Plain Truth Magazine
April 1983
Volume: Vol 48, No.4
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Donald D Schroeder  

A bold and real step to teach the hungry world to produce its own food!

   MAYBE YOU haven't heard about the winged bean.
   You should have!
   "It's a veritable backyard supermarket," exults a staff director of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. From top to bottom, it is almost all edible.
   We know. Some Plain Truth staff members have enjoyed eating winged beans while assisting in expanding agricultural development in the Third World.
   The pods make a succulent green vegetable that can be eaten almost every possible way. The leaves taste like spinach, the shoots are like asparagus and one can eat the flowers and tubers too. The seeds of the winged bean called that because of the four winglike flanges on its pod — can be steamed or boiled.

Why Neglected

   The winged bean has been neglected for development in many tropical areas because it has often been considered a peasant or poor man's food. Now, when fertilizer costs to boost yields soar prohibitively, these attitudes are changing.
   As a legume, the winged bean converts its own nitrogen from the air. It needs little or no fertilizer and even enriches the soil in which it grows. Unwanted parts of the plant can be fed to livestock. It is a sturdy, highly disease resistant vine that does not require great attention. And it grows well in rainy, tropical areas, as well as being able to survive droughts.
   Experimental winged — bean plantings are now under way in around 60 countries. The National Academy of Sciences says of the future, "The winged bean appears to have great potential for easing the problem of protein malnutrition throughout the humid tropics." The challenge is not, however, in growing the winged bean among needy populaces, but in getting people to change their eating habits to accept it.
   So now, let's look at one remarkable and proven success story — in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo.
   It is occurring in the Ituri forest among the Efé Pygmies. One would have thought a major development in winged-bean agriculture should have started among taller people with a tradition of agriculture. But then, valuable contributions often start small-and in this case among the smallest of people.

Before the Winged Bean

   In the 1930s there were about 35,000 healthy, delightfully happy and expressive Efé Pygmy peoples.
   By the mid-1950s, the pureblooded Pygmy population was rapidly declining through destruction of their forest home. By 1960, the Efé Pygmy population had fallen to around 15,000 persons. Greedy loggers and encroaching neighboring tribes were depriving the Pygmies of their traditional nomadic patterns of supporting their lives. Many Pygmies were succumbing to diseases from the processed food, unbalanced diets, candies and cigarettes offered by tourists.
   Appalled at the tragic decline of these peaceful peoples, a bush sociologist and agronomist, lean-Pierre Hallet, already known by many of our readers, realized that unless immediate action was taken, the Pygmies were menaced by extinction. If he were truly to help he had to thoroughly understand their traditions, values and feelings.
   Mr. Hallet left civilization and lived with unspoiled Pygmies in the heart of the Ituri forest for a year and a half, learning to respect the Pygmy culture with its values and wisdom — values that led the Pygmies to adopt remarkably peaceful giving and sharing ways.
   Yet Mr. Hallet knew their unique life-style would not be the same again. The new ways being forced on many would quickly not only doom the race but destroy their precious cultural identity. The only realistic way to save these peoples was through a feasible self help program based on the progressive introduction of agriculture and better sanitation to compensate for their vanishing forest home.

How Pygmy Fund Began

   What the Pygmies most needed were not alms-givers but teachers — practical, unsentimental teachers to guide them. They needed to develop their own economy shaped to their psychological and physiological requirements. They needed recognition of their usefulness and dignity as human beings.
   Starting in 1957, within one year's time Mr. Hallet established 18 successful paysannats, or agricultural villages, for the Pygmies. Land was cleared; specially chosen crops were planted and grown.
   The rapid success of these first agricultural villages won acclaim from officials who visited them. Then in 1960 political independence came to the Belgian Congo. Chaos ensued.
   Mr. Hallet did not give up. He gave lectures abroad about rescuing the Pygmies. But despite his efforts and personal help, by the end of 1974, the Efé population had plummeted to less than 4,000. These surviving few were about 10 percent of the 1935 population and perhaps only 1 percent of their number in 1825.
   To generate the imperatively needed financial help Mr. Hallet established the Pygmy Fund. Aided by this new support, Hallet was able by 1975 to again organize simple, locally geared agriculture among the Efé Pygmies.
   They were taught to cultivate banana trees and manioc (cassava), peanuts, sweet potatoes and rice. The Fund provided resources for the purchase of simple tools that the smaller-statured Pygmies could handle. They learned about selecting better seeds and were taught crop rotation.
   With continuing encouragement, including that of Plain Truth readers, Hallet progressively added more tools, better seeds and plant cuttings. And he has worked to improve relationships between local administration, traditional, political and military authorities.

Exciting Bold Step the Winged Bean

   In the summer of 1981 Jean-Pierre Hallet introduced the winged bean among the Pygmies. The Efé Pygmies are now healthier, happier and more prosperous than ever. Their spirit is sky high!
   Their population is now a little more than 4,500. They are taking great strides toward real self-sufficiency, and could now, with continuing help, achieve it as early as 1985.
   The relationship between the Pygmies and the neighboring Bantu (non-Pygmies) is greatly improved. For the first time in modern history, they work in the winged-bean gardens and eat and drink side by side in amazing cooperation, peace and harmony.
   The world has received an important lesson on how to really help people help themselves-with dignity!
   The winged bean — the "high protein crop of the future" remains, unfortunately, after many years of research, still no more than a "backyard legume" in the numerous countries where it grows. But Hallet, quick to sense the legume's worth, boldly stepped out so the Pygmies could be one of the first people to reap the benefits of this tropical wonder plant that is high in quality protein, oil, vitamins and minerals.
   In order to be able to introduce effectively the winged bean in the Ituri forest, Hallet requested from each of over 12 major sources, mostly in Asia, 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of seeds to be sent to him. The total received was only 152 kilograms.
   Hallet could not risk scattering such precious generative capital all over the forest. He decided to plant practically all the available seeds in a single chosen area as a seed production field and to have hundreds of people-Pygmies and non-Pygmies — participating through all phases of the work.

Developing the Plantation

   Gathering of all the tools, materials and labor at the right time was no small task. Here, for those of you who have some knowledge of gardening, is the equipment needed to plant this winged-bean large-scale multiplication field. The area — measuring 118 meters (387 feet) by 300 meters (984 feet) — required:
   • 6,359 horizontal rods, 10.8 ft. X 2.5 in. thick
   • 6,509 vertical poles, 7.5 ft. X 3 to 4 in. thick
   • 95,390 lateral stakes, 8.2 ft. X 1 to 2 in. thick.
   That's a total of 108,258 "sticks," totaling more than 170 miles in length, if put end to end. In addition, 51 miles of rope (twine) to secure 47,697 junctures where stakes must be tied, was required. And 19,000 nails to secure some 12 miles of horizontal rods.
   Next came the human labor. The cutting down of the bushes, the cleaning up of the ground, the plowing (without plows), the measuring, the digging of drainage ditches. The elaborate building of the framework to support the stakes, the staking, the last manicuring of the soil and the all-important sowing — two seeds every 8 inches.
   In the first major season of growth, in 1982, approximately 380,000 winged beans were cultivated by the Pygmies and Bantu with a standard yield of about 18 TONS of seeds and about 36 tons of tubers.
   In addition to the intensely cultivated field for seed production, another plot was devoted to further testing of 22 different varieties of winged beans coming from six different countries.
   Success of the winged-bean project among the Efé will be shared with other organizations devoted to similar causes.

Helping Others to Help Themselves

   This winged-bean realization is a bold and practical example of how true self-sufficiency CAN be achieved by any endangered peoples. The on-going success program, as in all farming efforts, will depend upon many unpredictable factors-weather, water supplies, disease and animal problems-and in Zaire, local political and racial relationships.
   This remarkable achievement of the Pygmy Fund is proof that sound and successful agriculture is the most essential factor in positive people (and dignity!) building.
   The untiring love, dedication and efforts of many — especially Jean Pierre Hallet-to save the Pygmies illustrate the principles for which The Plain Truth stands, and give insight into what helping others to help themselves will be like in the promising world tomorrow!
   That is why we regularly update our readers on this unique effort.
   The Pygmy Fund address is: Box 277, Malibu, CA 90265.

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Plain Truth MagazineApril 1983Vol 48, No.4