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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs