Sustainable Development in Sierra Leone
By Julia Kayser*
March 30, 2012 — In a village called Kakpema, in the Tikonko Chiefdom of Sierra Leone’s Bo District, 20 community members were learning whether or not local alternative pesticides could be as effective as chemical ones.
They experimented for 18 weeks, gathering once a week to measure growth and productivity of plants exposed to one pesticide or the other. Some were excited. Some were skeptical. All of them were outside their comfort zones: the group was composed of both Christian and Muslim community members who rarely interacted. But if it meant their families would eat more, they were willing to try new things.
About 70% of Sierra Leone’s population lives under the poverty line, and more than half of the country’s gross domestic product is from agriculture. Many citizens of Sierra Leone make their living by subsistence farming. This sector is especially vulnerable to poverty and inequality: one bad crop can threaten the health of a whole family.
UMCOR envisions a world free from hunger, but it would be naïve to assume that airlifting nutritional supplements would solve this problem in the long term. UMCOR’s Sustainable Agriculture and Development program addresses some of the root causes of poverty and sows seeds of health. Through education, it aims to minimize farmers’ dependence on outside assistance.
The SA&D program holds training events about Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM), such as the one in Kakpema. It also promotes agro-forestry, cultivation of soy and moringa for household nutrition, livestock husbandry, beekeeping, and business development. It currently serves the people of five countries in Africa, including Sierra Leone, and will expand to three new countries in the next few years.
The model is simple, but effective. First, communities invite UMCOR to partner with them. Then local leaders select participants who demonstrate interest and leadership abilities for an initial training event.
Mozart Adevu, the Africa regional coordinator for UMCOR’s SA&D program, says that he asks each community “to select the first crop of participants very carefully,” because they will become the backbone of each community’s program.
Once they’ve received training, UMCOR asks the participants to help train their neighbors in Farmer Field Schools. These interactive, hands-on workshops make the subject accessible and relevant.
Adevu reports that 80% of initial trainees stay involved with the SA&D program after their training is finished. A handful of the top performers from each community, such as Charles Boyle from Bo District, become “promoters” and travel around the country conducting additional training events. Thus the knowledge spreads exponentially, and improvements are evident.
“Through regular use of moringa, we could eradicate malnutrition,” says Adevu. The success of the SA&D program is a testament to that.
In addition to improving nutrition, education about sustainable agriculture can empower farmers and unify communities. In Kakpema, Adevu says, the training program transformed the Muslim and Christian community members, “who previously never ever worked together,” into a closely knit group of friends.
After the training was completed, he added, “The Muslims helped the Christians put up a chapel in the community.”
To support UMCOR SA&D’s ministry of hope and empowerment, donate to Sustainable Agriculture & Development, UMCOR Advance # 982188 .
*Julia Kayser is a writer and contributor to UMCOR.org.
To support UMCOR SA&D’s ministry of hope and empowerment, donate to Sustainable Agriculture & Development, UMCOR Advance # 982188
Kakpema's United Methodist congregation stands in front of a new chapel built with the help of their Muslim neighbors and fellow farmers.