By Sylvain Sambo, World Vision Field Supervisor
"Our Savings and Livelihoods group is called "LAMUKA." It means wake up. We were indeed sleeping, and the shortage of food was breeding tensions between the host community and the refugees. We were hungry, angry, and fighting, until World Vision and Search for a Common Ground came to wake us up,” says John Kabesuka, president of the group.
The group comprises 25 members, including 12 refugees (7 women and 18 men) and 13 members from the host community of Kpekambo. Five of them form the coordinating committee (3 refugees and 2 come from the host community).
John Kabesuka recounts the journey of change.
I realised that growing crops on our small parcels of land would not bring about transformation. We worked hard, ate the little we harvested, and repeated the cycle again. We needed to find large agricultural fields if agriculture was to work as a vehicle of transformation in our community.
In 2015, I identified 19 people, among them 10 women, to find and till larger fields of 100X100 meters for each member. It took us just 4 hours to cultivate one person’s piece -work that would have taken one a month. In 19 days, each member boasted of a garden of cassava.
Our cassava, although of the local variety, gave us between 12 and 15 100 Kg BAGs per field each season. Each bag went for 18,500 Congolese francs ($ 9). We agreed to sell, save and for each season to support 2 among us build a house with metal roofing! That is how we all got out of the grass-thatched huts.
Between 2017 and 2018, there was an influx of refugees in our village, which paralysed our field activities. It felt like an invasion.
The beginning was difficult. In 2018, World Vision partnered with us. They were keen to see how the refugees from the Central Africa Republic could benefit, but most importantly, they wanted host communities and the refugees to interact peacefully.
You see, tension was brewing among the host community because the newcomers were eating into our food reserves. Moreover, they were getting help from NGOs and UNHCR, which we as host families were not receiving, yet we lived in need too.
World Vision came and worked with our community to identify the needs of the host and refugee populations. Through this process, some local associations and fields of expertise like fishing were identified as catalysts for transformation. Unfortunately, fishing did not yield quick profits and it was breeding new paths of tension and conflict. Community participants asked WV to change the channel of transformation to Local Value Chain Development (LVCD). That is how the activities of MOGORO moved to KPEKAMBO.
Among the first activities with support from World Vision, we experimented by planting 5 Kg of local maize variety the way we always did, and the yield was 20 kg. On a neighbouring piece of land of equal size, we planted improved maize seeds using farmer practices of planting in rows and spacing the plants as recommended by the World Vision field workers at the Farmer Field School, here we harvested 30 kilogrammes of maize.
We embraced the new planting and weeding lessons, also how to harvest in ways that minimise farm loss and to dry maize in ways that appeal to buyers. Most importantly we are continuously learning how to connect with markets. To launch us into scaling, World Vision provided 300Kg of maize, cowpea (small beans), groundnut and soya seeds, as well as farming tools like hoes and rakes.
We passionately implemented these learnings on our 100/100 m2 plots, with the support of the Agronomic Technicians. They guided us through the clearing of the field, planting, weeding, harvesting, curating, packaging and selling process. Additionally, they made time to train us on how to monitor progress, and manage business challenges, group dynamics and conflicts. The farming and saving for transformation skills have moved us from depending on handouts to becoming respected farmers and traders in our community.
It worked for us! In 2015 we harvested between 12 to 15 bags of local cassava for 100/100 m2, yet with the new farming practices and improved stems for planting, our yield shot up to 32 bags of cassava.
The association has helped four of our members to buy motorbikes, which they are using in the transport sector to grow their family income. We hope to do the same for five other members per subsequent season. Our children have what to eat, and they attend school. We can take them for treatment when they fall sick. Our children now have a promising future.
With some support from World Vision, we plan to buy benches for our school and build the school office this year!