“Honestly, it’s a very interesting project,” says Sr. Veronica Nyambe, HBVM, of the organic garden she and her congregation of sisters recently started.
As a hospital administrator and Catholic nun belonging to the Handmaid Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, farming was not a typical part of Sr. Veronica’s daily life in Zambia. But here and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, farming and animal keeping are a key to communities escaping poverty.
Despite housing more than half of the Earth’s arable land – roughly 600 million hectares - Africa imports more food than it produces. Limited access to land, finances and other critical resources have made it difficult for Africans to make a living from farming, which has led to poverty and malnutrition in rural areas and a migration of the younger population to cities and overseas.
And yet, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “in sub-Saharan Africa, economic growth from agriculture is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty than any other sector.” When successful, small farms “generate income that is spent in rural communities and stimulates rural economies, which in turn contribute to peace and security and lift families, communities and countries out of poverty.”
Sr. Veronica and other Catholic nuns in Africa have seen how with proper support and investment, crop farming and animal keeping can successfully provide for their communities. A large part of the success of Sr. Veronica’s farm is due to the training she received through ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program.
SLDI, the largest program run by ASEC, has a clear and simple purpose: to provide leadership and technology training to Catholic sisters in Africa. Sisters complete workshops over a three-year period, including training in technology and leadership and additional focus on either administration or finance. The program also includes field trips, which is where Sr. Veronica found inspiration for her garden project.
During a field trip to Kasisi Organic Farming Project in Zambia, Sr. Veronica not only learned about organic farming, but was also inspired to be innovative and to use the limited resources available to support her community.
“Immediately after going back home, I started an organic garden,” she says.
She started with a variety of vegetables and are now also rearing hundreds of chickens, quails, peking ducks and guinea fowls. They have also purchased a hatching machine with the capacity of 88 eggs.
Her ASEC training and the success of the farm has enabled Sr. Veronica to mentor other sisters and employees at the hospital where she is an administrator and inspired her to do even more for her community.
“I want to start some bigger projects in order to empower women in our locality who have no source of income,” she says.
A number of sisters in ASEC’s programs have turned to farming and animal keeping as a sustainable means of supporting their local communities. Through ASEC’s Scholarship Program, several sisters are studying at Kilacha Agriculture & Livestock Training Institute in Tanzania for Animal Health and Production.
Sisters in ASEC’s Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) program have also found success in animal keeping and farming. HESA provides opportunities for Catholic women religious in African countries to access undergraduate and master’s level education through higher education institutions in Africa and the United States.
Sr. Anne Kamene, ASN, a HESA alumna and member of the congregation Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN), has applied her education to create a farm supporting the Cheshire Home for Girls in Kenya, which provides a residential and training program for 35 young women with varying mental and physical disabilities.
Sr. Anne took two previously unused acres of land surrounding the home and developed it into a farm that not only feeds the girls, but also gives them a sense of responsibility and a source of income. The home only buys about 5% of the food they eat; the rest of their food comes through donors and resources from their land. Sr. Anne is now pursuing funding for a biogas plant to convert animal droppings into fuel.
In Uganda, Sr. Judith Atukwatse, OLGC, has also used her SLDI training to build a successful vegetable and animal farm. After she completed the SLDI finance program, Sr. Judith returned to her community, the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel Congregation, Mbarara, eager to start a project that would benefit the sisters. They started raising poultry, which has helped to support both the sisters’ nutrition and income. The sisters also use the droppings of the birds to fertilize their vegetable garden
“Even the elderly sisters look stronger, [thanks] to this small project whose impact is immeasurable,” says Sr. Judith.
And now the project has grown to include a piggery. After purchasing two pigs (male and female) using the small amount of money they had raised, Sr. Judith and her community now raise piglets to sell. The youth involved in the group have also taken on their own farming projects, which has helped provide for their families.
The Mother Kevin Sustainable Farm is another Ugandan farm run by an SLDI alumna providing for its local community. Sr. Lydia Nakawunde, LSOSF, is the Sister-in-Charge at the farm, which is dedicated to environmental conservation, reducing food insecurity and minimizing nutritional-related diseases.
The farm includes over three acres of crops, 20 acres of woodlot, and more than 50 animals like cows, goats, pigs, chickens, plus over 400 birds. Crops like maize, beans, cassava, coffee, sweet potatoes, soya beans and bananas cover over three acres. Eucalyptus, markhamia and cidrela are grown in the 20+ acre woodlot and maize flour and wine are processed at the farm.
Sr. Lydia and the Mother Kevin Sustainable Farm have had a notable positive impact on the local area, including prevention of soil degradation and desertification, promotion of food security, improved income at household levels, and less challenges with nutritional diseases.
Many more SLDI alumnae have had success with sustainable farming and animal keeping
- Mother John Mushiga, Sr. Juliet Sanyu and Sr. Peter Namasinga, GSS, operate Kyasira Home of Hope in Uganda, an orphanage/boarding school where they also maintain a farm to teach students and the community how to grow food. They also raise pigs, chickens, goats and ducks.
- Sr. Susan Wanjiru, ASN, is the congregational project director of a 70 acre farm located 45 miles northeast of Nairobi. The project not only provides foods like vegetables, pigs, tilapia and milk, but it also serves as a demonstration center to train community members on farming methods.
- Sr. Leul Taklay, SCMR, of Cameroon was also inspired after an SLDI field trip to start a small farm. Her congregation purchased a pregnant cow and hired a contractor to build a biogas digester tank. The congregation uses the money saved on cooking gas, milk and manure to pay the teachers of their school.
- Rev. Sr. Leonarda Ngoin Tubuo, SST, and her congregation started a farm as a means of supporting their community in the midst of a war-torn Cameroon. Not only did the farm become a sustainable source of food and income, it also serves as a refuge in a time and place of upheaval.
One study (PDF) showed that “organic agriculture brings multiple benefits to the community including a more nutritious diet and health, reduced occupational hazards through decreased exposure to pesticides and job creation.”
Catholic nuns who have benefitted from ASEC education recognize that even the smallest of farming and animal keeping projects can make a big impact.
They have helped not only crops and animals to grow, but also build the success of their own communities.