$142,000 Rotary Clubs Grant Propels Bumpeh Chiefdom into Growing Its Own Future

$142,000 Rotary Clubs Grant Propels Bumpeh Chiefdom into Growing Its Own Future

Bumpeh Chiefdom leader Paramount Chief Charles Caulker long dreamed of developing his chiefdom using its own agriculture traditions. He wanted to grow fruit trees in his verdant tropical chiefdom that would produce income for community development for years to come.

20190120_114736 (4)“If we could raise fruit trees on a big enough scale, we could grow our own community’s future.”

“We could move to eliminate poverty in the chiefdom ourselves and make people self-reliant,” he said.

But in Sierra Leone, too often it’s one step forward and two steps back. Barely had recovery from Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year rebel war begun, when the Ebola epidemic hit in 2014. A three-year economic crisis followed with 40 percent devaluation of its currency. Just surviving was a struggle.

Now, a two-year $142,000 Rotary International Global Grant is changing that.

Sherbro Foundation secured the grant for our Bumpeh Chiefdom partner, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET. It will fund community-led agriculture projects designed to create income for children’s educations and resident medical care, and help women subsistence farmers achieve self-reliance.

P1000710 (2)700 coconut trees are flourishing in the first Rotary funded orchard, as well as lime, grapefruit, African plum, avocado, guava, soursop, oil palm and cassava. Most were grown in CCET’s tree nursery from local fruit seed.

Nonprofit Social enterprise  The grant creates a chiefdom social enterprise, one where agriculture projects generate regular income for nonprofit purposes. Thanks to Rotary Clubs, CCET’s Orchards for Education project is expanding to plant thousands of fruit trees to fund chiefdom education. An orchard will also be planted to feed a benevolent fund paying local hospital care costs residents cannot afford. And, women farmers are being funded to grow peanuts to fully feed and educate their children.

The Rotary Club Global Grant, the second developed by Sherbro Foundation for CCET, was spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, Mich., lead club sponsor. The Wilmington, NC Rotary Club and 17 other Rotary Clubs contributed to the grant. The Rotary International Foundation and two Rotary Districts provided matching funds. It will be overseen by the Rotary Club of Freetown, Sierra Leone and administered by CCET.
20190119_121158 (3)Chief Caulker, center, and Rosaline Kaimbay, CCET Managing Director, right, accept the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor flag from Mary Avrakotos. Dale Smith, Wilmington, NC Rotary Club, left, led fundraising for the medical care component of the grant.

Grant impact A total of 60 acres of orchards with 4000 fruit trees will be developed through the two Rotary grants, as well as a tree nursery, a watering system and storehouse. In three to five years, the orchards will provide long-term fruit income for education and hospital medical care for Bumpeh Chiefdom’s 40,000 mostly illiterate residents.20190125_124723 (2)

 

 

Chief Caulker and project agriculture manager Ibrahim Rogers, right, inspect African plum tree seedlings grown from seed for the project. They’ll be planted now in the June rains.

Some 260 subsistence-level women farmers can double their incomes by growing peanuts with supplies they receive from the project. How can something as seemingly small as $50 for a bale of peanut seed and a drying tarp impact the women? The spokeswoman for recent participants said it best, “Indeed, our lives have been transformed.”

Their peanut harvests act as reserves, to sell as they need cash to feed their children. When annual school expenses or unplanned health care costs come up, the women can fall back on their peanut harvest to pay for them. They no longer need to take out high interest moneylender loans.

Bigger ripple effect The Rotary funded projects are having a bigger ripple effect in this rural community. The projects create 20 full-time jobs in a subsistence farming area with virtually no wage paying jobs. One hundred part-time and seasonal workers are also hired. Families’ lives improve with a regular wage-earner.

IMG-20190602-WA0000 (2)Full-time orchard workers display their protective gear purchased from the Rotary grant: rain suits for working in the rainy season and thick rubber boots for protection against injury and snakes.

In addition to being paid, Chief Caulker explained the bigger effect these jobs have on his chiefdom. The workers are learning improved growing techniques and skills under the direction of CCET’s agriculture manager, he said. They’ll take this home and apply it to their own farms and gardens. They’ll teach neighbors how to get better yields, too.

Chief Caulker said he himself is working to act as a role model to teach people by example. He’s growing his own fruit trees in different parts of the chiefdom and annual crops like cassava. When people see they can earn more money with fast growing fruit trees like guava plus cassava and vegetables than in traditional rice growing, they start diversifying and growing more crops themselves.

Empowering women From the project’s initial work, Chief said he feels best about empowering women subsistence farmers. By supplying women to grow peanuts as a cash crop and hiring others to grow vegetables and peanuts for the project, we “have brought hope to ending the growing economic and gender inequalities in our country,” Chief said.

“Women, who before now were relegated to the kitchen, can confess of becoming breadwinners in their families, sometimes above their husbands.”

IMG-20190522-WA0006 (2)Local women are hired as part-time workers where heavy labor is not needed. These are planting peanuts in an orchard to generate annual operating income. They’re paid wages equal to those of part-time male workers.

With Rotary Clubs’ generous support, growing its own community’s future is becoming reality in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

It’s a future they can direct themselves and multiply like seed from a harvest.

This project definitely took a village to launch – an American village. So many contributed to raising funds for a $142,000 grant. We send huge THANKS to all.

  • 19 contributing Rotary Clubs – with special thanks to grant sponsor, the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor and supporting club, Wilmington, NC Rotary Club
  • Rotary Districts 6380 and 7730
  • Rotary International Foundation
  • Fifty-five Sherbro Foundation donors – thank you!
  • Other private individual donors

How an Orchard Grows From a Swamp

“Grow vegetables in a swamp.”

That was the advice from our Sierra Leone partner CCET’s new agriculture manager. After one meeting, I quickly saw this was the voice of experience. Practical experience.

Ibrahim Rogers listened closely to our plan for expanding CCET’s Orchards for Education Program from 30 to 45 acres in 2019.

20190119_183930 (3)Our goal is for the orchards to produce annual income to run CCET’s education programs. In the meantime, we need annual crops to fund orchard operations until fruit trees mature and begin producing a few years from now.

“Vegetables will bring the most money in the shortest time,” Mr. Rogers said. “If you have water you can grow most anything and produce two and three crops a year.”

Mr. Rogers came to us from the Ministry of Agriculture in Moyamba District with more than 25 years of experience.

He’s a man who likes to be in the field. He’s passionate about growing things and using organic methods. We were soon talking about making our own compost (a four foot pit was quickly dug), and using neem as a natural pesticide. All music to my life-long gardener’s ears.

But first we had to prepare our Inland Valley Swamp, or IVS, and start vegetables. The growing season was in full swing when I was there in January – February, so we jumped in. With Mr. Rogers’ direction, the project broke ground on January 29, and in three days, the transformation was amazing.

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker, CCET board chairman, above left, stands in front of a three acre rice field with last year’s cut-back stalks.  Three days later, it was transformed into a sea of raised beds. Our Inland Valley Swamp was half the size of a football field and not yet finished.

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Thirty village men came, bringing mammoth hoes used make these raised beds. In an area with no mechanized farming, it’s an annual routine to manually turn over every field and the remains of the previous season’s harvest. They cut a swath of decaying plants with the hoe’s edge; then lift and pile it in front of them, making raised beds as they go.

Water pooled in the trenches they left. Even as the dry season progresses, the water table in the swamp is high and the beds stay moist. Later, a berm will surround the field and a small dam built to control the flow of water.

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This isn’t a stagnant swamp. It’s the flood plain of the small river snaking through Rotifunk that later enters the Bumpeh River. It’s black soil, fertile with silt carried as the river swells and floods in the rainy season. It’s further enriched by turning over the remains of many rice crops – all composting in place.

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I smiled to see men using their big hoes as stools to sit on while eating on break.

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This rural area is strictly a cash economy, and the people illiterate. Almost none of the workers can sign their names.

To keep project payment records, men “sign” to receive their wages at the worksite with thumbprints.

 

Now it was the women’s turn to take over. One of our standing objectives is to create employment for women in Bumpeh Chiefdom, especially for illiterate, unskilled women with no prospects for wage-earning jobs. 

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Women are the traditional vegetable growers. With patience and an eye for details, they’re the ones to transplant and care for tender young vegetable seedlings. Twenty women were brought in for the IVS project.

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First, they worked compost into the beds in circular “pots” to receive seedlings. We started with peppers, a high yielding and profitable vegetable crop. Mr. Rogers had the women transplant young pepper seedlings at 4 pm in the afternoon to avoid the hot sun. They watered in each seedling from buckets of water collected at shallow pit wells that quickly fill up in this swampy field.

20190211_170919 (2)The women were happy to receive wages for their labor.

When they came to collect their pay, they were overheard laughing, “We never went to school, and now we’re being paid, like government workers.”

It’s hard to fathom that in 2019, Sierra Leone is a country where rural areas still have almost no wage-paying jobs.

 

Peppers 3-6-19 (2)

Women will continue to water and weed the Inland Valley Swamp, and then harvest the vegetables. Okra and onions have now been added. Peppers and okra can be picked more than once from the same plant. Next year, we’ll start earlier and harvest at least two crops.

By May, the first rains start. One hundred thirty inches of monsoon rain will fall here between June and November, beating down and washing out the raised beds just made. That’s the rice growing time, and the IVS will revert to a rice swamp again.

Come December, it will be time to prepare new raised beds again for vegetable growing. That’s the cycle of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom.

And now, the cycle of growing an orchard from a swamp has begun. Combined, the long term income to educate Bumpeh Chiefdom children is also on its way.

— Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

 

 

Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

Why 2017 was such a great year – in pictures

2017 was a banner year for our projects in Sierra Leone. Our hats off once again to our local Sierra Leone partner, CCET-SL, for all their work making this happen. Here’s what made the year so great – in pictures.     —– Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

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January:  Five years in the making, CCET-SL’s new Education & Computer Center was open and buzzing with activity. Three levels of Adult Literacy classes filled the main hall, followed by evening computer training. My favorite group is first level literacy, or the ABC group, where women start by learning the alphabet and how to add. One typical student, Jeriatu, thinks she’s about 35 and is the mother of 12 children, one on her back in class. She grows peanuts and wants to be literate to improve her small business, by counting change correctly and figuring her profit.

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February: Visiting small villages participating in our projects, like Village Orchards, is always a trip highlight. Villages have received hundreds of fruit tree seedlings to plant as community orchards. Income will go to children’s education and development projects. I asked Nyandahun village chief, Madam Bendu, above left, how her village would use income from their village orchard. She immediately said, we’ll send our children to school.

vlcsnap-error358 (2)March – We started our 3rd group of Women Vegetable Growers, where another 75 women can double their incomes in a few months growing peanuts and vegetables. Emma, above, was in last year’s program. She tells me and Paramount Chief Caulker that with her peanut harvest she paid her children’s school fees and didn’t have to take out a high interest loan. She kept some peanuts as seed to plant this year, too. A success for her, and one of our most successful projects.

Roponga orchard planting groundnuts 5-11-17 8 (4)

April – With a global Rotary Club grant, CCET-SL developed a 15 acre “baby orchard” that will fund children’s education savings accounts. Seven Rotary clubs led by the Ann Arbor club joined the Rotary International Foundation and a Rotary District in a grant that paid to clear overgrown bush and plant over 1100 fruit trees. CCET-SL raised all trees locally from seed, including 450 coconuts and 480 citrus. While the trees mature, annual crops of rice, peanuts, corn and couscous were inter-planted, producing income to pay workers. The $49,500 grant paid for the orchard and several other projects.

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May –  SFSL won a $12,235 Procter & Gamble Alumni grant, enabling CCET-SL to complete equipping their Education & Computer Center. The Center’s first color printer arrived in May, giving CCET-SL an income generating service with the only public color document and photo printing within a 2-3 hour drive. Students can now get computer training on 17 new laptop computers up-to-date with Windows 10 also funded by the grant.

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June – JulyCCET-SL updated their chiefdom Birth Registration program that records newborn babies at the small village level. Government registrars can’t reach rural areas, jeopardizing children’s proof of citizenship and birthrights to family land, medical care and other services. The Rotary grant funded training for new chiefdom birth recorders and bicycles to cover their assigned villages. CCET-SL grows their own fruit trees from seed, and gives newborn parents three fruit trees to raise for their child’s welfare and education. The mothers above collected their fruit trees with their babies carried on their backs. See the little feet around their waists.

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AugustA second group of Women Vegetable Growers got the opportunity to raise peanuts as a cash crop. Subsistence farmers, they use most everything they normally grow to feed their families and barter locally for other needs. They can’t afford a $30 bale of peanut seed to expand their farms and earn more money. This group of 85 women was funded under the Rotary Club grant. They happily line up above with Rosaline Kaimbay of CCET-SL, right, to collect peanut seed, a drying tarp and 100 lb. of rice to feed families before their harvest – worth $80 in all. Within five months they’ll be harvesting. We’ve reached 300 women to date.

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September460 girls returned to school with school fee scholarships from Sherbro Foundation. A $17 scholarship keeps them in school for a full year, avoiding early marriage and early pregnancy – and makes for brighter, more productive futures for every year of education they get. Compassionate donors funded uniforms for all 120 senior high and 290 junior high girls, as well. For the first time, 100 girls can study at night with solar study lanterns, and we awarded the first college scholarship. It’s very impressive. I’ve never seen any organization giving so many awards and paying for so many things,” said Alice Conteh Morgan, managing director of Reliance Insurance Co. in Freetown and Rotifunk native. Above, she presents scholarship awards to Bumpeh Academy principal Rashid Conteh.

 

Octoberrice planted in the Baby Orchard was ready to harvest by October. The orchard is really a working plantation with supplies, tree seedlings and acres of harvests to be transported throughout the year. Now a necessity, the SFSL Board made the gift of a used truck, one built to withstand unpaved rural roads. The rice had to be threshed by hand by beating the sheaves to loosen rice grains – using the chief’s palaver house, above, as a workspace. Year by year we’ll make improvements as we can pay for them.

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November – Reliable power for CCET-SL’s Center had become a major problem, interrupting classes and jeopardizing income generating services like printing that fund the center operations. Our prayers were answered when the Beaman Family funded a complete 6000 Watt solar power system for the Center.  Printing, charging computers and evening classes and meeting space are now available whenever needed. Thank you, Beaman Family!

IMG_2190December – Planning for 2018 is underway. CCET-SL’s Tree Nursery is central to several projects. 12,000 tree seedlings, all started this year from seed, are nearing transplanting stage. They’ll go to planting the next baby orchard, supplying “baby trees” for 2018’s newborns and their parents, and for sale to generate income to keep propagating more trees. 2018 will also be the start of a new local forest reserve system, a first of its kind at the chiefdom level to protect mature forests and sources of village drinking water.

So how do you grow a coconut?

How do you grow a coconut? What’s the seed?

vlcsnap-error366As a biologist myself, I had to stop and think, it’s the same as with any other fruit. In nature fruit drops from a tree and will start growing where it falls.

That’s true for coconuts, too. In a fertile place, they will grow where they fall –  shell, husk and all.

IMG_1988Bumpeh Chiefdom is lowland tropical rainforest, perfect for growing coconuts.  The Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET) is growing them commercially by the hundreds in a coconut nursery.

Coconut seedlings will go to their own nonprofit project orchards and some to sell to private growers. Private sales help pay for ongoing nursery operation and fund growing all the fruit trees they raise for village orchards and baby orchards.

vlcsnap-error787 (2) Coconuts, shell and all, are planted about a third of the way into loose soil and covered with straw mulch.

Two or three months later, they’re sprouting. By six months, they are ready to transplant.

A mature coconut tree will fetch $30 in fruit income. And CCET just planted 450 of these in the new Baby Orchard!

IMG_1993CCET’s nursery manager, Pa Willie, grows project coconuts in a protected nursery to keep thieves from stealing them. It’s a fenced in and locked pen right behind his house he keeps an eye on.

Pa Willie developed his growing skills when he worked for a Liberian rubber plantation  near the border with Sierra Leone before the rebel war. He had to flee for his life with only the shirt on his back when rebels infiltrated the plantation. Thankfully today. he can tend to the nursery from the peace of his own backyard.

Trivia question – where did the rubber for making tires come from when Henry Ford started making cars a hundred years ago, and before the days of petroleum based synthetic rubber? Ford funded plantations in Liberia growing natural rubber trees. Some are still growing today.

 

 

 

Starting an orchard the traditional African way

Starting a new 15-acre orchard is big job anywhere. Starting an orchard this size the traditional way– reclaiming overgrown tropical bush with only manual labor — is huge.

The first priority for the Rotary grant is planting a new 15-acre “Baby Orchard.” This forward-thinking project will ensure Bumpeh Chiefdom children go to secondary school for years to come, with orchard income funding newborn baby education savings accounts. Hence the name, Baby Orchard.

IMG_2412.JPGWork is underway and on a tight schedule, as the annual rains started in May. Here’s the step by step process.

First, suitable land was acquired in February. You can’t purchase and own land outright in Sierra Leone. It belongs collectively to the people of a chiefdom. You get rights to rent land from the family who has traditional rights to using it.

Paramount Chief Caulker, left blue shirt, negotiated the land for the new orchard shown here from a family in the tiny village of Roponga, just outside Rotifunk.

It will be easily accessible and serve as a demonstration orchard for visitors. Chief said this extended family did a lot of work for his father fifty years ago. They’ll now be rewarded with rental income for the land and jobs working in the orchard for years to come.

The Roponga orchard land has been part of shifting agriculture, where land is farmed for two or three years, then left fallow when fertility drops. This land hasn’t been used for some years, and is considered “strong bush.” To not waste its fertility and to produce short-term income, annual crops of rice and peanuts were inter-planted with fruit trees seedlings.  With fruit trees spaced 25-30 feet apart for their eventual mature size, there’s plenty of room to raise other crops between them.

March 14 first Roponga clearing     vlcsnap-error685

The land was first manually “brushed” in March, the dry season. Dozens of men spent two weeks cutting back all the small trees, bushes and weeds they could with machetes. A guy with a chain saw followed, cutting down medium-sized trees. All was left to dry for 4 weeks.

Burning Mar 30 '17With no mechanized equipment to clear the land, it must be burned. This land dried well for a “good burn” in April. If farmers brush too late, or rain comes too early, they are not so lucky.

Chief sighed on the phone when I said people here will object to burning. “We’d be here for the rest of the year with a small army trying to remove all the trees and brush from 15 acres if we couldn’t burn,” he said. At least, for an orchard, it will only be burned once. Fruit trees once planted will be maintained for the next 25 years or more.

Mar 22 Mike's Orchard water well project 2A well was dug in April to reach the lowest dry season water level.  If you dig after the rains start, you won’t get deep enough, and will run out of water come next dry season. This well was dug by hand 7 or 8 meters deep — over 20 feet. A guy is down in the hole filling buckets with dirt and stones hoisted up with a chain over the strong bamboo frame. The well will be lined with concrete so it won’t collapse, and a hand pump installed to keep young tree seedlings watered during coming dry seasons.

IMG-20170430-WA0002Men cleared the orchard land again, using a chain saw to cut remaining small trees and tree limbs that didn’t burn.

Roponga orchard making charcoal 5-11-17Little goes to waste in Bumpeh Chiefdom. To make extra income for the orchard, these cut trees were collected to make charcoal. It’s an in-demand product in a country where the great majority of people still cook outside on wood or charcoal, even in cities. They produced 1,000 bags of charcoal that will offset costs to start the orchard.

Roponga orchard planting groundnuts 5-11-17 7 (2)

By mid-May, the orchard was finally ready to plant. Five acres of peanuts and five acres of rice were planted. This is back- breaking work, where the now bare soil is broken with small hand hoes. Peanut seed held in makeshift waist pouches is dropped in the soil and covered again as they go.

Planting rice May 24, '17 (2)

Upland rice followed, planted the same way.  The yield is less than rice planted in swamp water, but grows nonetheless in the area’s heavy monsoon rains peaking in July – August.

Within ten days, the peanuts and rice were germinating.  In five months, they’ll be ready to harvest.

june-14-4-2.jpgJune is tree planting time and coconut and fruit tree seedlings went in. 450 coconuts and 700 citrus and guava raised by the project from seed were planted.

The land is “pegged” with posts driven into the ground every 25 – 30 feet to space trees for their future mature canopies.

This is lowland tropical rainforest, where coconuts grow at their best. Within 5 years, they’ll be producing a bounty of coconuts.

L-R, Chief Caulker, CCET Managing Director Rosaline Kaimbay, Stalin Caulker and Kalilu Sannoh admire one of 450 coconuts just planted.

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Trees raised from seed in the nearby project tree nursery. Chief Caulker, above, stands among 5,000 orange seedlings planted for next year. Other trees like cashew and avocado will be added to the orchard, as well as banana and plantain.

Guava is like a large bush and fast growing. It will be producing fruit within 18 months of planting, and fruits twice a year. Banana and plantain will produce a year after planting, and keep sending out offshoots for year-round fruit. More short term income for the project.

Chief Caulker plans to use the program for demonstration, showing visitors how they, too, can start low-cost community-led projects. And grow their own way to a new future.

 

 

 

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Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Growing a Community’s Future benefits thousands

Many will directly benefit from Growing a Community’s Future within the two-year Rotary grant period. But the real beauty of the program is its long-term and enduring benefits. It’s designed to enable the chiefdom to use its own resources and capabilities to grow a self-reliant future.

More than 3,000 people will be positively impacted through the Rotary Global Grant. The project will continue to generate results for years to come and improve many more lives.

In a chiefdom now 70% illiterate, educating children and moving to literacy is a major goal underpinning the entire project.

Roponga pegging orchard 6-13-17 (3)A Baby Orchard will fund newborn education savings accounts for 500 children annually. These accounts will grow to pay secondary school educations.

A variety of 1,200 fruit trees is being planted on 15 acres. In five years, the orchard will produce sustainable income, all going towards educating children.  Short-term crops — peanuts, rice and bananas — are also being planted for annual income while trees mature.

The orchard will keep producing fruit income for 20 years and more.

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Village Orchards
  Three villages averaging 300 people each, 900 people total, will grow commercial size community orchards.

These orchards will make villages self-reliant in funding their children’s educations and development projects that improve their quality of life. They can dig wells for clean drinking water, improve roads, build primary schools, etc. Orchards can in five years produce $12,000 in annual income year after year.

IMG-20170402-WA0001Women’s Vegetable Growing 170 women can double their incomes growing peanuts in 2017-18 and take steps to becoming small commercial growers. With families averaging five members, 850 people will be positively impacted with expanded income.

Women like Emma Sesay, in last year’s program, was able to stop taking high-interest loans to send her children to school and save seed to grow more peanuts this year.

IMG_2192Job Creation The grant creates 14 full-time jobs maintaining two baby orchards, a tree nursery and supervising all agriculture programs. These are the only wage- paying jobs in subsistence agriculture villages. With families of at least five, 70 lives will be significantly improved with steady income year round.

To sustain these jobs, orchards are growing short-term crops like rice, peanuts and pineapples for annual income. The tree nursery grows more than 15,000 fruit tree seedlings each year and sells some to private farmers to pay workers and grow next year’s seedlings.

DSC04587Birth Registration About 1,200 newborns will have their births registered each year and receive chiefdom affidavits.

This ensures their access to government services for documented citizens, including immunizations and free health care for children under five. It also provides chiefdom birthrights, like access to land. Outside of government hospitals in a few cities, there’s no other system to register births.

In addition, the program gives newborn parents three fruit tree seedlings to grow for income to fund their child’s education. The popular program renews an old tradition with a new goal, teaching parents they can save for their child’s future.

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Chiefdom Forest Reserves Seven forest reserves will be created ensuring chiefdom natural resources of land, drinking water and wildlife are protected today and flourish for future generations.

These will be the first locally protected reserves created in the country. Eventually 23 forest reserves will be created and protected through chiefdom by-laws.

Villages throughout the chiefdom will benefit from streams that maintain clean water and don’t dry up in the dry season, wildlife stock that expands and hardwood trees with economic value protected for future generations.

CCET also recognizes by planting and protecting trees – large tropical trees – they are doing their part to reduce global warming and fight climate change.

 

 

 

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Breaking the cycle of poverty takes only peanuts

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes only peanuts

Emma Sesay used to take out a loan at a high interest rate to send her children to school. Emma is the mother of six children. Six survive of the eight she gave birth to. Getting six children through school is tough for a poor rice farmer in Mobainda village.

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Arlene Golembiewski, SFSL, Emma Sesay, Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Charles Caulker

Emma was part of Sherbro Foundation’s Women’s Vegetable Growing project last year that helped her grow peanuts. Asked how the project helped her, she said, “I usually need to take loans. I no longer need a loan at high interest to pay for my children to go to school. I sold my peanuts when I needed to pay the school fees.”

Sherbro Foundation just funded a third group of women vegetable growers for the spring 2017 growing season with money raised in our year-end fundraising.

Rice farming is traditional in Mobainda village. It’s a labor intensive, taking 10 months of back breaking toil, but you make little money.

Rice farmers are often forced to take a loan from a local lender at interest rates of 50% and more to send their children to school. These informal village lenders can charge this much because villagers usually have no other option for a loan.

Lenders collect as soon as a farmer harvests. To pay off the loan, farmers are forced to sell their rice at low prices when the market is flooded with lots of other newly harvested rice.

The family then eats what’s left of the rice harvest as their staple food in the coming months, leaving little to nothing as seed for the next crop. They often run out of rice before the next harvest. It’s called the “hungry time.”

Junior high is when most children drop out of school. By this age, eating must take priority over paying for a child to continue in school.

The family may need to take out another loan just to buy rice seed to plant their next crop. And so the cycle of debt and poverty continues.

The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is starting to break this cycle of poverty.

This year’s project again supplied 75 women with 2 bushels of peanut seed, 100 lb. of rice as food before the harvest, and a drying tarp to improve their crop yield. With these supplies worth about $80 each, women are producing income double and triple what they make in rice farming. And they can continue to grow rice and fish in local rivers and streams.

Emma harvested twelve bushels of peanuts from her two bushels of seed last year.  She saved a bushel as seed to plant this year. She is still doing her normal rice farming, so she could wait until the price of peanuts went up after the harvest, and then sold hers to pay her children’s school fees.

Asked how they spent money earned growing peanuts, each woman in the program immediately said, I can pay for my children’s education.

Yata Williams, left, shows the two bushels of peanuts she saved for seed from her ten bushel harvest. She said, “The project helped with many things. It solved our problem of paying school fees. There was money left to buy a market.” Yatta buys things she sells as a small front porch business or neighborhood “market.” Soft drinks, sweets, soap, cigarettes – small luxuries you’d have to travel to a bigger town to buy. The family now has a another income source.

Fula Musu Mansaray, below, in Nyundahun village joined the 2016 project and had a good harvest. She and husband, Musa, also sold peanuts to pay for their children’s education.

L to R, Lupe Bendu, village chief, Fula Musu, Chief Caulker, Musa, Arlene

They are making the most of Fula Musu’s participation in the Women’s Vegetable Growing program. They saved eight bushels of peanut seed from their harvest. They will plant four times as many peanuts in 2017 as she received last year, and grow their small business.

Fula Musa was one of eight women in the project from this small village of 25 houses.

The project will expand to cover another 20 families this spring. So every family in Nyundahun will benefit, a huge economic boost for a tiny village like this.

 

The Women’s Vegetable Growing project is teaching villages they can diversify their farming by adding peanuts and make more money.

Last year was a bad year for growing rice with prolonged drought and grasshoppers eating crops. Families could fall back on their peanut harvest and have some money to spare.

Before the Vegetable Growing project, a $30 bale of peanut seed was out of the reach of these women.

Now, they’re showing what they can do with this small investment and taking their first steps to self-sufficiency. It only took peanuts.