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A bountiful harvest grown in faith

24 October 2014

In this extract from their new book, Susie Weldon and Sue Campbell tell the story of Christians and Muslims in Africa who are finding new ways to farm, based on their scriptures


Ground force: Craig Sorley with Kenyan church leaders

Ground force: Craig Sorley with Kenyan church leaders

GROUP of men and women are gathered in a field in Kenya, measuring distances using lengths of string. Following them are others, who are digging small holes at very precise angles, and applying specific amounts of fertiliser and seed. There is a great deal of laughter and animated talk, but also concentration.

These pastors and church leaders from the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in Kenya are learning a form of agriculture called "Farming God's Way", which is not only helping to restore degraded land and protect the environment, but is also increasing crop yields - sometimes significantly, by three, five, or even ten times.

In the words of the trainer Craig Sorley, of Care of Creation Kenya, it is a way of farming that "gives glory to God and hope to the hungry".

Agriculture is the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa, providing the biggest source of employment, livelihoods, and foreign exchange. Yet African agriculture is in crisis: soils are worn out, and agricultural production is falling. Fragile soils in Africa suffer from a combination of poor agricultural practices, degradation of natural resources, overgrazing, and the pressure of growing populations.

Other problems include lack of access to land, particularly for women farmers. Most people farm on plots of two hectares, or smaller, and these smallholders provide as much as 90 per cent of the agricultural production in some countries.

As populations increase, the soil is worked harder on ever-decreasing plots. The International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa loses about eight million tonnes of soil nutrients per year, and that more than 95 million hectares of land has been degraded to the point of greatly reduced productivity.

Farming God's Way is a faith-based approach to farming, founded on the idea that God is the master farmer, and that he calls people to be faithful stewards of the land. "Farming God's Way puts God back where he belongs - into the very centre of how we view and practise agriculture," Mr Sorley says. "This is a holistic approach that ministers to farmers, addressing the spiritual and physical roots of the decline that is taking place.

"For Christians, the story of agriculture begins in Eden, with the knowledge that God was the one who planted a magnificent and diverse garden. This story brings tremendous meaning and dignity to the realm of agriculture. As Christian gardeners, we need to follow the example of the first farmer, and uphold the Garden of Eden as a model to be pursued. The beauty of a healthy, productive, and well-cared-for agricultural landscape should be a testimony to the Christian faith."

N PRACTICE, Farming God's Way is similar to conservation agriculture, which is promoted by secular groups, such as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organiza-tion, as a form of climate-smart agriculture that both restores degraded land and increases crop yields.

Its supporters say that, besides reducing drudgery for smallholders, this farming method nourishes the soil, and enables it to retain water better, which means that it is particularly useful in dry areas.

The difference with Farming God's Way is that it is based around biblical teachings. "Conservation agriculture is Farming God's Way without God," Mr Sorley says. "But it's the God part of this picture that really changes attitudes."

The core principles, he says, are: first, minimal disturbance of the soil (no tillage). Ploughing destroys the soil structure, including the micro-organisms that live in the soil, leading to erosion and rapid water loss.

Second, permanent organic cover in the form of mulch. "In creation, we observe that God does not leave the soil bare." This improves the soil's ability to absorb water, and adds organic matter.

Third, no burning of crop residues, as is common in African agriculture. These are used instead to cover the soil.

Finally, crop rotation, which reduces the build-up of crop-specific pest and disease problems.


N KIJABE, west of Nairobi, Mr Storey grows crops using both Farming God's Way methods and conventional agriculture, in order to compare the results. His plots are only a few years old; with every year, the soil will become richer and more productive.

Even so, he has already seen big differences. In 2012, he harvested 89 kg of potatoes from his Farming God's Way plot, and just 51 kg from the conventional plot. His bean harvest was even more impressive -three-and-a-half times as much from the Farming God's Way plot compared with the conventional one.

'They are planted on the same day - same variety, same small amount of inorganic fertiliser applied, and this is all rain-fed agriculture," he says. "The beauty of this is that it's simple, it's achievable, you use your own resources in the community - you don't have to bring in fertilisers and seeds from the outside. It's just a change in commitment to the soil itself. If we restore the soil, we will bring more food into our families.'

His results are echoed elsewhere in Africa where similar techniques are applied. In Uganda, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries reports that crop yields are up to 600 per cent higher on farms that use conservation agriculture.

Augustine Muema Musyimi, of the Methodist Church in Kenya, attended one of Mr Storey's workshops. "We've trained people to understand what the Lord says about farming," he says, "and, because we are Christians, that really resonates with us. We feel that we need to take care of creation, and of the way we are farming.

"What do I think? That farming will be transformed across Kenya, that many people will learn to farm in a way that glorifies the Lord, and our produce will increase. We will conserve our land, and it will be richer."


N THE first weeks of this year, an unusual workshop was held in Nairobi. About 30 imams had gathered there from all over the country to learn the practical techniques involved in farming sustainably - techniques that are based on Islamic teachings about caring for Allah's creation. This was the first training workshop in a new Islamic approach to agriculture, Islamic Farming, developed by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), and the UK-based international Muslim NGO Global One 2015, after requests from ARC's Muslim faith-partners.

The seeds of this new approach go back to ARC's Nairobi celebration in 2012 to launch 27 long-term plans for the environment, developed by Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faith-groups in sub-Saharan Africa.

During the two-day meeting, Muslim participants listened to the presentations on Farming God's Way. They were particularly struck by the way it both improved crop yields and protected the environment, through linking a farmer's faith to the way she or he cared for the land. At the end, they had a question: "What about Muslim farmers? Why isn't there a faith-based approach to farming for us?"

It was a good question. Out of 910 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, 248 million are Muslim, and many are small-scale farmers. As a result of this call, ARC and Global One 2015 began working with Muslim faith-partners in Africa to develop a faith-based manual and training programme inspired by Islamic teachings and beliefs.

This would be the first manual specifically designed for Muslim farmers using the practical prin- ciples of conservation agriculture, but with a spiritual foundation based entirely on Islamic scriptures and teachings.

The first step was a thorough theological assessment of Islamic scriptures. Focus-group meetings were held with Muslim clerics and scholars in Uganda and Kenya to consider issues connected with Islam and farming, and there was considerable enthusiasm for the project from all involved.


N UGANDA, Muslim farmers attended a Farming God's Way workshop so that they could see how the Christian faith was integral to the teaching, while also learning the practical techniques used.

The environmental champion Hajjat Aphwa Kaawaase Sebyala was among the Muslims to receive this training, and afterwards planted her garden using Farming God's Way techniques.

The results, which came after a prolonged dry period in which conventional crops experienced almost total failure, amazed her.

Even though she had started her planting late, with little time to prepare her land properly, her Farming God's Way plot had a 50-per-cent survival rate, showing that it dealt with the very dry conditions much better than the conventional plots. And her Farming God's Way maize cobs were twice the size of the traditionally farmed maize: "This Farming God's Way really works," Ms Sebyala said.

Delighted though she was, her success brought unexpected problems. "Many people resorted to stealing from our Farming God's Way plot, as the cobs were really big, healthy, and attractive," she said, shrugging philosophically. "I understand why: they needed food."

The Islamic Farming handbook was launched in Nairobi this year, to great enthusiasm from the Muslim community. What makes Islamic Farming different is that it speaks to Muslim farmers in the language of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, which represents Muslims in Kenya, has established a demonstration and training farm on a 700-acre site in Thika, Kenya. Another ten demonstration farms have been established elsewhere in Kenya, and a further ten in Uganda.

This is an edited extract from Faith in Food: Changing the world one meal at a time by Susie Weldon and Sue Campbell, published by Bene Factum Publishing at £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.49).


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