Farming in Daru, a town in the Kailahun district of Sierra Leone has long been the preserve of the uneducated. But thanks to some teachers and army officers in the community, the status quo is changing. Engaged in oil palm cultivation, the two groups are determined to shape the narrative and to help boost oil palm production in the country.
Solidaridad through its Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP), which seeks to contribute to the transformation of the oil palm sector in West Africa, is supporting the teachers and the army officers with technical expertise on best management practices, as well as improved seedlings for the establishment of oil palm farms.
So far, the programme has supported the two groups with 950 improved oil palm seedlings for planting and provided technical assistance to enhance the optimal cultivation of the commodity.
For the army officers at the Moa Barracks, the arduous task of oil palm cultivation does not intimidate them. They have planted 650 improved seedlings Solidaridad provided them on a 10-acre land and these have been intercropped with rice to help them to be self-sufficient in food.
"The army has the manpower and structures to make this project successful. The soldiers here have also been trained as farmers and thus working on farms is now like any other routine, with daily supervision," says Major Peter Brima Conteh, second in command of the One Infantry Battalion at Moa Barracks.
"The first phase of the project would benefit residents of the barracks, but the goal is for the Armed Forces Agricultural Unit to take over the ownership of the farm. We are confident that this would lead to a food self-sufficient army, reduce the burden on the national consolidated fund and create space for other important developments he says.
Fourteen teachers ofthe Kailahun District Education Committee have established a five-acre oil palm farm with 300 improved oil palm seedlings they received from Solidaridad.
Momson Garmoh, a teacher at Kailahun District Committee Primary School and a beneficiary of the programme, explains that the support will not only benefit him but also the school on whose land the oil palm is being cultivated.
"Palm oil is used largely in our vicinity and forms a key component of the meals prepared for pupils in my school. Once palm oil production begins, it would help reduce the cost of providing nutritious meals to the children under the school feeding programme. This will surely increase enrolment and retention of pupils in our school," says Momson.
He indicates that proceeds from the sale of fresh fruit bunches would be used to rehabilitate the school's building, construct a water facility, and support teachers' welfare.
The Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana, as part of its strategies to support more smallholder oil palm farmers in the district encouraged the formation of farmer groups, of which the teachers and army officers belong. This makes it easier for beneficiaries to receive support from the programme.
"Teachers and army officers are highly regarded and respected in their communities. Having them engaged in the oil palm cultivation would motivate other farmers to also go into oil palm cultivation. The involvement of the teachers is a special boost for the youth to recognize the value of agriculture in the country," says John Maada Sinah, the programme manager for SWAPP at Solidaridad in Sierra Leone.
The second phase of the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme is aimed at scaling up sustainable oil palm production and enhancing the efficiency of mills to process fresh fruit bunches into crude palm oil. Besides Sierra Leone, Solidaridad implements the programme in Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria and Liberia.
The programme is facilitating the establishment and operations of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to provide farm management services, promote investment in efficient palm oil processing mills and build the capacity of farmers to adopt best management practices on their respective farms.
So far, the programme has benefitted 5,225 farmers in 178 communities.