Farm Horizons, April 2013

Donated farm equipment brings relief to African field workers

By Kristen Miller

Two years ago, Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church of Cokato and neighboring churches came together to collect shoes and other items to donate to an orphanage and school in the Democratic Republic of Congo through the non-profit organization, Hope Centers for Children of Africa.

Glenn Mork, director of Hope Centers for Children of Africa based out of Buffalo, spearheaded the endeavor by collecting and shipping 19,000 pounds of farm and medical equipment, French textbooks (the primary language), pallets of 5-gallon pails, and 1,300 pairs of shoes to the DR Congo. The shipment was sent in November 2011, and arrived in March 2012.

The destination of the cargo was Bunia Children’s Hope Center, where 700 orphans live, many of whom lost their parents during the 10-year war or from disease, Mork explained.

In 2004, the center began caring for orphans, and it has since grown to where it now operates a clinic, school, and farm.

Widows soon became a part of the equation as the center placed children with women who lost their husbands under similar circumstances, Mork explained. The center now assists the women with micro-loans for business development as a means to better provide for their families.

To become self-sustaining, the center grows its own food on the 150 acres of tillable land that has been purchased at a discounted rate. Crops include maize (corn), which is their main source of food; soya, edible beans, and peanuts, which are harvested twice a year. The vegetables include cabbage, tomatoes, two types of onions, carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, and cassava, which are harvested three times a year.

Farming is extremely primitive and labor-intensive, Mork explained, which is why there is such a need for farm equipment.

Mork met the cargo in DR Congo when it arrived in March 2012. Traveling with him from the area were Craig Anderson of Dassel, Tom Constenius of Cokato, and Steve Nowak of Silver Lake.

Anderson, who was raised on a farm and has operated his own for 21 years, said the farming techniques in Africa compared to the US are “night and day.”

“Other than the equipment we donated, it’s all hand labor over there,” Anderson said.

He said it dates back to 150 years ago for American farmers, since animals aren’t even used for plowing there. The tracks of land are smallerand they plow by hand using big, wide hoes.

Even though the equipment donated was 30 to 40 years old, the farmers were very excited to see the technology.

Jean Pierre, the center’s agronomist, was “awe-stricken” by the farm equipment and the mechanized form of planting crops.

The donated equipment included a field cultivator, row cultivator and a John Deere planter. It not only provided relief from back-breaking work, but it also increased the yield, according to Mork.

It’s important that the farm equipment is smaller, so that the equipment can cross the Shari River bridge, Mork explained, adding that with the corn picker, there was only 6 inches to spare as it crossed.

On Mork’s last trip in February, he was teaching the farmers how to use a row cultivator to clear the weeds between the rows, in an effort to increase yields. However, out of all the farm equipment that was delivered, the tool that brought the most excitement was a corn sheller, despite it being about 100 years old, Mork commented.

The workers shell each ear of corn by hand, so even a hand-cranked sheller makes the job much easier, he said.

On this next shipment, which is set to ship in April, will be a two-row corn picker and two trailers to pull behind.

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