Sustainable agriculture is key to achieving the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) and creating a better life for Africans. According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make up about 50% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries like sub-Saharan Africa. If women farmers had same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger.
Undoubtedly, women are the quiet drivers of change towards more sustainable production systems and a more varied and healthier diet for millions throughout the country. Catholic sisters are also stepping in with their own creative farming and agro-business solutions.
Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF has made strides in eliminating hunger through sustainable farming. As Director of the Ukweli Home of Hope, she helps provide basic necessities, utilities and tuition to nearly 100 boys. To save on utility costs, a biogas digester on the farm uses livestock waste to create gas that is piped to the home for cooking. Biogas production uses oxygen free digestion, which reduces odor, produces energy and improves the storage of manure. It also helps in reducing pollution. Much of her knowledge she gained through the mentorship of an alumna of ASEC's Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program.
Similarly, Sr. Leul Teklay, SCMR initiated a biogas project for her congregation’s farm after visiting a biofarm at Shumas Centre in Bamenda Cameroon. Shumas Centre trains peasant farmers and out of school unemployed youths in sustainable agriculture practices. Sr. Leul was inspired after seeing renewable energy sources like electricity generated from a dam, solar power and wind turbines. As an SLDI alumna, Sr. Leul was able to use the skills she learned to gain support for this project. She says,
“By carrying out this project, though we do not have any income, it reduces our cost since we do not buy cooking gas, milk and manure. Through this means, we also protect the environment as a result of using natural things instead of artificial products.”
Sisters in sub-Saharan Africa have also learned to farm other plants that help their communities. ASEC alumna Sr. Eulalia Capdevila Enriquez, CMS works for the Mother Earth Centre in rural Zambia. The Mother Earth Centre sustains their farming through renewable energy projects such as windmills, solar power, biogas and earth bags. There, they are improving the conditions of millions within their communities, especially through their cultivation of Moringa, a medicinal and nutritional plant.
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In the abundant wildlife and raw wilderness of Zambia, SLDI participant Sr. Veronica Nyambe, HBVM has created her own sustainable, organic farm and garden. Currently the Hospital Administrator at Nangoma Mission Hospital, she gained interest in farming after an SLDI field trip to Kasisi Farm Training Centre. Returning home, Sr. Veronica was inspired. She started a garden and grew different types of vegetables. Sr. Veronica's congregation community eventually gained 100 chickens, 120 quails, 10 pecking ducks and 15 guinea fowls – complete with a hatching machine for 88 eggs. She adds,
“I will continue to extend my appreciation to ASEC for the time given to me [to] learn from other sisters, facilitators, and the field visits. As I go back, I want to start some bigger projects in order to empower women in our locality who no source of income.”
In Uganda, Sr. Rose Namwombwe, IHMR leverages sustainable agriculture via a mushroom growing project in the basement of her congregation’s convent. Sisters have shown that you do not need to have a large farm to increase food security. Easy to maintain, mushroom farming produces several products in the short span of three months. What Sr. Rose thought would be a test project has turned out to be a very productive enterprise. She is now training communities around the area to engage in mushroom farming as a means to supplement their nutrition and generate income.
While communities across Africa are making strides in sustainable agriculture, there are still many people suffering from food insecurity and undernourishment. But, religious sisters in Africa are working hard to educate and assist these communities with their agro-business efforts.