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Harvest time in Sierra Leone: Will there be enough rice?

With a solid stick, Sorie Koroma bashes on what looks like a pile of dried grass. While Sorie continues to bash the dry blades, two women kneel at the edge of the pile. They set aside the dry grass and throw some hands of rice grains in a big thatched bowl. The rice harvest is in full swing, these are busy weeks for Sorie, his wife Mamusu and his mother Yeabu. The harvest time should be a period of happiness, but for the Koroma family the joy is overshadowed by worries.

The 35-year old rice farmer lives in Mecca, a small village in the ‘chiefdom’ Romende. This area is located in the so-called boli’s. The boli’s can be found in the interior of Sierra Leone. It is a fertile area, but it demands effort. During the dry period the soil is hard, during the rainy season the land is flooded. To cultivate the land, it first needs to be ploughed. That is manual labor which delivers some extra income to the young people in the villages. The downside is that the work is hard and only a small part of the fertile land can be cultivated.

The last few months, Sorie has worked on the land. Now it is time to harvest. For Sorie and his wife Mamusu, December is a nice period. There is sufficient food for the family with five children. Yet, their faces show their worries. Is the harvest enough to feed the family for the entire year? The 55-year old mother of Sorie helps to work on the land. Mamusu does her best to earn a little on the side: ‘Sometimes I work on the market to earn some extra money, about 20,000 Leones, about 2 euros.’

Rice farmers in a vicious cycle

Many rice farmers in Sierra Leone are trapped in this vicious cycle. The rice harvest is insufficient to feed the family for the entire year. Middle men offer prepayment and loans to farmers to bridge the months without rice stock. However, prepayments are low and loans come with very high interest rates. Woord en Daad works together with local partner organization CTF and the rice factory Mountain Lion Agriculture to improve the situation of the farmers. We offer trainings, for instance in alternative seeding methods, whereby the yield increases. By providing education on the production of biological fertilizer from waste, the farmers can fertilize their rice fields. Mountain Lion Agriculture buys part of the harvest at a fair price. The factory also offers interest-free loans to bridge the hunger months.

In Sierra Leone, the rice harvest starts in about November and continues up to April. These are the crucial months for Sorie and his family. There is no money to pay for schooling for their children, but maybe the harvest is big enough to live a year without hunger…. ‘I pray that I can give my children a good future,’ says Sorie.

Thanks to the trainings, the farmers see their yields rise. However, in the boli’s there are more gains to be made, because of the fertile land, much of which is not being used for agriculture. At the moment it is the capacity of ploughing the land that determines the size of the rice harvest. The project therefor studies the possibilities of investing in tractors. Mountain Lion Agriculture is interested and will assume the management of the tractors. With the tractors more land can be ploughed and more rice can be cultivated. That offers extra perspective to the farmers.

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