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 the 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 healthier diet for millions struggling with food insecurity throughout Africa. 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 in Kenya. 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.
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.
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.
Sisters in Africa are also using sustainable agriculture in creative ways to fill important needs in their communities. Sr. Leul Teklay, SCMR and the Capuchin Sisters of Blessed Mother Francesca Rubatto in Cameroon run a kindergarten and serve as administrators in a public primary school of 350 children. Inspired by a field trip to a biofarm during her SLDI training, Sr. Leul initiated a biogas project for her congregation’s farm to help pay the teacher's salaries. 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.”
Sr. Yvette Sam, SUSC, an SLDI alumna in Cameroon, is another out-of-the-box thinker. The ongoing sociopolitical crisis in western Cameroon has drastically reduced sources of income, making her work as high school administrator very challenging. Using the crisis-management principles she learned in ASEC’s SLDI workshop, she initiated a closed loop recycling project to increase food production, manage waste and lift the economic burden her school was facing.
The chickens on her farm are fed with their own special feed that utilizes the farm’s produce, such as maize. Because the Sisters make the feed, they know that the birds are getting high-quality nutrition. The droppings from the chickens are added to the pig feed. This gives the pigs extra nourishment, making their manure a valuable fertilizer that’s rich in nitrogen and other organic material. The pig manure is used to fertilize the produce on the farm and the entire process begins again! Sr. Yvette adds,
“I marvelled at the recycling process and how it ensures a healthy growth both in birds, animals and food crops. It also reduces expense and waste, as well as stimulates economic activity.”
Sr. Yvette’s agricultural recycling project has been very helpful in paying the bills for the school and caring for the children. Although the chickens and pigs require attention, the waste recycling ensures a healthy, sustainable environment for the future.
Sr. Anne Kamene, ASN serves at Cheshire Home for girls with physical and mental disabilities in Lumuru, Kenya. She began her tenure as Director after receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies through ASEC's HESA program. After only a few months of employment, she has expanded the home’s income (and improved the girls’ nutrition) through vegetable and tea farming on two previously unused acres of land She is now pursuing funding for a biogas plant to convert animal droppings into fuel. She's also engaged her local community in fundraising efforts, while sensitizing people about individuals with disabilities.
Sr. Anne shared that without further education, she may not have been able to access a leadership role.
“I would be in a very bad situation if I was given a home like this to run and then I don’t have the knowledge and skills--that would be terrible. …I have been able to use the skills I got in school to maximize on the resources we have.”
Agricultural projects by ASEC Alumnae
About 65% of ASEC alumnae projects impact more than one of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As an example, a recent alumnae project in Kenya is addressing agriculture and farming needs (SDG 2) as well as educational needs (SDG 4) for the impoverished youth (SDG 1).
This Sister secured funds to acquire a tractor and put on farming demonstrations for sugarcane farmers and the youth in her community. She is using the tractor to generate income for her congregation by plowing sugarcane farms of the poor families at an affordable cost. The money earned for plowing is paying for the uniforms, books and tuition costs for orphans. This project alone is serving a projected 1330 individuals (930 community members and 400 Sisters).
Approximately 13% of the 700+ reported projects contribute primarily to SDG 2: Zero Hunger. These include projects focused on agriculture, nutrition and access to food. 40 of these projects are primarily impacting agriculture in Africa.
 ASEC Evaluation Reports (2019)
The future generation of sustainable agriculture
While communities across Africa are making strides in sustainable agriculture, there are still many people suffering from food insecurity and undernourishment. Many Sisters that attend secondary school education through ASEC's Scholarship Program are the future leaders of sustainable agriculture in Africa.
Because of society’s great need, the majority of Catholic Sisters in Africa are put to task without the proper training and skills. In fact, about 80% of African Sisters are lacking the education credentials they need to effectively serve the poor. Many Sisters haven’t even completed secondary school. The cost of tuition coupled with low-paying or non-paying jobs that Sisters hold makes it extremely difficult for congregations in Africa to afford the cost of tuition.
ASEC aims to solve this problem through higher education partnerships and training programs geared specifically towards the needs of Sisters in Africa. With the support of people just like you, over 5,300 Sisters in ten African countries have received an education tailored to improve her effectiveness in serving the poor. From improving healthcare and access to clean water, to building infrastructure and initiating income generating projects, ASEC alumnae are transforming communities across Africa.
Will you be a Ray of Hope for a Sister who needs you?
Your donation to ASEC's Scholarship Program will provide the skills these young Sisters need to effectively serve in the community. The gift of education, large or small, makes a BIG impact for years to come in the marginalized communities where Sisters serve. Just $20 will sponsor one week of secondary school for one Sister in Tanzania. Through her work, you can make an incredible difference in the lives of those who are suffering and be a part of a community of like-minded individuals responding to God’s call to serve the less fortunate.