Solidaridad has trained 250 community extension officers to provide quality extension services to 21,600 cocoa, cashew and coffee farmers in Sierra Leone through a partly virtual and physical classroom approach.
The two-week training, which was offered via the Google Hangouts platform, focused on good nursery practices, transplanting of cocoa and cashew seedlings, and intercropping cash crops with food crops to help bridge the food insecurity gap.
To adhere to the physical distancing protocol and guarantee the safety of the participants, the classrooms were set up in nine different locations across 12 districts, bringing together an average of 28 participants in each centre. The centres were equipped with giant screens, bluetooth speakers, fast internet connectivity, and adequate fuel to power generator sets.
Using the Google Hangouts platform, Solidaridad agronomists facilitated the training from Ghana and Liberia, with support from a cashew consultant who facilitated from Freetown, and supervised by local agronomists in all nine training centres.
"Providing extension support services to vulnerable farmers and their communities have become necessary during this pandemic to ensure farming activities do not stall, hence the use of digital tools by Solidaridad. By this, we will continue to provide critical information to personnel in direct contact with farmers," says Nicholas Jengre, country representative for Solidaridad in Sierra Leone.
The 250 participants were trained on nursery establishment and management, field transplanting and management of established plantations, integrated crop and pest management and climate-smart practices for cocoa, coffee and cashew as part of the first module of the training.
The second module, which focuses on harvesting, post-harvest management, quality enhancement and marketing of cocoa, coffee and cashew, will be conducted in September 2020 as the final phase before graduation of participants.
The trainees who are now equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills have been tasked to establish Farmer Field Schools and carry out frontline extension services to support farmers, to augment Sierra Leone's ministry of agriculture's extension services.
"The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry does not have adequate human capacity to provide extension services to smallholder farmers in the country. We are, therefore, happy that Solidaridad has trained personnel who will equip farmers in dire need of extension services with new knowledge. This will certainly enhance the production of quality cash crops to increase our foreign exchange earnings," says Samking Braima, deputy minister for agriculture and forestry.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the two-week training, Samking says Solidaridad continues to play a critical role in the government's vision of making the agriculture sector the 'engine' to drive the country's socio-economic growth and development. He, therefore, encouraged the participants to utilize the knowledge gained over the period to transform the cocoa, cashew and coffee landscape in Sierra Leone.
As part of the training, the participants went on a mandatory field visit to have hands-on technical training in the field.
"The practical sessions were great; what I was taught virtually, I was able to see it implemented in the field. We have over 1,500 women farmers in my community, and it is now my duty to pass on to them what Solidaridad has taught us. I believe this would improve our yield," says Mimi Pabai, a farmer and a leader of a women's farmer group.
Participants were drawn from 12 districts where Solidaridad is implementing the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP), funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Accra, Ghana and the Boosting Agriculture and Food Security (BAFS) project, funded by the European Union in Sierra Leone.
Aside from the training, Solidaridad has been supporting the government to step up public awareness on COVID-19. In partnership with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, through its District Health Management Teams, Solidaridad has supported the production of relevant information, education, and communication materials for dissemination to over 20,000 farmers in 300 local communities along with COVID-19 radio jingles in the country.