Growing in solidarity through agriculture
While farmers cultivate the land in different ways around the world, they face many of the same challenges
By Sue Schulzetenberg
Farmers across the St. Cloud Diocese are hitting the fields this month as they harvest the crops they have been monitoring all summer.
Butch Schilling, a member of Holy Family Parish in Belle Prairie, said it is probably his second best year for crops overall. The timely rains in his area helped, he said.
“Every farmer has a different situation. If you got your crop in early in the spring, you were all right. If you didn’t, that frost hurt it,” he said. “Grains are good. It was tough getting good hay up because there were small windows [of time] because of the rain. For the farmers that were able to get the hay up in the windows, there was a lot hay put up in the summer.”
Minnesota farmers like Schilling are not alone in their endeavors. Around the world, farmers are tackling many of the same issues — and some issues unique to their area — showing us all how connected we are.
Changes in Tanzania
Maryknoll Father Dan Ohmann, a native of Greenwald and missioner in Tanzania, said crops in the area where he lives have not been good for the last 10 years.
“Rainfall has become less and less, and the rains [that local farmers do receive] become a violent storm, five inches in one day, and then you don’t have any rain for two months,” he said.
In Tanzania, about 80 percent of the people live on farms, and their average plot is, at most, five acres. They raise sorghum, corn, cotton for cash, sweet potatoes, chickens, and because of the new weather patterns, rice.
A tribe Father Ohmann has been working with consists of ranchers. But, in the last 10 years, these people have also become land farmers to save their areas.
“The farmers need more land to cultivate and they take away the rancher’s fields as the population increases,” he said.
An increasing number of young adults, after their schooling, look for jobs in the city and unemployment becomes an issue. Father Ohmann is especially concerned about larger farms taking over the small farm concept.
“It’s the same thing as here. Where it used to be 160 acres here [in Minnesota], now you have these farms that are 1,000 acres or 2,000 acres. . . . The small farms are disappearing and fewer and fewer are getting the land,” he said.
Father Ohmann said the motivation for education should not be to get rich but rather to help people. People should not abuse the land, but use it for the purpose that it was created, he added.
“God is happy when people learn to farm better,” he said. “This is God’s world and his creation.”
In Kenya’s Homa Bay Diocese, only about 10 percent of the farmers were able to harvest anything this season due to the lack of rain, said Father John Odero, a missioner from the diocese currently ministering in the St. Cloud Diocese.
“Maybe come next year, if the rains come in good time and people plant in good time, that is when we can expect a good harvest. The hunger is still on. People still lack food,” he said.
Land ownership is also a problem as ancestral land continues to be divided up for the next generations, said Cyprian K’Oywa, Homa Bay chairperson of the St. Cloud-Homa Bay leadership team. He said global warming is impacting farmers because Lake Victoria is receding and its fish can no longer support fishermen. The fishermen have become farmers, which leads to more struggles for land. Many of these new farmers have turned into commercial small-scale producers and use lake water for trench irrigation along with chemical inputs. This further dangers the lake ecology, he said.
Land fertility is also an issue, especially because technologies that improve soil quality are not available or affordable, K’Oywa said.
“The struggle of the farmer continues to put food on our tables, and I honor all their wonderful efforts to do so as they face the odds in their daily work,” he said.
One partnership initiative that has helped farmers in Homa Bay was the metal silo project. In the past, up to 30 percent of annual grain production was lost through diseases and pests and could not be stored for more than four months at a time.
About 10 years ago, the St. Cloud Diocese raised money for metal silos. Through Catholic Relief Services, people in the Homa Bay Diocese were trained in making the silos. Those people have since taught other people how to make the silos, which are still used today.
“Part of why the Homa Bay Diocese was chosen as our partnership diocese was because it was an agricultural diocese like ours,” said Kateri Mancini, coordinator of mission education for the St. Cloud Mission Office. The metal silos project “was a way our farmers could relate to their farming needs and agricultural needs. Being a rural and agricultural diocese, we could understand that need.”
Caring for creation
In Nicaragua, September is the year’s second planting season, said Father Ted Niehaus, a native of Sauk Centre who serves near the Atlantic coast in Nicaragua. Planting is conducted in May, September and December. Farmers there face problems such as blight, insects, birds and competition from other countries.
Another major problem is holding on to good farmland. Some of the land farmers are bought out by more powerful people and then they no longer have a livelihood. Other times, farms get too small when they continue to be divided among children. Creating more farmland, however, jeopardizes the rainforest.
To combat rainforest destruction, Father Niehaus encourages people to learn about the consequences of their actions and how to take care of the land and water. He would like to see more agronomists come to teach the people.
Father Niehaus said it is important to look at the differences in the creation stories as to how humans should view the land. In the first story of creation in Genesis 1:28, God says to “fill the earth and subdue it.” In the second creation story, in Genesis 2:15, Adam is sent to the Garden of Eden to “cultivate and care for it.”
“Be careful which you follow,” Father Niehaus said, adding that the land should be used for human needs and should also cared for, so future generations can benefit.
Farming in Indonesia
Keeping the soil fertile is also a problem in Papua, Indonesia, where Crosier Father Virgil Petermeier, a native of St. Rosa, worked for 36 years before returning to the United States last year. The Asmat people, a group that Father Petermeier worked with, are primarily hunters and gatherers. They fish rivers and the ocean and harvest from jungles abundant with sago palm trees, the source of a carbohydrate staple.
Only a few Asmat people garden, Father Petermeier said. Gardening where the Asmat live, an alluvial rainforest, requires cutting down a jungle patch. The garden patch loses its fertility very quickly because of the huge amount of rain the area receives every year. If a new garden area is very muddy, gardeners need to construct ditches and create high beddings to plant in. Gardeners also face the problem of pigs and humans stealing produce.
Father Petermeier’s Crosier community in Agats, Indonesia, raised fish in a small pond dug for that purpose, as did some local natives. The Crosiers built garden boxes to grow fruits and vegetables including bananas, papaya, string beans, chili peppers, tomatoes and Chinese cabbage. Some of the local native families had similar gardens to obtain necessary vegetables for their diet and additional income. These gardens utilize a humus soil taken from large mounds of mulch heaped up by wild “jungle chickens” for their nests.
A Crosier brother introduced cattle to the Asmat area in the 1960s, but these cattle were plagued by horse flies and the grass did not have enough minerals for them. Another cattle project was started in 2007-08 through a government program. These cattle were more adaptable to the Asmat area. However, Father Petermeier has not heard about the overall outcome of that project. Chickens were also introduced into the area, but never successfully, he said. Fast rising tidal waters and village dogs often killed the chicks.
Good harvest in India
In southern India, it is harvest time for rice, and the yield has been good, said Vincentian Father Jimmy Joseph, a native of India who serves as a parochial administrator of Sacred Heart in Flensburg, St. James in Randall and St. Stanislaus in Sobieski.
Father Joseph’s brother farms in southern India, where the weather is tropical. Sometimes heavy storms will kill the rubber trees, Father Joseph said. He grew up on an approximately 100-acre farm that his brother now manages. His family raised pineapple, rubber, coconut, tea, coffee, black pepper, spices and rice. They also had a vegetable garden.
“When I was a child, we never went to the market to buy any type of vegetables. Each family raises their own cows, their own chickens, their own pigs, their own vegetables,” he said.
Ministering in rural Minnesota, Father Joseph has enjoyed watching how crops are harvested here, noting that in Minnesota corn is grown instead of rice. The growing conditions are very different between the climates; they do not worry about frost in southern India.
“I like farming,” Father Joseph said. “People in south India, they love farming.”