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

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.

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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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