News / Africa

Sierra Leone to Help Farming Families, Improve Food Security

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid