Photo submitted by Eric MattesonPhoto submitted by Eric Matteson

Farmers share their bounty to help those less fortunate (slideshow 2)

By Cindy Mullet

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Bloomfield, Mont.; West Pokot County, Kenya and Paoli, Ind. are separated by many miles and different cultures, but all come together at Dave and Jan Mullet’s farm near Bloomfield.

For at least 10 years, maybe longer, the Mullets have set aside designated acreage on their farm and contributed the proceeds from the crop grown there to the Foods Resource Bank, which uses that money to fund projects such as Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, a food security program in Kenya. While the crop is grown in Montana where the Mullets spend the summer, it is actually part of the FRB growing project of the Mennonite church they attend in Paoli, Ind., during the winter, Dave explained.

When the project started, they were the only farmers in the church, even though their farm was in Montana, he added, explaining that the church in Indiana raises money for inputs for the project and he and Jan donate the land and equipment.

Friday, representatives from FRB brought two Kenyan women, Philipine “Pini” Kidulah and Jackline “Chemu” Chemutai, to visit the Mullet farm. The visit gave Kidulah and Chemutai the chance to meet some of the producers funding their projects and let the Mullets hear firsthand how some of the funds from their crops are used, Ron DeWerd, an FRB representative, explained.

They had hoped to see the peas the Mullets grew for FRB this year being harvested, but by the time they visited that harvest was finished, Dave said. The combine was parked in the yard ready for the start of wheat harvest, though, so he took each of them along with him as he cut some wheat in a field next to the house.

For both women, the ride in the combine was an exciting experience. Chemutai hesitated at first, but after climbing up to the cab, she was sold. They were amazed that the machine basically “drove itself,” responding to settings Dave entered into the computer, they said.

Kidulah, the executive director of Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, grew up in the highlands of Kenya. Through hard work, her parents were able to build a business but in the process the family experienced poverty, she said.

At one time her mother left the family for three months to look for work outside their village and Kidulah remembers going to the local Catholic Church to receive relief food. She also watched as many of her friends dropped out of school, unable to afford school fees, and then struggled to survive with few skills and little education, she said.

Her mother’s goal for her children was that all of them would have a college education and they were able to achieve that. When Kidulah was in the United States studying for her master’s degree, she felt the need to plant a seed in her community. She saw the privilege of education as a gift she needed to share, she said.

Instead of looking for work in the United States, she returned to her village and started a food security program to promote small businesses, teach tailoring and business skills to young girls who had fled forced marriages and develop sand dams to provide water for farmers, she said.

One of their success stories has been teaching women to raise chickens, Chemutai said. Traditionally men raised cattle and goats, marketed them and gave their wives money for household expenses. During a recent drought, the cattle and goats the men loved couldn’t find pasture and died.

Chickens are “drought resistant” and as the women begin raising and selling them, they became the ones contributing to the family income rather than the ones asking for money. They were able to feed their families and by providing financial stability resolved some family conflicts, she said.

A major source of conflict between communities has always been access to water and pasture, Kidulah noted. Cattle are free ranging so when pasture in one area dried up, they were moved to another pasture. If they were moved to a pasture another community traditionally used, cattle raids occurred and sometimes lives were lost.

Building the capacity to combat drought and promote food security through something as simple as raising chickens also promotes peace between communities. “No one will steal chickens,” she noted.

Educating and training vulnerable women, providing access to water and diversifying food crops to cope with drought are all small steps but they can made a big difference in community life, she added.

Drought is something the Mullets can relate to. When Dave and Jan married, Jan remembers Dave’s father saying farmers in Eastern Montana know there will be a drought some time and they have to plan for it. “It’s not only countries in Africa that suffer drought,” she noted.

Their reasons for joining FRB reflect some of the same feeling Kidulah had in deciding to return to Kenya. 

“Because I can have a comfortable life doesn’t mean it’s just about me,” Jan said. “What I have is a privilege. I need to share that.”

The ability to help others help themselves was another big draw for them, Dave said. Farming methods in Kenya and Eastern Montana are vastly different but FRB provides a chance for an Eastern Montana farmer to participate in that world.

The value of giving to others they saw in their parents and in their church as they were growing up also instilled in them the importance of sharing what they have, they said.

Development work doesn’t make great headlines, DeWerd noted. It’s a long slog, but projects such as Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika which operate on very small budgets can make a huge difference in the lives of many people, and farmers such as the Mullets help those projects continue.

 

Reach Cindy Mullet at crmullet@midrivers.com.

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