Farming God’s Way
Written by Anders Bjørnkjær-Nielsen
In January 2019, 28 participants from Guinea and Sierra Leone gathered for our nine days introductory course in Farming God’s Way – Well Watered Garden. The course was held in Fallanghia, 125 kilometers West of Conakry.
Farming God’s Way is a farming concept developed by Brian Oldreive in the northern Zimbabwe.
Farming God’s Way is a farming concept developed by Brian Oldreive in the northern Zimbabwe.Brian struggled with impoverished soil and a swelling scepticism towards the intensive farming methods he was expected to execute. He sought enlightenment and help in his faith and in his Bible. Carefully reconsidering his methods and approaches, he slowly developed Farming God’s Way, which is characterised by the following:
• FGW addresses people with very few resources
• Year after year the same holes are to be used for planting without ploughing or burning the soil
• A loose layer of dead plant materials, named “God’s blanket” is to be spread out over the whole farmland to maintain the humidity of the soil
• Everything must be done with the aim of reaching the highest work standard
• The method can be used in semi dry areas with 1-2 rainy seasons
• The main theme is to protect God’s creation – the Earth
The Relay Trust had through partnership with Farming 4 Life been introduced to Aziano Kokou-Dodzi, who was to lead the workshop. Dodzi is a pastor, living in Togo, taught on FGW in Uganda, and due to his great dedication and work with the methods he is one of Farming 4 Life’s specially chosen facilitators.
The participants came from the two Anglican dioceses in Sierra Leone and the Anglican Diocese of Guinea. It was rather surprising to witness and hear the very diverse backgrounds of the participants. We had: Students, a shoe salesman, a development worker, a few unemployed, farmers, a poultry farmer, pastors, fishermen and so on. Out of the 27 participants, there were four women. 22 participants spoke English and 5-6 spoke French.
We had divided the costs between us, so that the dioceses paid for the transportation of their own participants to the site, the Diocese of Guinea paid for the food and provided accommodation, while the Relay Trust paid for the teaching and organised the workshop.
One of the participants, who made a special impression on me, was Jacob Benjamin Camara from Bakiya, which is about 2,5 km from Fallanghia. Jacob’s life had been rather challenging so far. He believes, he is about 18-20 years old. His livelihood is a farm of about 20 hectares.
Aziano Kokoui-Dodzi and Anders after morning exercise.
His father and one of his brothers had died. He was unable to attend the course on the first day as his other brother had been in a car accident and needed care. Due to practical reasons and cultural expectations, Jacob had married his late brother’s widow and taken his nephew in as a son. Altogether, Jacob’s story included lot of hardship and grief, But he was both energetic, positive and ready to learn, albeit very poor. A man, who could really change his life for the better, if only given a chance.
In advance, we were aware that the great division in both educational background and language could pose a challenge. To overcome this, we used a rather boring approach (in Danish eyes, anyway), as the participants were taking turns reading the materials out loud for each other, first in English then French. Thus, every slide in the presentation was methodical read aloud twice, ensuring everybody understood the content. The instructor led classes were supported by an outdoor evening cinema where we watched FGW. Here we introduced and tested the reception of the concept of e-learning, as all film sequences were made available in both English and French through WIFI via our Online Well, so participants could make their way through in their own pace and language. From the fourth day, the workshop included practical exercises on the farm. After three days of patiently listening to the theory of it all, the participants were more than ready to try out the principles themselves.
The programme followed a fixed rhythm throughout the nine days, beginning with morning prayer at 8 a.m. and concluding at 5 p.m., and the following topics were covered:
- Introduction to Farming for Life and Farming God’s Way
- Well Watered Garden in theory
- Practical demonstration of Farming God’s Way: c. 500 m2 had been cleared for test plots, so participants could experience planting maize, beans, and groundnuts. As an additional bonus, forest minded people could experience forestry, and no less than 34 moringa trees were planted during the workshop
- 20 reasons why we do what we do in FGW
- How to promote biodiversity through alternative cops
- City gardening
- Loans and saving groups
The church owns about 100 hectares of farmland by Fallanghia. The land is covered by old oil palms and tall scrub, so it was quite easy to find vacant land to use for the teaching.
When the practical exercises began, the participants were first and foremost instructed in how to make and use the “Tere”, an important measuring tool to be used. It is a piece of robe with bottle tops attached every 60 cm to indicate distances between the plants. The test plots were carefully measured and the planting wholes of right angle, width, and depth were made. Everything was done following the clear FGW principal of highest work standard – which at times resulted in rather intensive, yet positive discussions.
Dodzi was marvellous. With inspiring patience, he demonstrated how things should be done. The planting holes were carefully filled with a bit of ash, then dirt, seed and dirt again (as an alternative to ash, demolished termite hives also make a good fertilizer). It gave everyone a great sense of pride to constantly strive for the highest standards. At the end, a thick layer of about 30 cm dead plants (God’s blanket) was spread over the plots and thoroughly watered. Experiments have shown, that up to 94% of the rainfall is absorbed by the ground when using God’s blanket, while as little as 10% is absorbed without. Moreover, God’s blanket maintains the humidity, so the soil can go for up to three weeks without watering.
The first delicate sprouts appeared and were properly celebrated!
The course received positive evaluations from the participants, and afterwards a WhatsApp (chat forum like Facebook) group was established for participants, so they can motivate and inspire each other to continue with their own test plots at home.
Nat, a man of almost two meters’ height and one meter’s width from Port Loco, Sierra Leone, showed great enthusiasm about the FGW concept throughout the course, and only one week after the completion he had established a beautiful test field and declared himself ready to assist his fellow participants in getting started – wauw!
Another person, who to my great surprise, has continued with the principles of the course upon completion, is Dominique. Dominique is a fisherman from Ghana, who has come to Conakry in search of a job, rather unsuccessfully so far. To be honest, I had taken him to be somewhat unfocused and far outside his area of expertise. Revolving in his mind were thoughts of going back to Ghana, as he was running out of money. So, I suggested him to make up his mind once and for all, to settle, focus on farming, and to do so, following the high standard taught on the workshop.
After a couple of weeks, he announced to everyone that he has decided to focus on farming in Guinea from now on. The church has granted him permission to continue working on the test fields we began together during the workshop. It will be interesting to see how this works out once the rainy season begins in April.
Once the rain comes, we will follow up on the participants to see to which extend the workshop has been a success. So far, we know of three participants daring to trust the new teaching enough to have started their own test plot.
With God as out guide, careful considerations as to why we do it what we do, and an aim to reach the high standard, we want to follow Farming God’s Way.