30 June 2009

Four of the twenty-five smallholder associations receiving Rotary seed and fertilizer are located near the village of Cantao 4. When we visted on 18 June 2009, we saw one of these groups planting seed potatoes that are intended to produce even more seed. The process is called seed multiplication, and requires a higher degree of technical skill and resources than producing and selling potatoes for human consumption.

Women working the fields with infants tied to their backs are a very common sight in Angola

One plot had already been planted during the previous season, and was nearly ready for harvest. That plot belonged to the leader farmer for the village, who had gone through World Vision's training program. Using other seed and fertilizer, he had run tests, determined which seed variety and fertilizer application level was optimal, and demonstrated proper cultivation techniques to others in his group.

Gravity-driven irrigation is essential to dry season potato cultivation in Huambo. Only villages located near a year-round source of water -- usually groundwater from a natual spring -- can participate in the Rotary program.

Now, it was time for the rest of the group – 24 smallholders in all – to plant their crops. The ground on the first plot was already prepared, neatly furrowed by smallholders working mostly with sharpened bamboo sticks. There's no money yet for steel hoes or other basic farming implements.

All 24 smallholders work as a team at planting and harvest time. About half the group moves through the plot, applying fertilizer. In the dry season, when the fields are irrigated, fertilizer is applied once. But when they plant in the rainy season, additional applications are sometimes necessary.

The men of the association move through the first 10 meter by 10 meter plot, spreading Rotary fertilizer

Then the rest of the group lays the potato seeds and closes the furrows. Working together, it takes them about half an hour to finish the first plot. Then, they move on the second, and third, an so on until everyone's plot has been planted.

The women follow up, carefully placing the potato seed, and later closing the furrows

Each smallholder recieves 100 kilograms of potato seed and 50 kilograms of fertilzer from Rotary. That's one sack of fertilizer and about four milk crate-sized containers of seed. Logistics are daunting in Huambo, where only major highways are paved and few secondary roads are even properly graded or maintained. World Vision used SUVs – Toyota Land Cruisers, mostly – to bring in the seed and fertilizer. It's not the most efficient way to do it, but sometimes it's the only way available.

There are three limiting factors to development work generally, and to our ongoing joint project in Huambo in particular: transport, trained personnel and resources. The Rotary Club of Luanda (District 9350) and 34 clubs from Rotary District 5230 in California are providing some of the necessary resources. The European Union and World Vision are providing training and a core team of expert staff. Transportation to and from the villages is managed by the associations where they can and by World Vision staff where they can't.

The plots in this village are ten meters by ten meters, something like the size of a tennis court. In other villages, the typical smallholding might be twice as big. Size depends on soil fertility: the more fertile and productive the soil, the smaller the plots and the more people can make a living at farming in a given village. In Cantao 4, the soil is more fertile than usual, so more smallholder associations can be supported.

The first village association in Cantao 4 to receive seed and fertilizer from the Rotary Club of Luanda (D-9350) and clubs from District 5230 in California

For the next few months, each association member tends to his or, more commonly, her plot. Come harvest time, they'll work more as a team again, both for harvesting and marketing the produce. Although Rotary is providing the potato seed for free, the fertilizer is a loan. Half the yield from this first round of planting in Cantao 4 will be paid into a community seed bank. Each smallholder, on average, will produce enough seed to fund two more new farmers in the next planting season. The other half of the crop belongs to each smallholder individually, with most of it sold for cash, but some held back for their own use.

Rotary potato seed and fertilizer means cash crops for sustainable commercial farming

Smallholders who have generated some cash will be able to buy more fertilizer the next time around. Others will have to depend on microfinance projects backed by the Angolan government, the European Union and World Vision. The objective is to make commercial farming sustainable for the 75 village associations (25 in the first round, and 50 more in the second) that Rotary is backing.

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