Work focuses on agricultural development
Parfreyville United Methodist Church welcomed missionary Paul Webster and his Zambian friend Silvester Santimu to update them on work being done at Mujila Falls Agricultural Centre in Zambia.
Webster, like other Methodist missionaries, is required to come home every three years for medical checkups and “itineration,” which involves visiting supporting churches to let them know what he is doing.
Webster is a Wisconsin native with a farming background.
Born in New Richmond, he was in the Peace Corps in the early 1980s and an agricultural extension worker in Guatemala using his expertise as a rural development specialist.
In 1992 Webster was commissioned as a United Methodist missionary and, with wife Roxanne and daughter Summer, headed to Zaire (Congo) to serve.
Their goal was to work with the Lunda tribe, one of the Bantu peoples who had been hunter gatherers and were unable to feed themselves due to lack of game.
After a few years the political situation made it dangerous to remain in Congo and the Webster family returned to the states.
But a tribal chief, who lived over the border in Zambia, heard about Webster’s work and asked the Methodist church to send a missionary like the one who had worked in Congo. The chief promised land in return for someone to teach agriculture and animal husbandry to the Lunda tribe who had migrated to Zambia.
Webster returned to Africa in 1995, this time to Zambia.
He was given a large tract of land in the northwest corner of the country, near Congo and Angola. It was near the source of the Zambezi River, had waterfalls and streams, open land and forest and fertile soil.
Access was only by dirt roads, and there were no buildings, electricity or other amenities. Poisonous snakes inhabited the area such as cobras and puff adders and there were crocodiles in the rivers.
At the time, the Lunda were subsisting on mice, rats, termites and other insects and had the highest infant mortality and shortest life expectancy of any population in the country. Children had swollen bellies and reddish hair from nutritional deficiencies, average adult life expectancy was under 35 years.
They had no markets, no skills to support themselves, no history of growing food.
Webster said the focus was to address the need for protein, vitamins and minerals into the diet and to give families an income to improve their economic circumstances.
In 2000 the Mujila Falls Agricultural Centre was dedicated, with a few simple buildings, some animal and crop production.
Webster’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and they had to return to the states for several years for her medical care. He worked as a pastor in Ladysmith and other areas during that time. Roxanne passed away and in 2005 Paul returned to Mujila Falls where he has remained.
In 2006 he was ordained as a full elder in the Methodist Church by Bishop Kainda Katembo in Africa.
During the Parfreyville presentation Webster showed a video and reported on progress since the project began, and especially on the last three years.
They practice integrated agriculture with plants and animals benefitting each other.
They raise field crops like corn, soybeans, sun-hemp, sorghum and vegetables and fruits .
They also raise dairy and meat cattle, goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits.
A Peace Corp volunteer is working on building fish ponds with river water. Pigs are being introduced.
An egg operation started very small and now sells thousands of eggs a week.
Webster was told that corn would not grow in the area but, through seed testing and research they now have impressive yields that convinced others to also grow it locally. This is now the best corn producing area of the country, which spurred the government to build some paved roads to get the product to market.
They sell milk and yoghurt, are researching types of plantains and bananas that do well there. Much of what they do relies on marketing new, nutrient rich foods to the population.
The center employs local people and some youth work at harvest time to pay fees for school, so education has improved. Agriculture methods are taught, often to women, and people come from other areas to learn skills. Several of those working with Webster have gone on to college.
“As a rural development specialist I am attacking the root causes of poverty, disease and hopelessness through education and training in small animal husbandry, cattle and goat milking, animal traction, tree nurseries, fruit culture, gardening and fish culture at our research and demonstration station,” Webster said. “The goals are families who can provide balanced nutrition for themselves and an income from small scale, family-based production.”
For more information on Paul Webster or the Mujila Falls Agricultural Station go to Facebook or Google the General Board of Global Ministries of the UMC.