By Team B (Thomas, Elizabeth, Ashley)
As dawn broke, we woke to the cool air coming off the volcanoes in the area and Lake Kivu. The air smelt of fresh rain, as we discovered that even if it is the dry season in Rwanda, the northern province has rain all the time.
After a breakfast of fresh fruit, fresh rolls, eggs, and fresh squeezed pineapple and strawberry juice we traveled to BAIR (The Bureau of Rural Initiative) headquarters. There only office is located in the town of Gisenyi where we spent the night. They have been focusing on building stronger cooperative groups of potato farmers, Diffused light storage (DLS) facilities, and even HIV/AIDS testing and health screenings for farmers in the area.
We traveled with BAIR workers towards a local DLS facility/store. It was there that the manager met us and showed us how the potatoes that are the positive selected variety are kept in order to use for next season’s crop. The DLS facilities allow the potatoes to be stored in shelves, one layer thick, so that the sprouts used for germination are healthy.
Our true culture and learning experience of the day came when we went to a field DLS facility operated and owned by a cooperative of widowed women (57 in total 10 are HIV positive). When we drove up to the facility the entire group met us with a cultural dance and chant. We soon found out that it is rare to have guest and the group wanted to extend the traditions of Rwanda to us, thus we were welcomed by a dance. We then traveled into the DLS facility and met with 30 of the cooperative members to discuss what they are doing and the plans they have for the group in the future. In order to join the group they pay 10,000 RWF ($16) membership fee. This fee paid for the building of the DLS facility. BAIR paid for the tin for the roof and transparent windows, as well as the netting which is quite expensive and hard to find. The netting is a must in order to keep out bugs and keep the quality of the potatoes. The chair had great pride in how the group had positively selected 10 varieties. These varieties are disease free and are helping improve yields. After our meeting, we broke out in traditional dance, except this time we joined. We may have showed them a few American moves; however they have the true skill of dancing.
We then traveled to the local fertilizer and pesticide/herbicide store in order to show us how the farmers purchase their products and how they translate to the US products. We found them to be very similar; in fact their main fertilizer for potato production is NPK or 17-17-17. The fertilizer is affordable as the government regulates the cost so that the prices are not driven up on the farmers. In order to sell the fertilizer the manager must have a license and they are trained on how to apply and use the product. The manager then informs the farmers in his area. The manager had found the funds to build his own DLS facility, and although it was not done, you could see it was a very useful facility for him. He rents land so he can grow potatoes every year, thus he needs to have varieties that are safe and stored well. He currently needs one ton per acre of potatoes in order to have a successful crop, and the DLS holds 12 tons of potatoes.
As we traveled back to Kigali to meet Team A, we were able to take in more of the Rwandan culture. We stopped at a tea field where we were able to see how tea is grown, and learned from John Vie (our CRS leader) how it is processed in the facilities. After that, we bought sugar cane (200 RWF or .30 cents) and learned how to peel to hard coat off with our teeth and suck out the sugar. We also bought a local pineapple to enjoy later.