Some 397 farmers drawn from 10 villages in Addax Bioenergy (SL) Limited's project operational areas in the Bombali and Tonkolili districts, northern Sierra Leone, last Thursday graduated from a 30 weeks training on modern farming techniques and simple pest control methods organised by the Addax-supported Farmer Field School (FFS) under the Farmer Development Programme (FDP) initiative of the company. The graduation ceremony, held at Marokie Village in the Malal Mara Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, was graced by a cross-section of Addax's senior management staff including the Deputy Managing Director Jorgen Sandstrom, General Manager John Moult, Health Safety Security Environment (HSSE)Manager Derek Higgo and the new CEO of Oryx Group - the company that owns Addax. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Lovell Thomas, was the keynote speaker.
Chairing the event, Councillor Albert BunduKamara said agriculture is central to every nation's development and that he - as an indigene of Tonkolili District - was delighted to see his people graduating from an invaluable programme after 30 weeks of intensive training. He said the participants were trained in various agricultural skills, including pest control methods, thus urging them to put into good use what they had learnt. "Go back to your various communities and implement what you've learnt," Councillor Kamara encouraged the graduands.
One of the lead trainers, SahrKomba, said the Farmer Development Programme was put together by Addax and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to ensure land lease does not adversely affect the farming activities of communities in the project operational areas. He said participants were trained on skills that would enable them produce better crops thereby recording high yield.
"Participants were carefully selected to ensure every household is represented in the programme," said Mr.Komba. "The Farmer Field School is a school without laws where farmers freely interact and learn new skills. Here, farmers do all their practical work; they observe their work in what in agriculture we refer to as 'agro-ecological farming system' where the farmer observes the whole ecosystem of the crop and then report his or her observations."
The farmers were also trained on how to address a large audience with every participant given an opportunity to make a presentation to the rest of the class, Komba added. General Manager of Addax, John Moult, said he was gratified to have seen a large number of women being part of the training and encouraged them to use the knowledge acquired for their protection and in the interest of themselves and their families.
Moult voiced the need for farmers to move away from subsistence farming to that of commercialisation as required by the government. "With education, the future is in your hands because the knowledge you've acquired can earn you money," he noted. Deputy Managing Director of Addax, Jorgen Sandstrom, said the company was proud to see many women participants, noting that it was over five years since Addax started operating in the Tonkolili District and three years since the initiation of the Farmer Development Programme.
"Now we can see real change in the communities," observed the Addax Deputy MD. "The FDP is in line with the government of Sierra Leone's strategy for agricultural development in the country. Government and Addax recognise that agriculture has to develop, with more nutritional value than before. This is what the FDP strives to achieve." According to Mr.Sandstrom, the FDP is very challenging and requires a new approach from all stakeholders involved so that it would help increase incomes, foods and livelihoods. "The FDP is a very big commitment by Addax and we take it seriously," Sandstrom noted, adding that 19,000 people are directly involved in the FDP, with more than 2,000 hectares of land cultivated.He said in 2012, some 88,000 bushels of rice were harvested; a feat he said will help achieve food security in their operational communities.
However, on a sad note, Sandstrom lamented the stealing of the company's property, a development he said has been brought to the attention of President Ernest Bai Koroma. He informed his audience that the president has consented to personally address the communities on the issue so as to find a way of nipping the menace in the bud. He pleaded with the community people to help secure the company's property by reporting any suspected case of theft. Social and Farmer Development Programme Manager, Clive English, said the programme was dealing with 34 villages in 2012, but that more villages have now come on-board, bringing the number to 42. "Out of this number, 20 villages will drop-off as this is their last year," he said.
This year, according to English, they will be costing their services, noting that despite the numerous problems encountered, 2013 appears to be the best FDP year. Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Lovell Thomas, said he was delighted to once again witness another FDP graduation, the third since the inception of the programme. However, the deputy minister was saddened to have learnt about the theft of Addax property and pleaded with the people to assist the company in safeguarding its property.
Mr. Thomas further admonished the farmers not to eat all their harvest but to always spare some seeds for the next planting season. "After graduation, we want to see you work in your own farms," he said. "Follow strictly what you have been taught at the Farmer Field School." He informed the congregation that a total of 193 Agricultural Business Centers (ABCs) have been set up across Sierra Leone, and that the time is now for the Malal Mara Chiefdom to have an ABC but only if the farmers can organise themselves well. "Remember that knowledge acquired but not put into practice is useless," he admonished. The distribution of certificates to the trainees formed the highpoint of the ceremony.