Saturday, March 12, 2011

Graduation Day for the First Class of the Farmer to Farmer Soils Regeneration Project

Today was the final day of class, as well as,  the Graduation Day ceremony.  And, as a teacher, I experienced a first:   The number of students, the members of the Cooperative Diolinda Rodrigues, increased as the days progressed.  In all my previous classroom experiences, there is usually  some student attrition. I think this is because one statement was made which rang true to the Coopertive members, who, today, cannot afford chemical fertilizers. That is that in the past 100 years, the reality of  industrial farming is that farmers tend to the symptoms of plant malnutrition with expensive chemicals  in the same way year after year .  No matter what it is applied, it will be reapplied, usually in greater quantities with the next crop to be grown and so on. With organic agriculture the camponez strive to permanently  improve the condition and fertility of the soil  and the soil then tends to the needs of the plants. This is the way it has been for millions of years.

So, today the class started behind the Cooperative extension office at the raised bed that the Cooperative members had constructed the previous week   We reviewed the uses and benefits of green manures:  weed control, incorporation of organic matter, erosion control, fixing and/or bringing up nutrients from deeper deeper.  And then we planted by broadcasting some buckwheat seeds that I had located.  I demonstrated the broadcasting technique of one small handful per square meter on a small portion of our square meter site.  I then asked for four volunteers to repeat the methodology over the remaining areas.  One by one, they stepped forward, very hesitantly at first, to show the class their broadcasting prowess.  Each student did well and were rewarded with hearty applause.   We watered well, and spoke of the intense African sun,  We assigned responsibility for watering. And adjourned to the warehouse in the interior of the EDA complex where more learning was to take place.

The generator was located and a PowerPoint presentation and several videos were shown  .One video in particular showed not only the density of the buckwheat that grows, but what it looks like and and how to use it to start the next raised bed.  The class was astounded at how thickly buckwheat grows and how prolific are its seeds. Since neither buckwheat seeds, now any other green manure; alfalfa, clover etc; are not generally available in rural Londuimbali, it was solemnly agreed upon that the raised bed behind the EDA office, and any subsequent bed would become the seed beds of the Cooperative.  

Next came the Graduation ceremony.  Luciano Silva the Project Coordinator, had prepared diplomas that had been officially signed by both the Director of CNFA Angola and myself.   These were handed it in a ceremony that Luciano designed.  There seated among the bags of fertilizer and other chemicals that the government had provided to but which few could afford, the first organic agriculture class received their diplomas.  One by one the came up with great solemnity.  I think that they realized that their lives my have been changed forever.  After some snacks came a special reward.  We had brought other seeds not available to rural Angolans and the seeds these seeds were divided into equal mounds and distributed.   There were extra the buckwheat seeds, giant sunflowers seeds, heirloom Roma tomatoes seeds, and some very special seeds from a donor.  These seeds, originally acquired from the Japanese, give birth to a nitrogen fixing legume, a huge producer of bio-mass for composting, a cover crop, a highly nutritious animal feed, a plant that whose leaves have been researched to nbe an incredible 18% protein and 30% fiber - the Kudzu plant.  Patiently,  the CNFA team laid out 28 piles of seeds for each variety and each student filed up again and again to receive seeds, in samll cones made of scrap paper.   The camponez were particularly impressed with the Japanese Kudzu seeds, a much maligned plant in the United States because, it was explained, that it grows quickly and abundantly and that goats love it.  Unfortunately, kudzu seeds are very rare and each students only received 9 seeds.  

It was time to go and it became very emotional.  I had learned to love and respect these students.   Many of them live in houses of mud without modern conveniences but they carry themselves with great dignity.  They are so genuinely thankful to President Obama, with whom they feel shares their heritage and to the American people who, through US AID and the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, is helping them recover from a devastating civil war.  .  

The Angolan people have access to enough outside communication they know they are behind.  In terms of agriculture, the industrialized, mass production methodologies are not serving heir needs.  Even though Angola might be a petroleum producing nation, the reality is that Angola supplies the world a commodity product, crude petrolem.  The crude is refined elsewhere and is imported back into the country at world commodity  prices.  As the price of a barrel of petroleum continues to climb, the 85% of the Angolan population tat are subsistence farmers are priced out of the chemical market.  Industrial agriculture is not and will not work for them or anyone else for that matter.   According to the UN, the Industrial food system has already failed.

The farmers who farm organically, or as my co-worker back in the North Carolina says, just good old fashioned farming, can undo the damage that has been brought on these people, first by civil war and then by bad "modern" agricultural information.    Contact Jerad Tietz at CNFA and he'll tell you how.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 11 We Visit a Fazenda in Londuimbali District

One of the Cooperative members had used he services of a CNFA volunteer previously. A 71 year old retired government official, he had several hectares of plants and fruit trees.
He invited myself and the CNFA staffers, Luciano Silva, my interpreter Vasco Capingala and the driver Domingo Lucambo to visit the progress that he had made. His farm or fazenda was situated in a beautiful valley. He actually had some good looking soil.  he said that he had tried citrus but they did niot thrive so that switched to passion fruit and pineapple. There was not much I could add, since I have never  grown either crop.  But his fazenda was well organized and fairly clean of weeds. But it was certainly a gorgeous piece of real estate. The passion fruit, if on the ground, were free for the picking and the CNFA staff obliged.

We returned to the main highway that serves as the main paved street of the Municipio do Londuimbali through a fairly typical neighborhood. There are poor peasants. Whatever oil wealth that the country garners, it is not reflected here. There is no running water, a generator produces the electricity and the people cook with charcoal, usually in mud brick huts. Many have the openings, but the actual windows and doors will come later.The streets are unpaved and rutted and the rights of ways are shared with a menagerie of dogs, chickens and goats and the occasional oxen.
 How or can they relate their world to that?Leaving Londuimbali I saw the saw a site that reminded me of a scene that I had encountered two years ago.  A camponez who was driving us to his fazanda, bouncing over rutted roads in a bone shaking RAV4, asked me when he saw me staring at a team of oxen that we had drawn next to, how many teams of oxen did I own.   I had to tell him none.

Then he asked how many were in the State of North Carolina and I told him that, as far as I knew, oxen did not exist in the United States, I had never seen any.  He fell silent over such an absurd statement.

Day 10 Building a Raised Bed and Incorporating Terra Preta

For me building the raised bed is always the most enjoyable pat of learning to intensify the use of the soil: grow more plants in a much smaller area.                              

Angolan camponez can do more with a hoe than a surgeon with a scapel. They were fascinated when I out my foot on the little shovel they brought and applying my weight I easily cut into the soil. They use the shovels like big spoons. Then one camponez says, "Well, he's wearing boots" the other says, "Look how much he weighs". Apparently, they had never seen a shovel used in that fashion.

On the other hand there very little that they can't do with a good axada or hoe. So once they heard the cadence: double dig, move it back, add terra preta, manure (until there's sufficient compost) and lime, level it off and repeat. Things really moved along.
These camponez not only know how to use a hoe, they work together well also. In less than 90 minutes, we had completed the double digging and added our soil amendments and raked, chopped and contoured our raised bed and, I must say, they were as proud of their achievement as I was of them. We agreed that we'd give the soil amendments a couple of days to start to work and them we'd planyt some green manure seeds that I had brought with me, a kilo of Buckwheat, to crowd ourt the weeds and to eventually permit a massive amount of carbon matter to be turned under the soil.

Day 9 Learning Soil Regeneration Techniques

Yesterday, Wednesday, the class convened. Apparently, the word is spreading about the big compost pile. Our class is growing, 2 more camponez joined us. This day's class would be about terra preta, green manure and building raised beds. But we started with a review which would require an electrical hook-up which required borrowing the generator again
Nothing is easy in rural Angola. Nothing can be taken for granted.

I wanted to show them a picture of a compost pile that I had previously shown them on the very first day of the composting class. A picture of an Indian compost pile composed of sugar cane stalks.
And I wanted them to compare that to the compost pile that they had built all working together as a Cooperative. A compost pile that Ipersonally thought was the best I had ever helped build.
Next I showed them a picture that I had taken the day before on the outskirts of Lobduimbali that showed what a program of composting would make obsolete slash and burn agriculture. The camponez agreed that burning was wasting good composting green and brown material.
The classwork entailed another PowerPoint presentation with several downloaded You Tube videos graphically demonstrating terra preta of Amazonia, green manures and raised bed horticulture: all aspects of soil regeneration. They were rapt. And from one of their questions, I determined why. They wanted to know if the Amazon was really a river or was it a sea. They had never seen nor heard of a river that one could not easily see the other side. I assured them that this was a river and that ocean going vessels could navigate the first 3000 kilometers of it.

We discussed all these novel soil regeneration issues at length and agreed to meet the next day to build the first raised bed. We gave the requirements for a site and asked that they, as a Cooperative, decide exactly where to build it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 8 Shopping for Hoes

The last time that I was in Huambo, as I was doing an inventory of the farm supplies being sold out of an agricultural supply store, I came across an object that I had been looking for in the USA for 30 years: a good hoe. I am not referring to one of those toys sold at Lowe's which pass in the USA for hoes, but rather one that a farmer can sharpen and with which some real damage can be done in the field. I bought one for myself, and promised my co-worker, the Farmers Fresh Market Production Coordinator, Kirk Wilson, that I'd bring one back with me for him. As fate would have it, I could never find the find the same agricultural supply store and could not locate any hoes in the towns of Huambo, Benguela or Luanda. Apparently, I'd bought the last hoe in the Angola.

Well, I have never heard the end of it: how I failed to bring Kirk his hoe. So while there was still plenty of time left to my stay in Angola, I ventured into the second largest open air market in Angola, the Plaza Alemania. The Plaza has such an usual name because it opened about the same time that Angola's national soccer team first appeared in the World Cup which was won by Germany. Go figure. I must admit, I hadn't seen a scene like this in my life.
I had been to the Plaza Alemania two years earlier hunting beans but I did not recognize the place, for it had grown exponentially. Whatever is made, it is in Alemania, sold in little specialty kiosks. The entire place is a cavalcade of of sounds, smells, colors and dust. Everything from tires and metal doors to sofa, Chinese motorcycles to used clothing from all over the world.
The tool sales happened in the interior of the complex. We made our way through the thousands of vendors stationed in little stalls. Food for sale, squalling children, beggars, police busts of pirated CD's, you name it and we waded through it. After a couple of stops the always friendly and helpful Angolanos directed us to a woman that had hoes for sale. Not much variety, but she had good, sturdy ,heavy, metal hoes. We haggled. We settled on a good price and Kirk.......
Here's your hoe.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 8 The First Compost Pile in Londuimbali

It's an hour drive to Londuimbali from the CNFA office in Huambo. But it really is another world away.

While Huambo struggles to remain in the modern world, Londuimbali is in a realm all to itself. It's distance from modernity is much greater than just an hour.

The CNFA staff was very excited, this was the big day. We had requested that all the members of Coopativa Dolindo Rodrigues bring two 50 Kg fertilizer sacks full of the assigned material: green, brown or manure.

We were overwhelmed with the response and it, three hours later, resulted in the largest compost pile to which I have ever been a party. We had so much goat and cow manure that we had to back the CNFA Ford pickup back into the little village. Once there about five or six camponez came out of the little huts and loaded up the truck with several hundred pounds of goat and ox manure loaded in fertilizer bags just as they said that they would.

Returning to the Cooperative Extension Office we started loading the green and the brown matter into the truck. Most of the members showed up dressed in work clothes with machetes, shovels and hoes. We had tons literally of materials and so many people that we had to take relays of two pickups to the site, near a stream 3 kilometers away.
The Cooperativa members, upon a review, remembered everything and we started with the thickest stalks of the brown materials first, then a thin layer of manure and a little lime to raise the PH. The soil in the valley is very similar to the Foothills of Western North Carolina: red clay: and it is very acidic. Then we watered with a watering can and followed with as layer of green material.
Layer upon layer we built up and once they got the hang of it we finished with the best built, prettiest compost pile that I've ever seen. I have to admit that we were all very proud of it.
The composteiria is to be maintained. They know that, since it is layered correctly, in a week, if they cannot feel heat when they stick their hands in the pile, it can only be because it is too wet, too dry, or it doesn't have enough air. They know how remedy each eventuality: don't water if too wet; water it if its too dry; and turn it if its too compressed and needs air. We went over and over both the symptoms and the cures and I, as well as the CNFA Farmer to Farmer staff, firmly believe that these camponez of Londuimbali have been changed and will be no longer dependent upon chemicals.

If you see your Congressman tell him that these are the activities that will make us the example for the world. These are the skills that the people in underdeveloped countries need.

Now that they have mastered that skill, tomorrow, we will tackle raised beds and green manures.

Ate amanha, meus amigos.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 7, Back to Londuimbali for Composto 102

Day 7 Composting 201

The CNFA Team, composed of the driver, Domingo, my new translator, Vasco, the Project Coordinator, Luciano,
and myself, drove back to Londuimbali this morning to teach more about composting to the Cooperativa Dolindo Rodrigues. We stopped to take a photograph. That is Londuimbali in the background

When we arrived in Londuimbali there were already 10 camponez (peasants) waiting for us.
Within 20 minutes we had more camponez attending the second class than we had attending last week’s first class .... a very good sign. I thanked them for coming and told them that having this many camponez attending the class was very motivating to the CNFA Team. An immediate question ….. would those who complete the course in composting receive a certificate. Of course they would! Plus we had a surprise.

Little did they know that prior to striking off for the countryside this morning, we had stopped off at Digital Foto-Diamante and had 26 copies made of the group picture from the first day. We will add these to their certificates. I’m not sure if these camponez had ever seen a digital camera before but the certainly were fascinated with it. This I know for sure: the workers at Digital Foto-Diamante checked my thumb drive for viruses, which I thought was fairly professional but found none. They gave it back to me, as I found out later, with SEVEN viruses from there own systems. I now REALLY believe in the free AVG anti-virus program that Greg French back in Rutherfordton installed on our computers.

So, with the camponez, we first had a review of composting 101.

They remembered the 5 main ingredients: air, water, heat, green material and brown material. They remembered the most important processes when making a compost pile: put the materials in layers and give it enough water so that the moisture content is that of a wrung out sponge. I even had purchased a sponge, had it wetted, wrung it out and passed it around, twice, just so they understood what the required moisture felt like.

Now things started to get serious. We had the camponez break out into the three groups that we formed on Sexta-fiera, (last Friday):Grupo Verde (green), Grupo Castanha (brown) and Grupo Estrume (manure). Did they remember what materials belonged in their group? They did fine; Grupo Verde reported fresh grass, weeds, kitchen waste, cascara de naranga e manga (orange and mango peels) etc. Grupo Castanha reported dried grass, sticks, dried sugar cane and corn stalks, leaves, cardboard etc. And Grupo Estrume reported manure of cow, sheep, goat, chicken, horse, donkey but not pig, dog or cat because they share parasites with humans.

All members agreed to bring two 50Kg sacksof the appropriate materials to the Community Center

Then we discussed the requirenments for locating the site for the compostieria: near water, shaded, level, convenient to get to, accessible to all cooperative members. When I asked for the name of the person responsible for making sure that the compost was workuing, the camponez insisted on electing the leaders, which they did. Next, it was decided that, after lunch of bread, butter and Blue,
we would visit the site with the Cooperative Extension agent, the newly elected leader and two representatives of each group.

The Cooperative owns land near a stream that is used for training. The members had built a hut to hold their meetings. It was decided that this hut would be used fopr the site of the first compostieria. We agreed to return the next day with all materials to this site to build Londuimbali's first compost pile.

I could see them bursting with anticipation.

On our journey back, I asked Domingo to stop so I could take photographs of how ubiquitious the use of 50Kg sacks as a unit of measure is in the countryside.. Charcoal, avacados and all manner of dried beans are sold by the saco no bother that the 50Kg is a measurement of weight and not volume.