David Makobo, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, serves as an agriculturist missionary in Senegal. He assists local United Methodist churches in agricultural projects to generate income and self-sufficiency. He also teaches farmers of different religions about sustainable agriculture, assisting rural communities in achieving better food security. He accompanies United Methodist Volunteer in Mission teams visiting the Senegal Mission Initiative from the U.S. and currently serves as mission administrator.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’” (Matthew 25:40, Good News Translation)
When I arrived in Senegal in 2014, I started working with farmers in Pointe Sarene, all of whom were men. After two years, women from the same village expressed a need for assistance from the agriculture program – they wanted me to provide them with the same training and resources we provide the men.
I thought they were joking, and I did not take them seriously. But they were persistent, and when I did not respond, they asked my wife to intervene, convincing me that they really needed my assistance. We started with 10 women late in 2016, but by June 2018, the demand for the program was so high, we had to limit the number to 50 from this same village. Some of the women are married to the farmers we already work with, but some are single mothers, and others are widows. The income they generate has significantly helped them to improve the lives of their families. We also teach them financial management—including the need to accumulate savings. They have accomplished much in the time we have worked with them.
Men from the village of Pointe Sarene are the most stable community of farmers we have worked with for four years. We’ve trained individual men or small groups of men, 10 people at most, in other villages. In Pointe Sarene, the work shows tangible results.
In a normal year, from September to May, we focus on growing vegetables: onion, tomato, pepper and eggplant, since these are very good cash crops. From June to August (the rainy season), we plant some field crops, such as millet, peanuts, beans and okra, mainly for the families at home. During this same period, for generating some income, we also work on livestock.
However, 2018 was not a normal year. We are facing an unprecedented situation, receiving little rain during our usual rainy season. This made vegetable production impossible – and a year without our major cash crops. In past years, we could rely on an artificial dam that filled with water during the rainy season, creating a reservoir for irrigation throughout the whole vegetable growing season.
Last year, we did not receive enough rain in Pointe Sarene to fill the reservoir. We could see that we would not have enough water to see us through vegetable production. This will have serious consequences as far as income generation, but we did not have any other choice. In 2019, we will concentrate on raising livestock, so at least these farmers can generate some income. Otherwise, this will be a catastrophic year. We have no other sources of income.
Teaching people to fish – without water
An important piece of the agriculture program has been establishing a microcredit program for local farmers, which enables them to undertake different agriculture-related projects. Making small loans available to local farmers gives them a chance to practice what they have learned because they can buy the supplies and seed or animals they need and invest in their local economy. This reminds me of the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”
While this proverb underscores the importance of providing people with tools for working and feeding themselves, I’ve discovered the proverb doesn’t quite cover all the bases. People who have learned how to fish need to have access to water, or they will never be able to fish. In Senegal’s dry climate, providing small loans is what we understand to be providing access to the water, so that people can use the skills they’ve learned to grow crops and raise animals more productively with better yields.
To attain my goal for my second term of missionary service, I believe it is crucial to train farmers – not only in agricultural techniques and practices – but also in basic financial stewardship. The past couple years we have used appropriate methods to train both women and men farmers, separately, in basic financial practices. Many of these farmers did not have the privilege to attend school. Yet they grasped, very well, the economic and financial concepts, as most people attended the trainings on a regular basis. Many have been able to save money. Eventually, they will not need to rely on loans to maintain their agricultural activities.
Transitions and new relationships
As the mission administrator, I supervise staff of the mission and coordinate other non-agriculture projects. I work with the chairperson of Christian education in training different groups in United Methodist churches in Senegal on topics such as United Methodist doctrine, the Book of Discipline, UMC mission work and translating for Volunteers in Mission groups from the United States and other English-speaking countries.
Senegalese Methodists are going through the process of transitioning from a Global Ministries mission initiative to a district of the Côte d’Ivoire United Methodist Annual Conference. A lot of challenging changes are required, but God will see us through.
Makobo N’Shikala is a graduate of Africa University with a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture and a Master of Science degree in crop production. Prior to his missionary career, he served as the founding dean of the School of Agriculture at Katanga Methodist University in the DRC.