Almost every rural pastor in Congo has a second or third job to make ends meet. Rural parishes are not known for providing a living wage for their pastors.
Family fields, gardens, livestock and fishponds put food on the table and pay for health care and school fees. Life is a scramble for pastors, just like it is for people in the parishes they shepherd.
That is one reason that the Kikongo Pastor’s School (IPK) made agriculture a key part of its program.
Leaders wanted to make sure that candidate pastors and their families could make a decent living off the land.
But their vision extended further. They knew that better varieties and improved agricultural techniques could improve rural people’s production.
It is not unusual to be able to double production with varieties and techniques available today.
They also knew that people had few opportunities to hear about and try out agricultural innovations.
They reasoned that if young pastors could see the potential of agricultural innovations while preparing for rural pastorates, they would be equipped to share God’s provision for more productive farming, more secure food supply and better livelihoods when they started their ministries.
Despite its importance, the agricultural program had been neglected for years. Students began to wonder why they should even have to cultivate fields at all. In 2013, that changed.
IPK engaged an energetic, organized young agronomist, Fidji Kifufu, to work with students.
During a short visit last spring, we worked together on a calendar of activities with an emphasis on high-yielding varieties of peanuts, manioc and corn, simple ideas for improving soil fertility, and a strategy for dry-season gardens.
I spent a week in May with Fidji and the IPK students. What has happened in the last year has been remarkable, even though the shift in direction was not easy.
Students started off grumbling. Juggling class work and fieldwork, especially during planting and early weeding, requires intelligence and persistence.
Under Fidji’s guidance, the students planted two new varieties of peanuts and manioc.
The rains didn’t cooperate and the peanut harvest was disappointing until students compared their yields with the even more disappointing yields of neighbors cultivating the current traditional varieties.
The manioc fields I saw were the best fields in years. Manioc plants were tall and vigorous, and disease-resistant varieties dominate the student fields.
This may be the first year that student families can supply most of what they eat from their own fields rather than having to buy food on the local market or even go hungry.
Fidji encouraged students to plant riverside gardens during the dry season last year.
In past years, students maintained their gardens only through the last marking period of the school year.
In 2013, many families continued to plant and harvest vegetables through the long vacation.
According to Rita Chapman, an American Baptist International Ministries worker in the Congo, mothers were astonished at how well they ate during the dry-season break because of those gardens.
Students have been experimenting with cover crops, also. Vining plants in the bean family help restore nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.
After eight months, the gardens are ready to give another crop of nutritious vegetables.
With renewed fertility and less effort to prepare the next year’s garden, cover crops are beginning to make practical sense to students.
Students still grumble about the work in their own agricultural fields, but they are somewhat muted by surprisingly healthy crops and improved production.
Two weeks ago, Rita wrote again after an evaluation of student fields.
“What really wowed us all was the impressive number of manioc tubers under each sample we looked at from each field. With only gentle digging, we counted 17 tubers on one plant—and there were probably more underneath that we didn’t see. An Nsansi plant [improved manioc variety] had 15,” she said.
“The students are thrilled. The third-year students are saying that when they leave next week, they are going to tell everyone along the way that there is no more hunger at IPK,” Rita said.
Every once in a while we get a chance to be part of people catching glimpses of provisions that God has made for people here in Congo.
The fruitfulness is not a fluke; it is the regular production of superior varieties planted at the right time and cared for throughout their production cycle.
God created those plants and created inquisitive scientific minds that “discovered” them and the techniques that make them highly productive.
Who better to tell people in impoverished communities about them than a new pastoral graduate who has literally tasted the fruits of God’s handiwork?
Ed Noyes and his wife, Miriam, are American Baptist International Ministries (IM) workers serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ed supports and advises Congolese Baptists working for more productive, profitable and sustainable agricultural practices among semi-subsistence farmers. A version of this article first appeared on the IM journals page and is used with permission. You can learn more about Ed’s and Miriam’s work here.