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Niverville farmer featured in documentary about reducing hunger

Colleen Dyck travelled halfway around the world to meet a Kenyan farmer who is teaching agricultural skills to women in her community

A Manitoba farmer will star in a documentary about the impact of empowering women farmers around the world.

“It was quite incredible,” said Colleen Dyck, who farms with her husband and four children near Niverville. “I feel like I got this university education in like two weeks.”

This spring, Dyck spent eight days with a west-Kenyan farmer and her children in a trip facilitated by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. She worked alongside her host, Lucy, to maintain her field, prepare food, care for children, and haul water.

A Kenyan documentary crew captured Dyck’s journey as she connected with Lucy, learned about her lifestyle, and about womens’ role in reducing food insecurity, said Meagan Silencieux, public engagement officer with the Foodgrains Bank and executive producer of the documentary. The aim is that others can learn as well.

Lucy, a mother of five, farms just under two acres of land using only hand tools. Her husband works in Nairobi and rarely is able to come home, Dyck said. In Lucy’s community, the women do the bulk of the farm work.

“They’re the ones intimately connected to the land and what’s working and what’s not, but they’re the ones that have to beg for permission from someone — who might be in another city — on what they’re actually allowed to do on the land,” said Dyck.

Colleen Dyck with Lucy.
photo: Meagan Silencieux

The World Food Programme found that women farmers produce yields 20 to 30 per cent lower than for men because women have less access to improved seeds, fertilizers and equipment. The program estimated that giving women farmers more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 – 150 million.

When women have the ability to decide what to do with their resources, said Silencieux, they tend to feed their kids and to send them to school.

Through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Lucy was one of the first in her community to learn conservation agriculture practices. These include crop rotation or intercropping and using ground cover or minimal tillage to protect the soil, according to the Foodgrains Bank’s website. These build up the fertility of the soil and maintain moisture.

The site says many Kenyan farmers prioritize staple crops like maize, millet and rice, which can deplete the soil, especially when chemical fertilizers are too expensive, and there’s no source of animal manure.

Recently, Kenyan farmers have been plagued by pests like fall armyworm and the parasitic plant witchweed.

Many farmers struggle to provide food for their families year-round.

For Lucy, the difference is “dramatically different,” said Silencieux, who added that Lucy has more food for her children, and more time to use her abilities in the community. She’s active in her church and is trained in basic healthcare.

Lucy has also developed a working group of about a dozen women, said Dyck, who observed them band together to plant Lucy’s field with maize, beans and peanuts in record time.

Lucy has passed on her knowledge to these women and continues to study agriculture and business skills, which she will, in turn, teach them.

The group has developed a “chama,” a group-funded micro loan system. Each woman pays into the fund every month. Then, if a family is having a difficult month and needs money to get by, or needs to pay school fees, or wants to try an experimental crop, they can draw a small loan. The chama also has an emergency fund.

Home in Canada, Dyck recalled traumatic moments on Lucy’s farm — like killing her first chicken, or the vulnerability of being alone with strangers halfway across the world. However, when asked what she learned, these were not what she brought up.

“I learned that it’s really important to be intentional about every moment,” said Dyck.

Whatever they were doing, whether field work or cooking in the small, smoke-blackened cook house, they doing it with someone — the kids, a sister-in-law, a neighbour. “No one was in it alone.”

“The richness of the community and what everyone did together really stood out because I feel like we’re all so singular in the way that we think.”

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank will debut the documentary “Common Strength” in Winnipeg on October 15.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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