Driven from his field with his wife and nine children because of his Christian faith, 39-year-old farmer Sanou Arnaud fled everything he knew in order to pursue a relationship with God. Arnaud and his family are just some of the many who have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) because of their faith.
Taking refuge in a nearby church, he encountered an ECHO training session and was given a small plot of land to apply the techniques he had learned.
Soon, he was producing over twice the amount of corn he previously had, even with a smaller plot of land. The training that Arnaud received was one of ECHO’s many Bible school training sessions that have been taking place in West Africa since 2018.
Robert Sanou, Director of the ECHO West Africa Impact Center, saw an opportunity to bring people to Christ by involving the church in community development. The training sessions were meant to teach future pastors farming methods in order to be self-sufficient and produce abundant food at their institutes. In the first year, ECHO was able to partner with 24 Bible schools across West Africa, and now has trained 1959 students from Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinee Conakry, and more.
Following the principles of ECHO’s gospel-centered approach, the training teaches the Foundations for Farming (FFF) method, also known as Farming God’s Way. Daniel Kabore, director of the Biblical and Theological Institute of the Apostolic Church in Burkina Faso, had been teaching holistic ministry already, but ECHO offered him a new perspective.
“With ECHO, we learned to love God in nature. And we farmed according to God’s principles, and this way of farming affected my life,” Kabore said. “I learned that we can take care of God’s creation and all of nature. This is a part of the ministry.”
These four-day-long Bible school training sessions seek to address the main challenges of agriculture in each country they are hosted in, teaching theology students who will later work in both rural and urban areas with farmers and gardeners.
The idea that God has provided a foundation for faithful stewardship of land and creation is the overarching theme of FFF. The training emphasizes a set of guiding principles for sustainable agricultural practices and transformation of the way people farm.
“The Bible has many references where God is talking about the way of farming,” Promesse Kansie said, an ECHO West Africa trainer who leads these sessions. “People are surprised – even I remember last time when we were in Nigeria, this director said that it feels like he hadn’t read the Bible before. He didn’t know that there are verses talking about farming, and specifically the right way of farming.”
Various traditional farming techniques such as burning mulch and tilling fields were destroying living organisms in the soil and decreasing the soil fertility with each passing year. In order to combat these ongoing issues, ECHO teaches farmers to make bioliquid fertilizer and pesticide from natural ingredients; gardening techniques; recipes from plants like neem and pepper; what nutritional plants add value to their diet; and methods of animal husbandry.
As Kansie explains, farmers leave training sessions with a “complete kit” of knowledge: FFF, including fertilizers that will feed the soil, and pesticides that will protect their crops with ingredients that are not harmful for the environment or their health.
“The way God is farming in the forests, nobody is going there to spray any pesticides,” Kansie said. “The plants protect each other. So, we are imitating nature.”
Students are taught how plants like moringa can be used to improve their food’s nutritional quality, even using parts of the plant for medicinal purposes or to improve health. Plants like chaya have been brought from the ECHO Global Farm in Florida to grow in West Africa for their benefits.
In order to provide their own food, many of the Bible schools started gardens on their campuses to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for the schools’ kitchens. One of the former students who had received training at ECHO was hired to work at another Bible school in Burkina Faso, where they were spending money on vegetables that had been treated with unknown chemicals. This student implemented a garden there to reduce food expenses, using only what he had learned at ECHO to feed the students.
“By building their own garden, it also helps the students to learn more,” Kansie said. “And then when they go to their own house or their own community, they’re going to say they can also do it for themselves or train the church members to do it.”
In addition to starting their own gardens, selling local poultry is an important income-generating activity for families in rural areas of West Africa and provides higher food quality. An important topic in the Bible school training sessions is how to properly take care of poultry, including caring for chickens when they’re sick and making chicken feed with locally available ingredients.
Biblical beliefs that translate into the technical teachings of FFF include planting on time, to a high standard, without wastage, and with joy.
Kansie compares FFF to working in an office — a person cannot leave their office for eight months out of the year and still expect high-quality work to be produced when they are back. Farmers must be working year round to ensure that their land will produce a good harvest.
“We tell them to give time to their activities, and to prepare for the rainy season,” Kansie said. “They should dig their holes, prepare their compost, and gather the mulch.”
Aiming for a multiplication effect, ECHO trainers ask the Bible school students how many people they can share the topics they have learned with after the training session is complete. Some say 10 people, some say all of their church members, or even all of their village. Moreover, trainees will continue to spread agricultural knowledge by word of mouth in areas where ECHO cannot reach, further multiplying.
“My hope is to hear that there are pastors who are spreading FFF,” Kansie said. “There is an insecurity that we cannot go there, but we are transferring ourselves to another person in the community who can do it easily.”
Kansie often receives calls from past trainees, updating ECHO on their farming progress or reaching out with agriculture questions. They created a WhatsApp group (social media) as a space for continued community after training and encourage trainees to implement all of the things ECHO taught them.
ECHO’s goal is to spread their teachings past their reach for impact, so others can continue their work beyond the training sessions offered. Leaders “equip the saints for the work of the ministry,” as Ephesians 4:12 states, and ECHO’s mission is to equip the saints to improve the lives of others in the name of Christ.