Orchards for Education Grow by Leaps and Bounds

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!

 

Who Said This Isn’t Women’s Work

Zainab is now a Bumpeh Chiefdom truck driver. You won’t see another woman driving a truck in the chiefdom, and I doubt anywhere in Moyamba district or most of Sierra Leone’s rural districts.

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It’s a mini truck, but a vital part of our partner CCET-SL’s Orchards for Education project, carrying loads and workers from project fields to town in Rotifunk. Importantly, it’s a full time wage-paying job – another rarity in the chiefdom for man or woman.

Orchards for Education will create income for chiefdom children’s education. Another objective is to create local employment, with women hired wherever possible. When a truck driver was needed, the project’s response was, who said this isn’t women’s work?

IMG-20191025-WA0025 (2) The mini-truck, locally called a keke, is an easy and economical way to carry small loads the short distance from the project fields back into town. Here it’s being loaded with newly harvested rice sheaves.

Zainab was one of the first woman seasonal workers hired at the new vegetable growing swamp project, or IVS. Vegetables or rice are being grown year-round for income to operate the orchards before fruit trees mature and bear fruit

While at the IVS, Zainab did well, taking responsibility and showing initiative. She was the women workers leader, responsible for sharing work assignments with the other women. She was good at monitoring them to ensure that work was done effectively and efficiently. And, she voluntarily sold the IVS produce at the weekly market.

Paramount Chief Caulker is a strong women’s advocate. When the project bought the mini-truck, locally called a keke, he said hire a woman driver. Zainab was the clear choice for the vehicle, a motorcycle pulling a small flat-bed.

IMG-20191025-WA0024 (2)Loaded with rice and workers, Zainab carries all back from the fields to town.

Zainab had never driven any vehicle, motorcycle or otherwise. She started her training on a regular motorcycle a week before the keke’s arrival. She quickly moved on to the keke. Last week the keys were handed over to her and she is now the project’s first full-time female worker.

Who said women can’t drive a truck? Zainab showed they can. After the rice harvest, she’ll be carrying a water tank on the keke around the orchard keeping young fruit tree seedlings watered throughout the coming dry season.

 

$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.

The Rotary Club of Ann Arbor worked collaboratively with Sherbro Foundation to secure the grant. Administered by the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation, CCET, it funds community-led agriculture projects designed to create income for children’s education and resident medical care, and to 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 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.

 

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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.

MVI_2603_Moment   IMG_2532

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.

Growing Fruit Orchards for Peanuts

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.

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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.

IMG_0144 - Copy.JPGSeedlings 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.

img_2646Here’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.

img-20151010-wa0004They 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.

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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.

 

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Trees are carried to the orchard site by available transportation – back of a motorcycle or by boat.

avocado-orchardOrchard 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. mikes-orchard-2-june-16-copy

 

 

 

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.

coconut-orchard

 

 

 

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.

img_0452Villages 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – Making millionaires out of peanuts

Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – Making millionaires out of peanuts

Seventy five women farmers have a chance to become Sierra Leone millionaires. Sherbro Foundation just funded a new group of 75 women to grow groundnuts (we call them peanuts) in the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project – one of our most successful projects to date.

 I can still vividly remember last November when I approached Mobainda village to visit the first women’s project. Women had gathered and filled the narrow dirt road. The car stopped, so I got out to see what was happening. The women began singing and dancing around me. They had come out to honor me and escort me into their village — the traditional way of the women’s society.

No words, no speeches. They just surrounded me with their harmonized singing and drumming on hand-made drums, and slowly moved towards the village.  So, I moved with them, their singing filling the air for the last quarter mile.

They were thanking me – thanking Sherbro Foundation – for helping them plant peanuts in April 2015, right as the Ebola crisis was lifting. These are women who normally live on the slimmest of margins, earning an average of less than $1 a day. They couldn’t even earn that during Ebola, when much farming stopped and markets for selling their produce closed for over four months.

“The Women’s Vegetable Project is one of the most successful projects introduced in my chiefdom,Paramount Chief Caulker said.

Veg - Groundnut harvesting3It was conceived as a way to quickly help women earn income again. We started small with 30 women, supplying each with enough peanut seed for a half-acre garden and other vegetable seed like cucumbers and corn. They also got a 50Kg (100-pound) bag of rice to feed their families before their harvest.

Leave it to women to make the best use possible of resources they were given. Most women grew a bumper crop of peanuts in four short months, harvesting 6-7 bags of peanuts for each bag of seed they received.

We jokingly said we were making millionaires out of peanuts. A large bag of peanuts went for 160,000 leones. So, 7 bags are worth over a million leones. Or about US$200.

TIMG_0211hat may not sound like much, but it was three times more than the women would make in cash in a whole year of traditional rice farming, an incredibly labor intensive crop. And they still had the rest of the year to grow rice and do fishing in the Bumpeh River.

Leave it to these women to be grateful for this help. In these small, close-knit villages of 200-300 people, the women wanted to help other women do what they just did. They came up with the idea of each donating back a half-bag of groundnut seed for the next group to plant. They showed me their donated seed, left.

A local survey found 450 more women in this area of eight villages want to be part of the program. This part of Bumpeh Chiefdom was selected because it has the largest concentration of active women farmers. They were the most severely affected when Ebola abruptly curtailed their normal farming.

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Executive Director Rosaline Kaimbay, right, of CCET, our partner organization, distributes seed and supplies to the May 2016 group of women farmers, holding white drying tarps they received on their heads. We bought any seed locally available, saving transport cost for both buyer and sellers.

So, the program is expanding to 150 women per year in two groups of 75 women each in the spring and fall.  The program is meant to be a stopgap measure to help women farmers get back on their feet after Ebola. It will continue for three years and cover all 450 interested women. The women draw lots to select who will be in each group.

Veg - drying groundnutsThe 2014-15 farming year was exceptionally hard with Ebola. The first group of women peanut farmers unfortunately didn’t become self-sufficient with just one peanut crop in 2015. They were forced to eat a large part of their first peanut harvest to avoid hunger. But this allowed them to save some of the previous year’s rice as seed to grow their next rice crop. We’re giving these first 30 women partial support again in the current project to ensure they can make enough profit in 2016 to go from there.

This year we are also giving each woman a large tarpaulin to safely dry their harvest of groundnuts (or peppers) and avoid losses due to rotting.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit when I can join the women and again celebrate their success. I learned the song the women sang for me last November loosely translated said: “If you wake up in the morning and just work hard, you will succeed.”

And succeed these hard-working women did. In only five months after my first long-distance phone call that conceived the project, the women were harvesting a bumper crop. Their success became our success. And now we’re expanding to help more women succeed.

Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

Paramount Chief Caulker’s Message to the US

Paramount Chief Caulker’s Message to the US

Paramount Chief Charles Caulker brought a focused message on his first visit to America this month:

Sierra Leone has no social safety net for its children — not even ensuring they can go to school. So, he is creating his own.

He’s doing it using the only resources his chiefdom has, the natural ones of land, water and sun.

20160406_191637 - CopyDuring an April 6 public program Sherbro Foundation hosted in Cincinnati, Chief Caulker told the rapt gathering about the stark realities of life in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Conditions actually have worsened in the last 20 years. The partial recovery following a brutal 11-year rebel war was dealt a big setback with the recent Ebola epidemic. People are struggling to feed their families.

When Paramount Chief Caulker took the podium in his flowing embroidered blue robe, you knew this man didn’t just have the title of paramount chief. He’s clearly a leader with presence that commands your attention. Maybe it’s his 32 years as paramount chief of Bumpeh Chiefdom, where he’s the second-longest serving traditional ruler in Sierra Leone. And his leadership as the chairman of the National Council of all 149 paramount chiefs in Sierra Leone. And his 40 years of experience in various senior government roles.

Chief Caulker’s darkly intense eyes have seen much sadness in those 32 years as chief. But his face lit up as he told the April 6th group he brings them a traditional African greeting, addressing them as “my dear friends.”

Chief Caulker with village children.

Chief Caulker and village children.

His face also lights up when he talks about the children of Bumpeh Chiefdom. Protecting children and striving to give them a better life has become his life’s work. A better life starts with education, and Chief Caulker spoke of how widespread illiteracy in his rural chiefdom weighs on him.

Only 40% of children there attend poorly equipped primary schools. Many drop out before secondary school, which only exist in the main town of Rotifunk. Most families live in small villages miles away.

Distance and cost (just $US30 a year for school fees!) are insurmountable roadblocks for most families.

For 20 years, this remote area waited for government and foreign nonprofit organizations (NGOs) to bring aid that never came. The chiefdom of 40,000 must take charge of its own development, Chief Caulker said, and find sustainable “roots” for education.

“We set a goal that, in 12 years, every baby born [in my chiefdom] will have access to secondary school education.”

Mother bring her baby to register education savings account.

Mother brings her baby to open education savings account.

“To do this, we are opening education savings accounts for each newborn baby. To date, we have opened 2,000 baby accounts,” Chief said.

How? By helping his villages raise fruit trees. He has an innovative program for expanding their subsistence agricultural tradition into profitable local businesses.

Fruit trees are raised from seed and given to rural villages to plant in community orchards. The orchards will produce income for their children’s education for years to come. And they’ll also fund village development projects like digging wells and building roads, primary schools and health clinics.

Chief Caulker said the program is becoming a model for community-led development in Sierra Leone. “We have accomplished big things in a short time under difficult circumstances,” he said. “We are confident about building a prosperous future as we fight to break barriers to development.”

Bumpeh Chiefdom’s program has grown in two and a half years to include two tree nurseries that have raised over 40,000 fruit tree seedlings — with seed from local fruit. Six villages have planted 15,000 trees in their community orchards. Families of newborn babies have been given over 4,000 seedlings to raise in their backyard gardens. Some seedlings are being sold to private farmers to raise funds to expand the program. And 2,000 babies have their education savings accounts. Ebola delayed but did not derail the program.

Chief Caulker has plans to cover the chiefdom with fruit orchards that will support new fruit-based cottage industries and create wage-paying jobs. He intends to transfer his knowledge to help other chiefdoms start their own self-sustaining programs.

Chief Caulker ended his presentation saying, “We are also confident that you’ll be by us since we share a common aspiration to serve mankind.” Read the full text of his speech here: April 6 PC Caulker – Cincinnati

Sherbro Foundation assists Bumpeh Chiefdom in their goal of giving every child access to education with our “Growing a Baby’s Future” program. We funded the first fruit tree nursery and helped the chiefdom create their own birth registration system, as no government system exists for rural areas. We’ve funded 1,200 of the newborn education savings accounts to date.

You can also “grow a baby’s future” by donating here. For $20, Sherbro Foundation will:
• Open a newborn baby’s education savings account
• Give families three fruit trees of their own to help fund their baby’s education savings.
• Help families secure their baby’s birth certificate.

100% of donations to Sherbro Foundation go directly to fund Bumpeh Chiefdom programs. We pay our own administration costs. Chief Caulker’s US trip was privately funded and with accommodations from family and friends.

Concept to Harvest in 5 Months –  the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project

Concept to Harvest in 5 Months – the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project

Just shy of five months from our first March phone call on the Bumpeh Chiefdom Women’s Vegetable Growing Project, women are harvesting their first crops.

I got the pictures of the peanut harvest Sunday.  It’s a good crop, Mrs. Kaimbay told me. She leads our partner organization, the Center for Community Empowerment & Transformation (CCET), who organized and started this first time project.

She and local teachers Mr. Sonnah and Mr. Phoday got the vegetable project started in April – at the same time they were restarting school that had been closed for nine months because of Ebola.

Veg - Groundnut harvesting3

Now in late July, these women in the project’s first group of farmers were harvesting their groundnuts. The corn in the background will be ready soon, together with okra and cucumbers.

It was only in early March that I first asked, what can Sherbro Foundation do to help people whose incomes were slashed during the Ebola crisis.  Help women farmers start fast growing cash crops was the answer. Peanuts and vegetables.

Veg - grountnut harvesting 2What we call peanuts are groundnuts in Africa. That’s because they grow in the ground. They’re actually legumes, not nuts. They’re an important source of protein in the African diet, commonly ground into a paste for soups and stews.
Or eaten straight up, after roasting in a pan. Groundnuts are also enjoyed boiled in the shell.

Veg - groundnuts growing

Here’s what groundnuts look like when they’re harvested.  They grow as nodules among the roots of the plant. You dig them up like harvesting potatoes. Then spread them out in the sun to dry.


Veg - drying groundnuts

The Women’s Vegetable Growing project will continue to expand and add new groups of farmers. The thirty five women in this first group will donate seed back to the project for the next group of farmers – a bag of groundnuts and a cup of seed from each of their three vegetable crops.

The women will still net at least three to four times our initial investment of $75 in each farmer. They’ll be ready to start their second crops in September themselves, followed by a third crop in their first year.

In the meantime, new groups of women farmers will be given their start.  In the project’s first twelve months, we should be able to have groups of 30+ farmers producing crops six times.

Workshop on erosion control.

Workshop on erosion control.

The women selected for the project are single heads of large households. They get the use of community land set aside in the chiefdom for special projects. They get training on topics like planting and erosion control, and ongoing support.

Importantly, they now know what empowerment feels like. They’re farming themselves and becoming self sufficient.

Sherbro Foundation and our partner CCET take on practical projects that are simple to implement and which quickly benefit the poorest people in the chiefdom.

We don’t wait years to see lives improved while bureaucracy and overhead are created. We do it within months.

Empowering Women Post-Ebola – the Vegetable Growing Project

Empowering Women Post-Ebola – the Vegetable Growing Project

Veg project distribution ceremony I was excited to get the first pictures of the Women’s Vegetable Growing Project that’s just started in Bumpeh Chiefdom. Thirty women farmers are being empowered to grow groundnuts (peanuts) and vegetables that will quickly generate income in post-Ebola Sierra Leone.

Rosaline and veg farmer

CCET Executive Director, Rosaline Kaimbay and vegetable farmer receiving her seed & rice.

The project, designed and led by our local partner, the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation (CCET), will jump start women’s efforts to get back on their feet after Ebola.  “Vulnerable” women were selected who are experienced farmers and low income, most single heads of household. I could recognize some faces among village participants receiving their seed and fertilizer in the distribution ceremony photo.

I still have trouble contemplating people living so close to the edge, they can’t afford $50 to maintain a business that’s their very livelihood. The Ebola crisis slashed small-holder farmer incomes – already tiny – in half. Women farmers were especially hard hit. They tend vegetable gardens requiring less back breaking manual labor, but resulting in smaller incomes. The Ebola epidemic then put the chiefdom under isolation orders, preventing farmers from taking crops to city markets where they can sell more and get higher prices.

Inception The Vegetable project had its inception during a phone call with Bumpeh Chiefdom Paramount Chief Caulker in early March about getting projects back on track. Ebola had sharply declined, but the full economic impact of the epidemic was now clear. I told Chief I couldn’t in good conscience myself, or ask Sherbro Foundation donors to return to our computer literacy project right now when I knew people were hungry.  That could wait.

Mature vegetable garden

Mature vegetable garden

The best way to help short term in his agriculture based chiefdom, Chief Caulker said, was to sponsor a vegetable growing project. You can grow a lot of vegetables like peppers in a small area and harvest in 3-4 months, fetching good prices. Farmers can quickly earn enough to feed their families, and then save seed and money to buy fertilizer themselves for the fall growing season.

The project would have to be started right away to be able to harvest when the heavy monsoon rains peak in August. CCET would run the project, but half its members were not yet in Rotifunk. They’re community teachers who volunteer to run CCET projects. They would return the first of April with the formidable task of first re-opening school closed for nine months by the Ebola epidemic.

I’ve seldom met a more dedicated and community-minded group than the Center for Community Empowerment and Transformation. They keep focused on their vision of empowering the most vulnerable in Bumpeh Chiefdom to become self-sufficient, and they just get to work. Within a month, school reopened and was in full swing, and women in small villages were planting vegetable gardens.

“Felt need assessment” CCET first talked directly with project participants to identify the most viable income generating crops right now. Peppers will earn more, the women said, but only in the dry season when supply is low.

It’s better now with the start of the rainy season, they said, to plant fast growing groundnuts, corn, okra, cucumbers and some pepper. These will bring higher market value in July-August, the peak hunger period when farmers have not yet harvested, and school is starting. Parents face the most economic stress then, striving to feed their farm family, and to pay their children’s school fees in September.

Veg project - women breaking ground2 May 2015Target Participants Thirty women were selected: 25 from  rural villages and five groups of two each from Rotifunk Township. Village women experienced in vegetable production and who are single parents with many children were given priority. In Rotifunk, women in the CCET–run adult education program who are single parents and interested in learning vegetable cultivation were identified.

Getting started CCET bought recently harvested, high quality seed that is more potent and can sprout easily. It’s common to find imported seed in Sierra Leone past its expiration date, with poor yield. To further  motivate participants, each got a 25 Kg (~ 55 lb) bag of rice to help feed their family now.

Veg project women breaking ground 5-15Clearing a field manually is really hard work. It’s typical in slash-and-burn agriculture to fell the biggest trees, and burn the rest of a field for planting. I’ve watched women farming  in Sierra Leone before. But sitting in the comfort my home looking at these pictures of bare foot women breaking ground in a hard, burned-out field with little hand-made hoes pulls at my heart strings. They’re determined to provide for their children and get on with their lives. And they somehow do, by sheer will – and hard labor.

Sustainability To make the project sustainable and continue providing support to other women, participants signed a memorandum of understanding. They will each give back a bushel of harvested ground nut equivalent to 50kg, and a cup each of corn, okra and cucumber seed to be redistributed to the other groups of vulnerable women in successive seasons. It also reinforces the women working together and supporting each other as a community.

CCET has already identified project improvements for the next planting season. They want to keep as much income as possible within the community. Instead of buying imported bags of rice for participants, they will arrange to buy rice from local rice farmers. Likewise, they will procure as much groundnut and vegetable seed as possible from local growers.

I can’t wait to see the next pictures. With the rain starting and growing advice from CCET project managers, these women should be weeding fields green with groundnuts and tall with okra soon.

The need to get Sierra Leone farmers producing again after Ebola is great.  The Women’s Vegetable Growing Program is one we definitely need to expand.  If you’d like to help, please go to Donate.

Arlene Golembiewski
Executive Director

Think your help doesn’t matter? Think again.

Think your help doesn’t matter? Think again.

People often think, how can I, as one person, make a dent in the world’s problems?  Well, I’ve found change starts with one person here making a difference in the life one person somewhere else.

The first step is to get involved. Just take one positive step.  Many small  positive actions add up to real change. That’s what movements are all about.

Not sure what kind of positive action you can take? Sherbro Foundation supports girls’ education and addressing extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.  Here’s a list of actions you can take to help us help the people of Sierra Leone.

Help promote Sherbro Foundation’s work in your personal network

  • Like us on Facebook. Then share a SF news item to your Friends saying you support this work.
  • Like a post on www.sherbrofoundation.org. Send a Comment on why this work is important.
  • If you use Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Stumbleupon, etc. – share a Sherbro Foundation post
  • Speak out: Letter to the Editor or article – your organization newsletter or local media

 Connect us with others that might want to support a project    

  • Advocate for us with: Churches doing mission & outreach work;  School public service projects; Civic & Professional groups funding nonprofit projects; Clubs holding charity Walks & Runs
  • Host a Club program or salon for your circle of friends
  • Investigate your Company’s corporate Foundation for nonprofit projects & how to apply         Employee sponsorship usually needed
  • Find used or in-kind donations for schools and children:
    • Collect used baby clothes
    • School supplies
    • Sports shoes & sports equipment – a big need
    • Educational videos (National Geographic, Planet Earth, etc.), Math tutorials, etc.

Be a Sherbro Foundation Volunteer

  • Write a guest Blog post – why you care about Girls Education or other development issues
  • We can use your skills
    • Advise us on Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising
    • Consult with us on our Website – especially on use of WordPress & SEO
    • Advise us on optimizing use of social media
    • Produce a short video for our website

Donate to Sherbro Foundation projects   www.sherbrofoundation.org/donate/

  • Send a girl to school with a uniform – $30
  • Sponsor a vegetable farmer to get back on her feet with fast growing cash crops – $50 
    • Seed & fertilizer for a half acre vegetable garden + bag of rice to feed family now
  • Give in honor of someone special – birthday, Mother’s Day, memorial, special day
  • Support other projects www.sherbrofoundation.org/about-us/projects/