Transplanting Tomato Seedlings with the Timvane Irrigation Club

After weeks of preparation, the Timvane Irrigation Club is finally ready to transplant their tomato seedlings to the field. The tomato seedlings have grown in the nursery at Mantchondo village for the past couple weeks, where they were protected and nurtured to their current state. 

Gracious Msumiko, the Agricultural Extension Officer at Orant Charities Africa has guided the club members along the way. The Timvane Irrigation Club is the largest of the 10 irrigation clubs that Orant sponsors with 57 members and an estimated 275 beneficiaries (family members and dependents). Gracious has worked with them and other clubs since 2017, when the program first began. Over this time, club members have had many hours of training in certified Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), including field preparation, use of manure as fertilizer, crop rotation, seed selection, and fertilizer usage. Training has helped farmers determine their own schedule for all the required steps to produce a successful crop. 

Gracious arrives at Mantchondo on a mid-March afternoon to assist the Timvane Irrigation Club in transplanting their tomato seedlings. Upon arrival, there are greetings, and some celebratory singing and dancing. The farmers show their gratitude to Orant and its donors for supporting the Club. Then, work begins. Farmers remove the protective covers from above the seedlings. Gracious briefly demonstrates the proper technique for plucking the ready seedlings from the ground and placing them in buckets. Within 20 minutes the attending farmers have picked all the seedlings that they will plant today. Now, the club must travel about 300 meters to the field to begin planting. 

The farmers gather around as Gracious explains planting depth and distance between the plants. The field has already been prepared, seven acres separated into separate sections for each allotted plant. Without further delay, the farmers grab their buckets and go to their predetermined area.

All 57 farmers have their own section of the field that they will tend to. Of course, people will help each other out. When the tomatoes are harvested, those who did not contribute their fair share will be remembered. Each club has an executive committee, composed of chairperson, secretary, and treasurer. They elect their own members and rotate on a basis determined by the club. Orant assists in these processes, but only in a support role, not as the driver of the operations.

The farmers continue their work, planting seedlings while Gracious oversees and offers advice where needed. The children have come over from the villages to play or watch over their baby brothers and sisters while the women sing songs and plant. It is getting later and the sun begins to lower in the sky. The farmers gather around and sing a few more songs in thanks to Orant for the help. Gracious leaves for the day, and the farmers work for a little while longer before they retire to the villages for their evening meal, prayer and rest.

The rains have been generous this season, but by May they will cease, and the farmers must utilize a treadle pump for irrigation. Treadle pumps are foot powered, and very tiring for women who must pedal it. Seven acres of tomatoes is a very large area to hand weed, fertilize and water on a daily basis for two months. The villagers hope for a sponsor to loan them funds for a diesel pump. It would further help lift them from poverty. 

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