Observations From Rwanda: October 3, 2021

Mount Sabyinyo in Volcanoes National Park. Farmers are working in potato fields in the foreground. August 28, 2021.

The past few weeks have been eventful, and very busy. The 2021 academic year for the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) finished on August 12. Students left campus for a well-earned break of about a month before the next academic year started in September. During that time faculty and staff took short breaks, along with conducting a two-week orientation for new students before the start of the term. Teresa and I, along with some other RICA staff, had the opportunity to visit mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park during the break. We had a great visit!

Richard Ferguson

Kwitonda (humble) – the dominant silverback gorilla (30 yrs old) of the Kwitonda family – 20 members total. August 28, 2021.
The silverback gorilla’s hand as he eats. August 28, 2021.
One of the juvenile members of the Kwitonda family. August 28, 2021.
An adult female stripping leaves from a plant stalk. August 28, 2021.
One of the youngest members of the Kwitonda family – around 1 year old. August 28, 2021.
The silverback gorilla with young playing around him – and Teresa observing. August 28, 2021.
RICA Second Cohort students, during class portrait session. August 29, 2021.

The arrival of an additional 84 students to RICA has changed the atmosphere around campus. Having twice as many students, often with multiple classes occurring at the same time, along with relaxation of RICA’s COVID restrictions, makes the campus feel more like a fully functioning university. Classes for the academic year started September 13, 2021.

RICA is partnering with a German manufacturer to evaluate a prototype electric tractor, studying systems that may be appropriate for use by smallholder farmers in Africa. September 22, 2021.
Construction workers arriving on campus in the morning. Construction continues – currently up to 1800 workers are on campus each day, with some work continuing around the clock. September 19, 2021.
Night construction on the Campus Center. September 13, 2021.
African Pygmy Kingfisher, on the shore of Lake Gaharwa, RICA Campus. September 25, 2021.
Our most recent negative COVID test results. All RICA students and staff are currently tested twice a week on campus by RICA’s nursing staff. Frequent testing, coupled with all students and staff being vaccinated, has allowed RICA’s hands-on approach to education to proceed. October 2, 2021.
The entrance to the now complete housing complex for 2nd and 3rd year students at RICA. The building is in a figure-8 shape; the east side is Akagera Hall, the west side is Nyungwe Hall. September 16, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: August 1, 2021

A Swamp Flycatcher greets the morning on a papyrus stalk on the shore of Lake Kilimbi. June 27, 2021.
Students get their first look at the interior of Akagera and Nyungwe Halls – the housing complex for second and third year students at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA). The building is scheduled to be ready for the next academic year starting in September. July 24, 2021.
RICA students and staff view the interior courtyard of Akagera Hall. July 24, 2021.
Small blooms appearing during the dry season on new growth of a Candelabra Tree (Muduha) on the RICA campus. July 11, 2021.
Ring-necked Doves courting near Lake Kilimbi. July 17, 2021.
A Palm-nut Vulture on the RICA campus. June 27, 2021.
A Hamerkop carrying nesting material. June 27, 2021.
RICA students and Dr. Ullman installing a net electric fence around a small zucchini field, to evaluate this as an option to deter monkey damage to student fields. July 17, 2021.
A Brown Parrot near the RICA cafeteria. July 7, 2021.
A Grey-headed Kingfisher near our house on the RICA campus. July 24, 2021.
The RICA cafeteria, Inuma Hall (Ring-necked Dove), as dinner time approaches. July 20, 2021.
Hamerkop nest building near Lake Kilimbi. June 27, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: July 18, 2021

The past few weeks have seen significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Rwanda, presumably due to spread of the delta variant. Parts of Rwanda are in lockdown conditions, though the Bugesera district, where the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) is located, is not yet among the affected districts. Still, the increase of COVID cases nationally has impacted RICA. While the ‘campus bubble’ relaxed slightly mid-term, movement to and from campus is still very limited. These approaches have allowed experiential education to continue at RICA.

Richard Ferguson

A Hamerkop carries nest materials over Lake Kilimbi. June 27, 2021.
A Hamerkop arrives at the nest with additional material. June 27, 2021.
A Hamerkop pair working on their nest. Jun 27, 2021.
A Hamerkop nest in a dead tree near the shore of Lake Kilimbi. Hamerkop nests are the largest of any bird in Africa, and a pair may build several nests a year. The word Hamerkop is derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘hammer-head’. June 27, 2021.
RICA students visit one of the Institute’s center pivot irrigation systems. Classes next term will include introduction to irrigation system management. June 23, 2021.
Patrick, a RICA staff member, describes basic functions of a center pivot irrigation system to RICA students. June 23, 2021.
RICA students listening as Patrick describes the center pivot irrigation system. June 23, 2021.
RICA’s dairy pasture and cows. The enterprise dairy herd has been steadily building over the past few months, with the eventual goal of 20 milking cows in the enterprise ready for instruction in September. Buildings in the distance are part of the temporary base of operations for one of RICA’s construction partners. June 22, 2021.
RICA students in line for COVID testing. With the increase of COVID cases in the country and around RICA, the Institute is currently testing all staff and students twice a week. July 17, 2021.
Until RICA’s potable water treatment plant is fully operational, drinking water is trucked into the campus daily. June 22, 2021.
Wild Morning Glory growing on papyrus plants on the shore of Lake Kilimbi. June 27, 2021.
A Pied Crow on the RICA campus. July 17, 2021.
Red-Capped Robin-Chat – near the RICA mango orchard. July 5, 2021.
Our family was able to meet for the first time in 18 months in June. Ben (left) and Ryan (right) joined us in Nebraska for about a week. The shirts were designed by the son of a RICA staff member. June 15, 2021.
A Palm-nut Vulture over the RICA campus. June 27, 2021.
Nap time for Little Bit. June 27, 2021.

Observations from Rwanda: June 6, 2021

The third term of the academic year at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture (RICA) began May 10, 2021. This is the first full term that includes only courses from students’ second year of classes, due to curriculum adjustments due to COVID and construction delays.

Richard Ferguson

Construction workers on the roof of the Campus Center, with Lake Kilimbi in the background. May 18, 2021.

RICA students perform a skit during a Bible Study presentation to campus. May 12, 2021.

RICA students enjoy a day on the beach during term break, complete with a food truck (outside the bubble). May 8, 2021.

Full attention during Enterprise:Marketing class. May 18, 2021.

The Lake Kilimbi commuter ferry making its way across the lake. May 15, 2021.

A Black-Headed Weaver on the shore of Lake Kilimbi. May 15, 2021.

RICA farm staff spraying citrus trees in the First Year Farm orchard. May 19, 2021.

A construction worker removes water from a trench after an overnight rain. This was the last significant rain before the dry season set in later in the month. May 15, 2021.

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.