Cash crop farmers in Sierra Leone have been suffering for long with nothing to show for their years and years of labor on their farms as they continue to depend on old methods of farming.
Cacoa and oil palm farmers, for example, will spend four to five years brushing and tending to their farms without utilising the same farm land to grow other short term crops such as cassava, corn and groundnut which they can survive on until they can harvest their cacoa or oil palm plantations.
However, with the intervention of Solidaridad West Africa, this narrative is now gradually changing with our rural farmers.
In Lower Bambara Chiefdom in Kenema District, Eastern Sierra Leone, Solidaridad West Africa is supporting SEND Sierra Leone to help farmersbecome self-reliant with knowledge and skills on how to manage and utilise their available resources. These resources, which they refer to as ‘Asset’, include land, health, other crops among others.
The project, titled: ‘Promoting Cash Crop Farmers in Income Generation’, is implemented in 75 communities in Kailahun, Kenema and Kono districts, all in the Eastern region.
“We want to ensure the farmers move from the old farming habits to modernize and productive ones,” said Mohamed Jalloh, working for SEND Sierra Leone on the project. “This project teaches farmers to do mix breeding or mix-cropping; so they don’t need to wait for five years brushing their cacoa and oil palm plantations before they can harvest. They can cultivate cacao or oil palm together with cassava, corn, and groundnut which they can survive on until the time for the cocoa harvest.”
The project employs the Asset SALT approach to enable farmers appreciate the local resources they have and to make use of them in developing their farming.
In addition, explained Jalloh, the farmers are also trained on the concept of the gender model family (GMF), on household resource mobilization together with the Village Savings Loan Association that will help them save. The GMF, he said, encourages families to share responsibilities in the homes, communities and the society in general and promotes development.
One of the beneficiaries of the project, Martha Vandi, a mother of 6 children with over 35 years of experience as a farmer, described the training as an eye-opener.
“For the past 20 years or so I was just engaged in small scale farming with little profits and so can’t save much. But with the knowledge I have now gained, I know what to do to prosper as a farmer,” said Martha.
Another beneficiary is Sheku Bockarie, a farmer in Komende Luyama town who is also a Pastor. He has been growing and selling corn, cassava, cocoa and other cash crops since 2002, proceeds from which he has been struggling to pay his children’s school fees.
Now, he is delighted the training on the Asset SALT approach has broaden his knowledge on farming.
“With this new knowledge I will work to transform my life and my family in the coming years; I will produce more, make more money and become self-reliant,” said Sheku.
He confessed that they used to borrow a lot in order to survive while waiting for their cacoa and oil palm plantations to be ready for harvest in five years’ time.
The people of Komende are mostly cacoa farmers, not familiar with mix-cropping techniques. But the Township Speaker, Chief Musa Lahai, believes the new knowledge will help to positively transform the way they farm.
Since funding has been a major challenge for the farmers, Chief Musa said the training on the Village Loan Savings project will help them overcome that.
Visiting the farming sites and talking to the farmers on Tuesday 10th September 2019 to see firsthand what’s happening on the ground, the Regional Director of Solidaridad West Africa, Isaac Gyamfi, encouraged the farmers- especially women farmers- to make good use of the opportunity to become self-reliant.
“Non-Governmental Organizations will not always be around to provide you with support, but with these kinds of trainings you will be equipped with the knowledge to continue to survive with your assets around you including your farmlands and crops,” Gyamfi challenged the farmers.