How do you start an orchard program for Sierra Leone village development income when all you have is your own land and water? You grow thousands of your own trees — all from the saved seeds of fruit you first eat.
The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, has grown more than 40,000 fruit tree seedlings from seed in nurseries. We could say they’re raising them for peanuts.
Seedlings are tended and watered for one to two years, then given to villages to plant community orchards and to parents of newborns to raise for income for their child’s education.
Six villages have planted their own orchards with thousands of fruit tree seedlings grown by CCET.
The Mike Diliberti Memorial Orchard is the latest addition, dedicated to funding children’s education in Bumpeh Chiefdom.
CCET is part of the community and works directly with traditional chiefdom leaders to introduce programs like the orchards. They estimate a typical outside aid organization with its overhead would spend at least 5x-6x as much to introduce a similar project, with far less results.
Here’s how an orchard gets started:
CCET selects fruit that grow well in the area and collects seed. Here they grow oranges, grapefruit, mango, guava, avocado, cashew, African plum and coconut.
They buy fruit inexpensively in local markets and save the seed to start seedlings, after the fruit is eaten.
Seeds are started in growing bags filled with rich, silty soil from a swamp next to the nursery. Seeds like the oranges above germinate quickly.
They position the nursery next to a swamp for a ready supply of soil and water. Nurseries are built inexpensively. They’re bamboo pergolas, made from bamboo felled in nearby forests. Palm fronds laid over the top shelter young seedlings from the hot, dry season sun.
Cashews are one of the fruits that germinate quickly and do well. They germinate like beans, above.
Within four to six weeks, 2,000 cashews germinated and were transplanted into their growing bags, left.
Trees are carried to the orchard site by available transportation – back of a motorcycle or by boat.
Orchard sites are usually 10 acres and hand cleared by machete, but not burned. The cut brush is laid down as an organic mulch.
Villages determine the kind of trees they want to grow. Fields are then measured and “pegged” with tree limb posts and a plastic flag to mark where each tree should be planted.
This accurately spaces trees for their mature size, like the avocados, above, and the one being transplanted, left. All labor is provided the villages themselves. They transplant seedlings after clearing the orchard field.
An acre can hold 60 large trees like oil palm, coconuts and mangoes; more if orange, grapefruit, avocado, cashew and guava. So, 600 to 1,200 fruit trees may be planted in a 10-acre orchard.
Coconuts planted left are indicated by arrows.
Fruit trees will mature and bear a full harvest in four to five years. Managers learned they can inter-plant with other fast-growing fruits like guava, banana and pineapple that mature in one to two years, or other crops like cassava and peanuts.
Villages will earn money faster as fast-growing fruits and bushes shelter the slower growing fruit tree seedlings from the hot equatorial sun. Cassava bushes, left, shelter a two-year old mango, above.