By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Sierra Leone’s Resident Minister East, Andrew Fatorma, has urged local cocoa farmers to put more effort and employ best practice in growing better cocoa so they would earn more money and bring about desired change in their lives, communities and the nation in general; or risk facing divine wrath.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of a 21-days Training of Trainers workshop for Community Facilitators on Cocoa Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICPM) and Farmers Field Schools (FFS) under the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CoRIP) organised by Solidaridad West Africa at Hotel Albertson, Kenema Town, on 29th March, 2019, the Resident Minister warned the participants to go back to their communities and put into effective practice what they have learnt or risk the wrath of God’s sledge hammer.
“You should remember that nobody forced you to come and participate in this training, you opted to be part of it. After people have taken time to groom you up to ensure that you transform your lives and this country and after here you go back and sit in your communities and forget about everything, God will use His sledge hammer on you,” swore the Resident minister.
He added: “You have gone through 21 days of quality training and to stay in Kenema from different locations in the country, that requires huge amount of money. They accommodated you, provided food for you and got an international consultant to train you, that is too much. The only way you can pay back is to put the knowledge and skills you have gained from this training into practical use to change the story of the cocoa industry and bring about the change that matters in your lives, your families, your communities and the country at large.”
The Resident Minister said his presence at the ceremony is to emphasise the premium His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio puts on agriculture as the engine for socio-economic growth in the country. In the past, he recalled, Sierra Leone had agriculturists who graduated with first and second degrees and even doctorates “but we have not got an agriculturist in this country practicing agriculture. We want to change that narrative”.
He encouraged the participants to go back and serve as ambassadors of the new cocoa industry in their communities.
“We are beginning to swear people who take up responsibility but fail to discharge such responsibility effectively and blame government when things don’t go right. When you talk about government it is not about the President alone, or his Cabinet; you are also in your small corner charged with the responsibility to transform your country but when you fail in that duty, you don’t condemn yourself but other people,” vowed the Resident Minister, adding that more often than not people ask for help but have never showed what they have done for their country in taking advantage of opportunities like this.
Expressing affection for the slogan: ‘better cocoa, more money’, chanted by the participants throughout the ceremony, the Resident Minister said if the country fails to produce better cocoa going forward, nobody should blame the Ministry of Agriculture or the Government.
“We will now not blame the ministers, but all of you because you have been trained to produce better cocoa. They have trained you and we are now looking and expecting you to deliver,” he challenged the participants.
The Resident Minister urged Solidaridad and its partners to effectively follow-up and monitor the outcomes.
“What has been happening in this country is that sometimes they trained people and because there is no follow-up or proper monitoring, it dies down like that. May be in due course, we’ll begin to even ask people to sit exam for the degrees they claim to have, so that after every five years you come to defend your degree. That is what is happening in other countries so that you don’t sleep on you oars,” he said.
A total of 102 participants took part in the training: 61 farmers selected by partners, 10 Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) extension staffs, 20 Field Officers of partners and 11 National Youth service personnel.
The training covered all the protocols from cocoa agronomy, pest management, disease management, rehabilitation, how to set up FFS and other programs that will enable farmers to grow sustainable cocoa.
According to the Consultant trainer, Sylvanus Agordorku, the farmers are expected to go to their communities to establish FFS in conjunction with their partners who they are working with. At these schools they are supposed to train cocoa farmers in planting, replanting and diversification and also for rehabilitation because the current program is meant for rehabilitation and new planting in the cocoa farms. Eventually, the old plantations will be taken care of during the course of the FFS training.
Furthermore, Sylvanus said the farmers are expected to plant food crops as rainy season crops in the cocoa farms that will be established so that they will have food security, food availability and food accessibility and thereby by help to reduce hunger.
“The old practice where farmers go to the food banks to borrow will be minimized or eradicated entirely during the course of the program ahead of us,” noted Sylvanus.
In Sierra Leone the CoRIP project, which is funded by the Dutch Government, is implemented in three (3) districts; namely Kenema, Kailahun and Kono- all in the Eastern region, where the land is fertile for cocoa farming. It seeks to support cocoa intensification and production improvements by facilitating improved farmers access to inputs and extension services and test and validate economically viable and operationally feasible service delivery models for production support services through the creation of Farmer Support Centers (FSCs).
As part of Solidaridad West Africa’s sustainability strategy, they work through local partners: F.T. Saad, Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company, Randlyn Holdings and Trading Organic-SL Ltd. To date, a total of 765,920 improved cocoa varieties have been nursed by partners through Solidaridad’s support across the three (3) operational districts. These seedlings are expected to be distributed and planted by 27,500 smallholders’ cocoa farmers in the three districts. The 21 days training is part of Solidaridad’s efforts to ensure that these seedlings when distributed to farmers are maintained using Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
“In due course, we expect the trainees to adopt the knowledge acquired in their farms, train other farmers (ToT) and demonstrate commitment to attend future trainings,” said John Maada Paul Sinah, Solidaridad Programme Manager for oil palm in Sierra Leone. “We will be conducting follow-up visits to all trainees and farms to verify whether the knowledge gained over these three weeks are reflected on the farmers and farms.”
Meanwhile, one of the participants, Ade Momoh, described the training as very timely and an eye-opener.
“All what I was doing before was actually following what I learnt from my parents who were also cocoa farmers. It has been very beneficial to me but I was never exposed to new methods to improve on my cocoa farming business, as I was just using the old method I inherited from my father. Now I am happy to learn about new methods I need to apply in the field that will change the life style of my cocoa production for better,” said the 44-year-old famer from Kailahun District, who claims to have been a cocoa farmer since 2004.
He said he will return to his community full of new ideas and confidence, and will apply them in his cocoa farm.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).