Observations from Rwanda: May 2, 2021

The second term of the 2021 academic year at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) was completed last week. This marked the end of first-year classes for the first cohort of students at RICA; an academic year which stretched over 19 months due to COVID delays.

Richard Ferguson

RICA students take the final exam for the Practical Farming course. April 23, 2021.
Racheal describes results from her Farming Unit’s poster to Practical Farming faculty and students. April 27, 2021.
Students listen as Emeline explains results from her team’s efforts during the Practical Farming poster session. April 27, 2021.
Dr. Nyemba explains his evaluation of a Farming Unit team’s poster during the Practical Farming poster session. April 27, 2021.
RICA’s Extension Center under construction. This building will house an open-air/covered venue seating up to 300 people for workshops, conferences and classes. It also will house a classroom, the biology teaching lab, the analytical and diagnostic lab, and faculty/staff offices. March 29, 2021.
The small teaching center pivot irrigation system on RICA’s campus being erected. This system covers about 1.5 ha of cropland, and will be used to teach irrigation management and demonstrate conservation ag practices in the middle of campus. Ifundi and Indonzi Halls are in the background. March 29, 2021.
RICA’s Campus Center under construction. This building will house administrative and staff offices, the cafeteria, the student learning center and the health center. March 29, 2021.
Habanero peppers harvested in the RICA Vegetable and Fruit Enterprise. March 29, 2021.
RICA students working during the term break to remove weeds from the landscape. The Campus Center, under construction, is in the background on the other side of the campus bubble fence. April 30, 2021.
RICA students cleaning tools during the term break. April 30, 2021.
A Ring-Necked Dove on a Candelabra Tree. Two buildings on the RICA campus are named after these which are indigenous to the campus: Muduha Hall (Candelabra Tree), and Inuma Hall (Ring-Necked Dove). April 24, 2021.
Adult and young Eastern Grey Plaintain-Eaters. Members of the Turaco family, but not as colorful as Turaco’s I’ve shared photos of previously. April 24, 2021.
An adult Eastern Grey Plaintain-Eater in flight. April 24, 2021.
Southern Black Flycatcher. February 28, 2021.
A pair of Woodland Kingfishers on the RICA First Year Farm pasture fence. February 7, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: March 28, 2021

A ferry operating on Lake Kilimbi transports people across the lake, around the campus of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), to work in fields east of the campus. March 13, 2021.
A Rwandan cultural fixture is Umuganda: when communities work together the last Saturday every month in community service. This practice has been suspended due to COVID. However, with the RICA campus bubble environment protecting residents from significant risk of COVID, campus residents spent the morning of February 27 cleaning up the campus. This tool is a slasher, commonly used to trim grass and weeds.
RICA students found powered weedeaters to be a lot quicker than slashers and machetes in grounds maintenance. February 27, 2021.
A Pied Kingfisher reflected in the surface of Lake Kilimbi. February 28, 2021.
An Arrow-Marked Babbler on the RICA campus. Very similar to the Black-Lored Babbler shared last month. February 27, 2021.
RICA students have been spending time in tractor driving training this term. February 28, 2021.
RICA’s large student dormitory, which will house second and third year students, continues to progress. February 23, 2021.
Construction workers on RICA’s second and third year student dormitory. February 27, 2021.
Football matches are common on weekends, on the small field inside the campus bubble adjacent to First Year Farm orchards. A full size football pitch is under construction near the west end of RICA’s central campus. February 27, 2021.
Closeup of a Hamerkop. March 20, 2021.
The RICA Music Club held an evening of music and traditional dance in Rufunzo Hall. March 27, 2021.
Students in RICA’s traditional dance troup. March 27, 2021.
A Southern Red Bishop, a type of weaver, on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. March 13, 2021.
Not sure what this is. Perhaps an African Swallow-Tailed Kite, but Rwanda seems out of it’s normal range. March 28, 2021.
Common Sandpiper, on the shore of Lake Kilimbi. March 20, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: February 20, 2021

As we’re currently restricted to the ‘bubble’ on the campus of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) this term, it’s challenging to access Lake Kilimbi for new views to open this series of photos. This is a typical campus scene late afternoon February 5, 2021. This view is taken looking east along the central Spine Road, with Napier grass on the left planted around student First Year Farms for erosion control, with a Senna Tree in the middle. These leguminous trees have abundant yellow blooms across campus this time of the year. The new dormitory for second and third year students is under construction in the background.
Students are currently harvesting mangoes every week from First Year Farm orchards. These are consumed in the cafeteria, sold to RICA staff, and to area markets. January 27, 2021.
Students began planting new crops on their farms soon after the term started in mid-January. These students are planting common beans using Greenseeder jab planters. Drip irrigation lines are moved aside, along with plant residue, to accommodate planting. One of the First Year Farm barns, housing laying hens, is in the background. January 27, 2021.
This Black-Lored Babbler (resting on the campus bubble fence) is not one of the more colorful birds on campus, but they certainly are abundant and noticed. They travel in groups, often feeding on the ground, and have a very raucous call. January 31, 2021.
Construction continues on the RICA campus outside the bubble. This view, taken over the fence, is of concrete pouring for a section of floor on the second level of the Campus Center. February 5, 2021.
We have seen various types of small frogs around campus. This one, approximately 2 cm long, is on a blade of grass in the staff housing area on the RICA campus. January 24, 2021.
Calves born last year to RICA dairy cows on First Year Farms continue to grow. These four are in the current calf barn above Kivu House. February 5, 2021.
RICA students provide complete care for their cows – here spraying for ticks. Each house of 20 students has one cow. February 6, 2021.
This Black-Headed Weaver has a nest on a papyrus stalk on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. February 14, 2021.
These new RICA employees lived in our house for three weeks. Kittens were brought to campus to live in student houses to help with snake and rodent control. However, they were a bit too young to be on their own, so spent some time growing up with us. February 16, 2021.
Pin-Tailed Whydah’s courting on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. The male flutters up and down (next image) above the female. She seems unimpressed. February 14, 2021.
Pin-Tailed Whydah’s, Lake Kilimbi. February 14, 2021.
Butterfly along the trail to RICA’s Lake Kilimbi beach. February 14, 2021.
Water lily on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. February 14, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: January 25, 2021

We returned to Rwanda from a Christmas break in Nebraska on January 8. International travel is certainly different and challenging in the era of COVID. We’ve now had around 15-16 COVID tests – we’re starting to lose track. We’ve been blessed to be relatively protected from COVID, living in Rwanda with, until recently, very low infection rates, and in the campus bubble at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) last term and now this term. All who reside in the campus bubble are tested, quarantined, and re-tested before being released in the bubble. The tradeoff is that we don’t leave the bubble, for the most part. Thus we get to know the 130 or so students and staff in the bubble pretty well during the three month term.

Richard Ferguson

Returning RICA students inspect the status of their crops after a month-long break between terms for the holidays. Lake Kilimbi is in the background, as is the temporary fence forming the bubble boundary. January 19, 2021.
A task for several RICA students after being released from quarantine was to catch up on laundry. January 17, 2021.
After spending almost a week confined to their rooms, students were glad for some exercise. January 17, 2021.
RICA’s main lecture facility, Rufunzo Hall, was modified over the break with a glass panel across the front. This facility allows faculty and guest speakers from outside the campus bubble to enter the building and teach in-person, without direct contact with those inside the bubble. January 18, 2021.
Students and staff continue to be diligent about wearing masks, even though they live in a bubble with others who are COVID-free. January 18, 2021.
Land preparation for the next growing season on student farms. January 22, 2021.
The first day of lab in Biology 2, dissecting rabbits. January 19, 2021.
A butterfly near our patio. January 11, 2021.
Mangoes are currently maturing on campus. Consequently vervet monkeys are continually around the mango orchards on student farms, consuming a steady diet of fruit, to the frustration of faculty and students. This is the first of a series of monkeys who posed for portraits on January 23, 2021.
This beach spider lily is planted in the rain garden capturing runoff from our house roof. January 23, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: December 6, 2020

Sunrise over Lake Kilimbi. September 11, 2020. From one of my last bike rides around the lake before entering the fenced-in bubble around the central campus of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). Students and staff of RICA have been restricted to campus for the duration of the 11 week term. Entry into the bubble required a week long quarantine period, with negative COVID tests entering and leaving quarantine. This approach has allowed RICA to continue an experiential approach to education, with minimal concern about COVID transmission on campus.
African Harrier Hawk. October 17, 2020. Note from bird guide: ” Raids on weaver nests and extracts nestlings with special adapted, very long flexible legs” (Collins Field Guide, Birds of Eastern Africa).
White-browed Coucal. November 1, 2020.
RICA students learning to collect soil samples. October 30, 2020.
Newborn calf and mom on one of the RICA First Year Farms. October 17, 2020.
Long-crested Eagle next to our house on the RICA campus. November 22, 2020.
African Pygmy Kingfisher, resting in front of our house during a rainstorm. Approximately 8 cm long (3.5 in). November 6, 2020.
RICA students loading manure and bedding from the dairy milking barn to transport to the compost site. October 23, 2020.
African Fish Eagles vocalizing in a tree on the RICA bank of Lake Kilimbi, with village across Lake Kilimbi in the background. October 11, 2020.
Moth on our patio the morning of November 14, 2020.
Teresa preparing to serve brunch for RICA staff. November 21, 2020. Note our ‘bubble’ fence in background. We have not left RICA for 2.5 months to maintain a COVID-free bubble on campus.
Young African Grey Hornbill in tree next to our house. November 19, 2020.
Dragonfly on the road to the RICA beach. November 22, 2020. Body is approximately 3 cm long.
Woodland Kingfisher, resting in a tree next to our house after eating its fill of termites found on our patio after a storm. October 20, 2020.

Observations from Rwanda: November 8, 2020

Students and staff of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) play volleyball on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. Fields on the far bank are currently being planted to maize and soybean, with center pivot irrigation to be installed later this year. October 9, 2020.
Black-headed Weaver. October 24, 2020.
RICA students spreading compost in advance of planting on drip-irrigated fields. October 16, 2020.
Violet-backed Starling. October 20, 2020.
Young Vervet Monkey watching me. September 15, 2020.
Lion’s Ear (probably), growing on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. October 11, 2020.
Frog looking for insects in our garden. October 10, 2020.
Female Sunbird (uncertain species) on the banks of Lake Kilimbi. October 11, 2020.
Students walking along the Spine Road on a rainy Saturday morning in front of Ihema House. With the onset of the rainy season, umbrellas are a necessity most days. October 31, 2020.

Observations from Rwanda: October 4, 2020

Deep ripping soil to break up compaction, ahead of planting corn on what will be a center-pivot irrigated field of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). Lake Kilimbi is in the background. September 13, 2020.
Bred heifers arrived on the RICA campus in late August, one for each student house. September 9, 2020.
The first calf born on RICA’s campus. September 12, 2020.
Weaver building a nest on the shore of Lake Kilimbi. September 6, 2020.
Landscaping activities along the RICA Spine Road. September 12, 2020.
A fire burned over 100 ha of brush in RICA’s conservation area. Local villagers joined RICA staff in controlling the blaze. September 20, 2020.
A vervet monkey enjoys breakfast near one of RICA’s student houses. September 15, 2020.
Students returned to the RICA campus September 25, 2020, after an absence of about 6 months. Students first had to have a negative COVID-19 test, then were quarantined after arrival on campus for five days, then were tested again. After a second negative COVID test, students were free to leave their houses on September 30, 2020. All RICA faculty and staff living inside the ‘campus bubble’ were tested in the same way.
A long-crested eagle carrying nesting material near Lake Kilimbi. September 15, 2020.
A foggy early morning walk along the Spine Road. September 1, 2020.
African firefinch feeding on the ground behind our house. August 18, 2020.
Bush fire at it’s peak. September 20, 2020.

Observations from Rwanda: August 23, 2020

An African Fish Eagle, with freshly caught African Lungfish from Lake Kilimbi. July 26, 2020.
Zinga, or Spot – adopted mascot of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). July 30, 2020.
Construction progressing on the dormitory for second and third year students on the RICA campus. August 17, 2020.
Red-cheeked cordon-bleu. These are a type of finch, measuring 12-13 cm in length. The female does not have a red cheek. These are often seen feeding in flocks on the ground around our house. August 16, 2020.
Two girls walking across land recently cleared for installation of center pivot irrigation systems, looking east towards the center of the RICA campus. August 2, 2020.
Grasshopper along the peninsula trail east of the RICA campus. August 8, 2020.
RICA staff soil sampling a field newly cleared of brush, prior to planting the first crop later this year. July 29, 2020.
Bumblebee on blooming lablab cover crop, RICA campus. August 5, 2020.
Acacia trees along the RICA Spine Road at sunset. August 1, 2020.

Observations from Rwanda: July 12, 2020

Construction of the dormitory for 2nd and 3rd year students on the campus of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA), with Lake Kilimbi in the background. July 6, 2020.

We returned to Rwanda at the end of June, 2020, after spending three months in Nebraska. On arrival in Kigali, we were taken to a government-designated location for a week-long quarantine for COVID-19. We were tested twice during that time, and allowed to leave after a week and two negative tests for another week of self-quarantine in our house on the RICA campus. Several of the following photographs were taken from my balcony at the Dove Hotel during the first quarantine week.

View of neighborhoods down the hill west from the Dove Hotel. June 28, 2020.
Watering and mulching crops along the Nyabarongo River. June 28, 2020.
Feeding cows, under the watchful eye of the owner. June 28, 2020.
Feeding cows. July 2, 2020.
Filling and carrying water jugs – a constant task. July 1, 2020.
Growing point of a conifer below my balcony at the Dove Hotel. June 29, 2020.
Two girls walking on the bank of the Nyabarongo River. June 28, 2020.
Trucks waiting to fill at a petroleum depot. July 1, 2020.
Grey-backed fiscal, perched on a RICA soccer net. July 11, 2020.
Preparing for dinner at the RICA cafeteria. In the background, trees with orange blossoms are in bloom during the dry season, which i believe are Erythrina abyssinica. July 11, 2020.
A closer view of Erythrina abyssinica blossoms. July 11, 2020.
Rueppell’s long-tailed starling (I think). July 11, 2020.
Sunset over Lake Kilimbi. July 6, 2020.

Observations from Rwanda: March 28, 2020

Evening rainbow over Lake Kilimbi and the campus of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). February 16, 2020.

The past four weeks have been quite eventful in the life of the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. During the first week of March, RICA was preparing for the first visit of our founder, Howard Buffett, to the campus since construction began. Less than a week later, RICA students were sent home on Monday, March 16 as RICA and other educational institutions were closed due to COVID-19. Rwanda imposed a quarantine and travel ban on March 21, 2020, with staff remaining on campus quarantined for at least two weeks. Teresa and I decided it was best to return to Nebraska for a time, leaving Rwanda on March 19, the day before the Kigali airport closed. Student education continues for now via remote learning to finish Term 2, and I remain engaged in directing the Institute from a distance, anticipating the time when we can return to RICA physically.

Richard Ferguson

RICA students and staff with Howard Buffett, Muduha Hall, RICA campus. March 10, 2020.
RICA students line up for health checks prior to their departure from campus. March 16, 2020.
RICA students boarding buses to depart campus for home. March 16, 2020.
Confiscated goats at one of RICA’s entrance gates. Occasionally herdsmen bring cattle and goats onto campus to graze illegally. When caught, the animals are confiscated until the owners pay a fine to the District. March 17, 2020
Spur-winged lapwing. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
Zebra and foal. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
African wattled lapwing. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
Lilac-breasted roller. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
African elephant. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.
African elephant. Akagera National Park. February 22, 2020.