Trans World Radio (TWR) is a media ministry. We build transmitter sites, radio stations, and broadcast studios; we broadcast Gospel programming; we translate and contextualize content for international partners; we use a variety of media tools to share the Gospel with the world. So why is TWR baling hay and growing trees?
For people who come from chronic poverty and subsistence farming (as many in Africa do), they can adopt this mentality — this thinking, that they need handouts and external help to accomplish anything. And that’s simply not true. (You can read about some ground-breaking ministry initiatives in Cambodia here.) For many years, when I worked in Africa we talked about how we could empower the local people and enhance our ministry on the ground. Teach entrepreneurship.
This is why we’re baling hay and growing trees.
In Swaziland, TWR has a transmitter site and antenna field that sits on about 200 acres of land. We have acres of hay growing wild which needs to be cut regularly to minimize our risk of fire because of the frequency of lightning in this area. For many years, we allowed a local farmer to graze his cattle and harvest the hay from the property.
But we realized that this hay could serve a bigger purpose than helping out one farmer.
Every team at every transmitter site will from time to time have equipment and other needs not planned for in their budget. Things break and wear out but there’s no money in the budget to replace it – that sort of thing. But the local instinct in Africa is to wait until someone gives them the money rather than finding ways to raise these small amounts on their own through entrepreneurship.
Providentially, God provided the Swaziland team with a tractor and a baler so we could harvest the hay. Now, we sell the hay to local markets which provides a modest income for these out-of-budget expenses, but more importantly it teaches and encourages our team and other locals. They see that some creative thinking can generate income in a part of the world where poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment are chronic issues. These small ventures may not be their main source of income, may never be able to replace their main source of income, but every little bit helps. It might mean that a parent (or even a young teen) is able to buy books or pencils for school.
Teaching and empowering entrepreneurship, critical thinking skills – this know-how that we take for granted, is something new for many people in Africa.
The team learns agricultural practices they then use on their own land and share with neighbours and other locals. The community benefits because locally grown hay is cheaper.
In Benin, the station manager Garth Kennedy grew up in South Africa where trees are grown for commercial use. He had this idea to start a tree plantation. In South Africa, forests are planted and harvested in the same way that we plant and harvest evergreens for Christmas trees. Unlike grain or other cash crops, trees – teak trees need 15 years to mature. This is not a venture you try for a couple of seasons and hope there’s no drought, but something a community can watch grow and expand over time. It teaches patience, perseverance, and planning.
We acquired land in 2004 in Benin (the transmitter didn’t go on the air until 2008), and in those early days we planted trees along the drive from the main road. Today, we have over 25 hectares of trees planted. The team in Benin had a tractor donated, but before that the land was turned and the trees planted by hand. The tractor has greatly improved our efficiency and we were able to increase the size of our teak tree plantation.
White teak is an ideal cash crop because it’s drought tolerant (Benin has a hot dry climate and seasonal winds off the Sahara desert make these conditions worse) and the lumber is moderately resistant to termites. In Africa, white teak is preferred for construction (framing and such), in furniture, boat building, etc. I’m excited about the work Garth and his team are doing.
A newer initiative is a small nursery where we grow saplings. The community sees the different ways we’re using local resources to build income potential. They’re seeing opportunities to provide for themselves; encouragement to think creatively and find local solutions so they don’t have to rely on aid and donations to eat or send their children to school.
Once the trees are mature, they’ll be harvested and sold locally and to sawmills for construction. Again, this will never be a significant source of income, but the rewards from the lessons and training we’re able to share are invaluable to these people.
It’s exciting to see the local people in Swaziland and Benin engage with our staff and ask questions about why we do what we do. We freely share our expertise as the team works to create small alternate sources of income. But the most exciting part of all of this is the opportunity the hay and trees provide to build bridges and open communication with the wider local community. We’re not just occupying the land, we’re giving back in a tangible way that costs us very little but has a huge potential for reward when combined with the message of the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ.