful to see a hive of activity with plots that had been cleared in the last few days and other people working hard at digging theirs.  It turned out that there was nothing quite as sinister as had been insinuated last week.  There was some confusion over plots that had been listed under the name of one spouse rather than the other, or accidentally under both names, and also over some plots that were held by people who reside outside Congo Quarter, but have always farmed there.  Suffice to say that it all got cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction and we distributed seeds to 28 households today with the promise to return for another 10 once they’ve prepared their land.

Prayer Requests:

1.      Give thanks for the BMS Disaster Relief Fund and all who contributed to it so that a swift grant was available to help the people in Congo Quarter who have suffered so much.

2.      Give thanks for the clever and affordable practical technologies such as “Kickstart’s” pumps and the chain of websites, conversations, and emails which lead me to them.

3.      Pray for wisdom, commitment and integrity for the local leaders and pastors who have the day-to-day responsibility for making this project work by ensuring equitable access to the pumps, encouraging farmers to use the methods we’ve suggested, and helping the elderly or sick to get their plots cleared and planted in time.

4.      Pray that this project will enable the people of Congo Quarter to regain their farming livelihoods and provide for their families, and that in doing so they fulfil Isaiah 12.3-4 (NIV):

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 
In that day you will say “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done and proclaim that his name is exalted."

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Another 'what a night' exactly one week later! - By Bethan

Last Friday we spent time at the clinic with Jonah (see previous blog post).  Not wanting to be outdone by his second-born, this Friday was Gareth's turn!  Gareth spent from 6pm until 11.30pm on a drip in the clinic because he had had bad diarrhoea and got himself dehydrated.  A mixture of a viral infection (gastroenteritis-type thing) and a worm called giardia worked together to give him all this trouble.  I, apparently, have the giardia worm too.  I worked it out when the Dr said that the worm on its own only causes massive wind ... and I remembered the previous night when I was rolling around in bed trying to get an enormous amount of trapped wind out! ... but the worm together with a virus caused Gareth too much hassle.  It is suspected that he caught this virus from the food prepared at the seven-hour 'fundraising' event he had been to the previous week.  Not washing hands is the main suspect, and food sitting around for hours before eating it.
Always looking for the positive in life, we noticed that as I sat with him in the clinic watching Michael McIntyre on my laptop and the boys were being babysat by our visiting church team, this was the first time we had been out on our own in months!  It was our first uninterrupted conversation since a friend babysat for us in May!
Gareth is now on the mend and just needs feeding up so that he has enough excess to lose next time he gets sick!  We also must mention our wonderful Dr George who runs the local clinic and looks after us so well.