Zim Woman at the head of the solar installation in the DRC
By Christie R. House
PRIOR to the installation of solar panels at the Kamisamba farm in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the property had no energy source.
The power lines did not leave the town of Kamina, just over four kilometers away. Even in Kamina, especially during the rainy season, locals can go without electricity for a month or more.
Although the farm has a source of water from wells dug a few years ago, without electricity there was no way to pump the water where it was needed.
“The solar project has come at a crucial time,” said Lorraine Charinda in an interview.
Charinda is a missionary from Zimbabwe assigned to Kamisamba farm as a farmer and rural economic development specialist.
She attended the University of Africa for her BSc in Agriculture and Natural Resources and the University of Namibia for her MSc in Agricultural Economics.
She arrived in Kamisamba in 2018, expecting to take over a fully operational farm. Upon arrival, she discovered a couple of workers, dilapidated buildings, four pigs, and half an acre of vegetables grown on the 500-acre farm. Three years later, the farm is fully functional.
The solar power system and accompanying water pipes and pumps were created through a combination of grants from Global Ministries’ Environmental Sustainability Program and UMCOR.
“Before you installed the solar panels, the batteries, the inverters and the water system, people used the bucket system – you go to the well with a bucket,” Charinda said.
Invest in environmental sustainability
At the recent board meeting, Roland Fernandes, Secretary General of World Ministries and UMCOR, announced a major grant and new direction for the agency’s environmental sustainability program. “Climate and environmental issues affect food security, livelihoods, housing and health,” he said. “Environmental sustainability is an issue of growing global importance.”
Fernandes confirmed Global Ministries’ growing commitment to reducing emissions and exploring ways to deliver renewable energy to places like North Katanga.
Engaging with United Methodist regional conferences and other partners using a community development model provides opportunities for more people to have access to energy that is safe, renewable and ultimately cheaper than fossil fuels.
Agriculture and environment
One of the main facilities at Kamisamba Farm is an education center, which includes dormitories for up to 40 people. Participants come to scheduled training programs for a few days or months.
Without electricity or running water, it was difficult to accommodate those who came. A trainer from the Kamisamba farm in Kamina leads a session on crop production at the Kamisamba training center.
Charinda had the training center operational before starting agricultural production. People needed help right away, and it is his vocation to teach better and more effective ways of supporting families.
In Haut-Lomami, the province that includes Kamina and most of the North Katanga region, 80% of the population lives below the poverty line. Agriculture is the main source of income and 90% of the population uses traditional subsistence agriculture to survive. Most cannot produce enough to feed their families, pay for basic education for their children or pay for medical care. Many people survive on just one meal a day.
With support from UMCOR, Kamisamba organized a “train the trainer” event with participants sent from each district to learn the basics of starting, maintaining and harvesting more productive gardens. They then brought the knowledge back to their districts to train others.
Today the farm is doing well – with 50 pigs, chickens, ducks, goats and fish ponds. They cultivate over 35 acres with vegetables, grains and fruit trees. They organized trainings in 21 of the 24 districts of North Katanga and provided seeds, animals, small fish or saplings to the participants.
On-site training in communities helps Kamisamba workers discern what type of production has the best chance of thriving in a given area. After training, they return to accompany people through the first growing season.
As farmers experience increased yields, training in marketing and saving seeds for the next season helps them gain a perspective on farming as a business beyond subsistence.
The grant for the solar project included plans for renewable energy awareness campaigns, which Kamisamba workers carried out in a number of communities. They acquired 100 solar household lanterns through the grant to entice people to attend the events.
Rev. Jenny Phillips, Senior Technical Advisor for the World Ministries Environmental Sustainability Program, said she appreciates Charinda’s approach. “She wanted not only to bring energy to the site, but also to use it to teach the whole community about renewable energy,” she said.
“It shows how we integrate renewable energies in agriculture and in everyday life. This is important because greenhouse gas emissions from non-renewable energy sources contribute to climate change. Even though our lands are fertile, we need a stable and reliable climate in which to grow our food. “
Phillips said farmers in this area may have no choice but to use a diesel generator or kerosene lamps in their homes. Neither is safe or healthy for constant use.
Despite Covid-19, people have come in large numbers for the energy campaigns. The lanterns worked very well in the houses and word quickly spread to the community who would then receive visitors from Kamisamba.
Kasongo Ngoy Mariam attended the campaign in Kinkuki. “We use candles and fuel lamps to light our house,” she said, “even though we know it’s dangerous and our house can burn down at any time. I was lucky enough to receive a solar lamp during the campaign. I am happy because my children can study even after dark. “
Interest in renewable energies has increased with each village campaign. “Even the Ministry of the Environment contacted us and said, ‘We have heard that you are distributing solar equipment. We want it too.
Charinda explained that she does not sell the lamps and that she is not a reseller of solar systems, but that she always receives inquiries. It returns the requests to its supplier in Lubumbashi. Finally, she and a member of the team met with the national Minister of the Environment in Kinshasa to establish a partnership for the other events of the campaign.
Kamisamba has also worked with the Ministry of Agriculture, World Vision and, most recently, the International Labor Organization, who contacted Charinda to consider a youth program on entrepreneurship in agriculture and agribusiness at the farm.
With the training center fully equipped with electricity, running water, bathrooms and showers, the space can be rented, generating much-needed income. Currently they are also renovating a separate guest house.