Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

The future of education in Bumpeh Chiefdom has been growing by leaps and bounds – with more acres of fruit trees and annual crops flourishing in the Orchards for Education project. With a second Rotary Club Global Grant, our partner CCET-SL’s project has blossomed into 60 acres of orchards and a new vegetable growing effort. Here’s a six-month update.

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The latest $69,000 phase of Orchards for Education has been completed, with innovative changes along the way, thanks to CCET-SL’s new agriculture manager, Ibrahim Rogers. He saw opportunities to optimize Rotary’s two-year $142,000 investment and generate cash income sooner.

Instead of interplanting vegetable crops in the new orchards and carrying water over tens of acres there, Mr. Rogers advised growing vegetables in raised beds in a swampy area. There, water is plentiful to grow intensively year-round.

A large berm, below, was built around a 7-acre swamp to contain and control water from a stream that naturally floods the area. In the heavy rainy season when 120 inches of rain would wash out raised beds, the project converted to growing rice.

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Annual crops will be more productive in an inland valley swamp, or IVS. And that extra money will provide more income to support orchard operations while fruit trees mature.

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Rice threshing Oct '19_Moment(8)Seven acres of IVS rice, above,  were just harvested in what proved to be a bumper crop.

The rice harvest was manually cut into sheaves. A borrowed power thresher, left, cut the time-consuming chore of separating out rice grains. Hand-winnowing, below, is still needed to clean the rice and remove chaff.

The rice will be sold to the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture as seed rice for their program to increase rice growing in the country. Half the rice now consumed in Sierra Leone is imported — the cheapest, least nutritious white rice.

The Ministry will distribute the seed rice to district small farmers to improve their yields and expand their farms so Sierra Leone can feed itself again.

So, our rice project will support both chiefdom education programs and making Sierra Leone self-sufficient in rice-growing!

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The IVS is now being converted back to vegetable growing for the dry season. Ten thousand pepper plants grown in seedbeds will soon be transplanted in newly prepared raised beds. Below are last season’s peppers mulched with rice straw. Okra will also soon be growing gangbusters.

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The project will start experimenting with other crops, like bell peppers, carrots and watermelons, to see what does well. A strong market is nearby. Freetown with its 1.5 million urban people only 55 miles away depends on rural farmers for fruit and vegetables.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker donated the IVS land conveniently located next to the fruit tree nursery. To launch this extra project, $9,000 came from Sherbro Foundation donors and Foundation board members.

CCET-SL’s agricultural projects are already paying dividends as a source of employment for the community with rare wage-paying jobs. The project employs 21 full-time orchard workers, 20 part-time women, plus about 100 seasonal workers (men and women). The part-time women, below, tend the vegetable crops in the IVS, leaving them time to work on their own garden plots and double their earnings.

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Meanwhile, fruit trees in the project’s orchards have been soaking up five months of the rainy season’s heavy rains and going through another seasonal growth spurt. The year-by-year progress is now clear to see.

IMG-20190927-WA0021 (2)The third, most recent orchard was planted in June-July of this year with coconut saplings on newly cleared ground. These will take five to six years to fully fruit.

Rows of limes and guava that will fruit in three years alternate with coconuts.

IMG-20190927-WA0018 (2)Trees in the second orchard, left, planted in 2018 are strong, sprouting up with two rainy seasons of growth.

Avocados, sour sop and oil palm (a local diet staple) were added to coconuts, together with more guava and lime.

The ground still tries to revert back to bush in Year Two and needs to be regularly whacked back. Cassava were planted among some coconuts as drought resistant short-term crops. Tubers are harvested in two to three years, with plants easily replaced with sticks cut from the parent plant.

IMG-20190927-WA0013 (5)The first orchard planted in 2017 is now in its third year.

Coconut saplings are now trees, many taller than a 6-foot man. Limes and guava are approaching this height.

Old trees and bushes have largely been beaten back and the ground is becoming grassy.

IMG-20191001-WA0005Guava and lime trees planted in 2017 in the first orchard are sporadically fruiting, and will yield a good harvest next year.

The early guava, left, took first place in the country’s annual agriculture fair in October.

Thanks to the Rotary Club grant, much-needed capital investment was made in the project. A storage building and concrete drying floor at the IVS were completed, below, including an office/meeting room and a night guard’s sleeping quarters. A second storehouse is under construction at the orchard.

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A simple, portable and flexible approach to watering was purchased — a minitruck equipped with a tank will carry water around the orchards to keep fruit tree saplings watered throughout the dry season. After two or three years, trees no longer need hand watering. The minitruck is available for other uses, like carrying the rice harvest, below.

Note, the new truck driver, Zainab, is a woman, in keeping with the project’s objective to hire women wherever possible.  Who said this isn’t women’s work?

Paramount Chief Caulker intends Orchards for Education to be a demonstration ground to show the Sierra Leone government, NGOs and farming neighbors that productive agriculture projects can be community-led and used to reach nonprofit goals.

The Orchards for Education project is set up to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom education programs for the long term. It’s also providing employment and growing seed rice to help local small farmers. Other rural communities can decide how they want to grow their own futures. CCET-SL is showing them it’s all possible.

We send our deep thanks again to Sherbro Foundation donors who generously gave to this Rotary Club grant project with 2018 year-end donations. Your gifts were matched by Rotary International Foundation. You can now see how far your money already has grown on the ground!

 

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