News / Africa

Sierra Leone to Help Farming Families, Improve Food Security

Though renowned for its mineral resources, Sierra Leone also has significant unfarmed agricultural land and a large population of rural small-scale farmers. With a $400 million plan to turn small farmers into small businesses, the government hopes to improve the lives of 80,000 farming families and also improve food security.

It is harvest season, always a busy time for rice farmers here in the northern district of Koinadugu. But this year, there is more activity than usual.

Fifty women meet regularly in a rice field 24 kilometers outside of Kabala town. For three days in every week, the women spend their time harvesting, threshing and transporting rice. They eat, sleep and breathe rice.

Hawa Marah heads the small farmers' group. She has been farming all her life. But it is only recently that she has started farming rice to produce a surplus for sale.

Marah says, when she first started farming, she was just working to eat. They produced about five bags of rice, but before the year was over, the rice was finished. So they had to buy rice. But when she came together into a group, she says, they were able to produce a lot more. Now, she says, "we eat until we are full, and we sell the rice.  So we get money and we get rice."

Sierra Leone to Help Farming Families, Improve Food Security
Sierra Leone to Help Farming Families, Improve Food Security
Sierra Leone's government recently launched a $400 million plan to move small-scale farmers like Marah from subsistence to commercial farming.

Up to two-thirds of Sierra Leone's 5.6 million people are farmers, and the large majority cultivate small plots of land, producing barely enough to feed their families.

Only 20 percent of a potential 5.3 million hectares of arable land is cultivated. Farming in Sierra Leone is largely a manual affair. Farmers use scythes to cut the tall rice stalks, and sticks to thresh the rice.

Under the government's plan, individual farmers are encouraged to form groups that can then benefit from business centers where they can process their produce and sell it. The government provides subsidized seeds, and supplies machinery, such as tractors and processing machines on a lease-to-buy plan.

Marah's group is one of 30 under the Koinadugu Women Vegetable Farmers' Cooperative, an umbrella group that boasts 750 members, and continues to grow. Last year, the cooperative sold 30 metric tons to the United Nations' World Food Program. This season, they hope to produce over 50.

With the help of the USAID-funded project, Promoting Agriculture, Governance and the Environment, known by its acronym PAGE, the women's farming cooperative has learned new farming techniques that boost productivity.

And a $10,000 grant from the USAID project has enabled the women to purchase a milling machine and processing equipment, which means more rice of a higher quality.

But challenges remain.

Mouris Kallon is PAGE Coordinator in Kabala. He says farmers can produce more, but the cost of labor and transportation is still prohibitive.

"It is only now that farmers are starting to go into mechanization. Most of their work is done manually," said Kallon. "So, to expand on production requires a lot of manpower. So, as the cost of labor in Sierra Leone right now is very, very high, labor cost is one major challenge that the farmer groups are facing out there in the field. Another challenge actually is that of transportation. The road networks are really very bad. Sometimes, in the rains, the vehicles cannot ply the routes to the farm sites."

The women farmers' walk two kilometers to their farm, over rickety log bridges and through swamps. The only way to get their rice to market is to carry it on their heads.

Rice is Sierra Leone's much-loved staple food. But the country currently relies on imports from South-East Asia for a third of the rice it consumes, making poor families vulnerable to food price shocks.

When food prices shot up in October 2008, the poorest families in Sierra Leone were unable to afford rice, and thousands were pushed further into poverty.

The Koinadugu women farmers are determined to change this. "Educate the Children and Feed the Nation" is their motto.

Hawa Marah smiles, showing the glint of a gold tooth. For her, the farming business has changed her life, bringing in a steady income and respect from her peers. She says many women come to her now wanting to join the group, and even her teenage daughter wants to go into the family business.

You May Like

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs