Working Toward a Hunger Solution
by Judith Santiago
Mozart Adevu is a United Methodist missionary who serves as the Africa Regional Coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Sustainable Agriculture and Development (UMCOR-SA& D) program. Through this program, and through his vision and leadership, communities in Africa are being lifted out of poverty.
In the last decade, approximately 7,500 farmers throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone have been trained directly through the UMCOR-SA&D program. Indirectly, each trained farmer has provided informal training to more than 10 other community members—multiplying the reach of this program and thereby transforming thousands of lives. Adevu shares his views in the following interview with Judith Santiago for New World Outlook.
How did you first get involved with the UMCOR-SA&D program?
I was elected to participate in a panel discussion at an Africa Regional Conference in Accra, Ghana, on issues of agricultural sustainability. It was organized by the General Board of Global Ministries' Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Initiative (SARDI)—currently the SA&D program. The conference participants chose me to serve on an interim committee that the Rev. Jim Gulley had formed to deliberate on SARDI's development into a practical program. In 2000, I applied to fill a position as SARDI's West Africa Regional Coordinator and began work in January 2001.
What was your first impression of the SARDI program?
I saw this program as an opportunity to work with communities in Africa, designing concrete programs to resolve the major problems of hunger, malnutrition, and disease. Since no concrete activities were in place when I was hired, I was thrilled to have the opportunity as an African to take leadership in developing novel approaches that truly address the problems of the continent.
Please discuss your role in UMCOR-SA&D, and highlight your contributions.
I helped develop and design the curricula and training that UMCOR-SA&D currently carries out. Specific training activities include using Moringa and soy for nutrition, beekeeping, livestock husbandry, agroforestry, and Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM). I also developed the concept of adopting the 18-week Farmer Field School approach to ICPM training.
I monitor the impact and outcome of the way training is conducted, evaluate select trainees to qualify them as future UMCOR-SA&D trainers, and conduct needs-assessments for new communities that have asked to join the program. Through in-depth analysis of the issues farmers face, UMCOR ensures that the activities undertaken are based on the real needs of the community and that the causes of poverty are addressed at their roots.
Since my original involvement, I have worked to promote the cultivation and use of Moringa in Sierra Leone, Liberia, DR Congo, Ghana, and Mozambique. This initiative has gained great momentum throughout the continent. In addition, beekeeping, practiced in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is an important initiative for the farmers we trained. UMCOR was the very first organization to formally introduce Moringa and beekeeping to Liberia, the southern DR Congo, and Sierra Leone, and to offer training on their use. The farmers trained through this program have become leading advocates and producers of honey and Moringa in their countries.
Describe one highlight of UMCOR-SA&D work.
Perhaps the best thing in my 11 years of working with UMCOR-SA&D was the opportunity to introduce beekeeping to communities where it was completely unknown. In 2003, the Neingbein, Pledeye, and Gbahn communities in Nimba County, Liberia, received beekeeping training. By 2007, these communities turned beekeeping into real businesses. The farmers described beekeeping as the single most beneficial economic venture they had ever experienced. Stemming from the training of 80 farmers in Nimba County, honey production has become a huge venture in all of Liberia.
How did you first learn about Moringa?
When I visited New York in 1999 at the invitation of Winston Carroo—a staff member of Agricultural Missions, Inc.—he told me about The Miracle Tree, a book written by the late Lowell Fuglie (then a staff member of Church World Service). I paid little attention to it until I joined UMCOR in 2001 and was looking for some new initiatives to help reduce malnutrition in Africa. After reading further about the benefits of the Moringa tree, I was convinced it was worth exploring. To learn more about the plant, I visited Lowell Fuglie at the Church World Service regional office in Senegal. I soon gave Moringa a try and introduced it to my family and friends.
What are your aspirations for making Moringa accessible throughout Africa?
I believe Moringa holds great promise for Africa. Moringa leaves can be used to address the continent's concerns about its staggering malnutrition. Moringa should be promoted by all—especially by governments—as the nutritional supplement of choice in African countries. Sierra Leone's government is promoting Moringa at all levels, giving the country a chance to reduce malnutrition to minimum levels within the next decade. Some African government structures make access to officials extremely difficult. The promotion of Moringa nationwide in such countries can be frustrating, if not impossible. I hope that countries which accept the promotion and production of Moringa use the plant as a food source to reduce malnutrition as soon as possible.
In your opinion, what should be done about the global hunger crisis?
To prevent global hunger, especially among poor and disadvantaged communities, the capacity of such communities should be developed through appropriate technologies. Once farmers have been trained and equipped with knowledge and skills, they can avert food insecurity by making informed choices that will sustain resources and production in their communities.
I believe the UMCOR-SA&D approach to development work is one of the best services to humanity. It starts with the very foundation of human existence—without sufficient and healthy food resources, life will be seriously endangered. UMCOR-SA&D works directly with communities that suffer from hunger and chronic malnutrition. The program's goals not only ensure the production of enough healthy food to feed whole communities but also enhance the care of the environment.
In addition, the SA&D program enables communities to generate additional income beyond mere subsistence. It equips families and communities with the skills required to meet other essential needs, such as adequate housing, health care, and children's education. UMCOR-SA&D's work is therefore basic to survival. It's a call to God's mission.
Discuss SA&D methodology.
UMCOR-SA&D is an integrated and holistic solution to community development. Instead of simply providing seeds, tools, and fertilizers, the UMCOR-SA&D model invests in people's knowledge. Overall, our goal is to minimize dependency, maximize potential, build community, and improve living standards in an economically viable way. With this kind of support, communities should move from the poverty zone of $1 per day to about $5 to $10 per day within two years.
With the help of United Methodists who contribute to the program, UMCOR maintains its relationship with the communities it aids, providing follow-up support after training to address any issues that may arise. At the heart of the UMCOR-SA&D model, however, is farmer-to-farmer training. Farmers who receive training in turn train about 10 other members of their community. This results in a 10-fold multiplying factor in the number of persons benefiting from the program directly and indirectly.
Part of the success of the SA&D program is that the activities are technically appropriate and fall within the economic means of a community. That way, community members are empowered to carry out these activities on their own. The activities are also designed to prevent further degradation of the environment.
Another area where most other agencies have failed is in not recognizing the social and cultural norms within communities. UMCOR ensures that its programs are socially just and culturally acceptable to its beneficiaries.
Can you share the testimony of a participant who supports UMCOR-SA&D methodology?
Younger Gant, a young woman from Barnesville in Montserrado County, Liberia, who could not read, participated in an UMCOR-SA&D training in 2006. She learned Integrated Crop and Pest Management and was provided with seeds after the training. Gant applied her new knowledge and skills to her own garden. She was fortunate in that season, as her crops (lettuce, watermelons, cabbage, and hot peppers) provided good yields. She made $2,000 profit in that season alone.
Encouraged by this sudden leap in her income, Gant asked her husband William to resign from his work as a house helper to join her in gardening. In 2010, the Gants realized a $6,000 profit in one season. They have built a new home and can now afford their children's school fees. Younger and William Gant—and many others like them—are thankful for this transformation in their lives. It would not have been possible without the support of United Methodist churches in the United States that donate generously to the UMCOR-SA&D program. Now Younger Gant is encouraging several other young women in her community to get into vegetable gardening using Integrated Crop and Pest Management.
Who are some of UMCOR-SA&D's partners?
The major partners of SA&D include the Liberia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church; the North Katanga Annual Conference of The UMC in DR Congo; the Effiduase Diocese of the Methodist Church, Ghana; the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone; the West Africa Initiative, Agricultural Missions, Inc., USA; Edenton Street United Methodist Church, Raleigh, NC; and the First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara, CA. Many other supporting churches and individuals and I, as a missionary, are all partners in this work.
What do you want to tell others about your work and how they can help?
I believe the SA&D work is a viable, proven, cost-effective solution to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Many people talk about sustainability. But development programs that focus on giving people technology or paying them to attend training sessions perpetuate the cycle of dependency. Well-intentioned people, especially from more developed countries, believe they have the newest innovations and solutions to problems for developing countries. However, problems arise when such solutions and interventions do not take into account the history, current context, and cultural norms of the communities that they seek to help.
Lasting development does not happen overnight. We have to have mutual respect and an attitude of learning, no matter which side of the ocean we live on. UMCOR-SA&D tries to help poor or disadvantaged people recognize that they already have God's blessings. We help people see the assets, resources, and talents they already have and provide them with the opportunity and dignity to help themselves.
Three-fourths of the world's people live in rural areas. The majority of these people are subsistence farmers. They are the people who suffer from the “hunger season,” whose children die or are severely affected by malnutrition. UMCOR-SA&D's efforts have made a direct impact on their lives, providing them with the knowledge and skills to produce healthy food, ensure household nutrition, improve income, and care for the earth. There are many macro-level political issues and policies that directly and indirectly affect the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world. As part of a global community, we need to be more aware of the impact our individual actions and support efforts have in ensuring that everyone has the basic necessities of life.
Judith Santiago is a Media Communications Associate in the UMCOR Communications unit at Global Ministries.
Support for UMCOR-SA&D Program
Those not directly involved or engaged in SA&D work can help by praying for this program and the people who serve it. Contributions to Advance #982188 will help increase and sustain the work and enable it to expand to other communities, especially in Africa, that have not yet been reached.
Honorine Mujing Mwad, director of the Mary Morris Orphanage in Kamina, DR Congo, harvests Moringa leaves in the yard.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey.
Mozart Adevu visiting Manjama Hospital in Sierra Leone.
Photo: Judith Santiago/UMCOR.
Honey Production has become big business in Liberia.
Photo: Judith Santiago/UMCOR.