Friday, 24 May 2024
Friday, 24 May 2024

Cooperative in Sierra Leone helps women release their potential

Kadiatu Kalorko is a 35-year-old mother of six, who lives in Mkarie Gbanti Chiefdom, Bombali District, Sierra Leone. She recently participated in farming and cooperative management training (delivered by Feed the Minds’ local partner, MEWODA) which enabled her to unlock her potential and establish a secure farming livelihood. 

Previously, the family struggled to meet their needs and considered relocating to Freetown where her husband may secure a higher salary. Now, Kadiatu successfully manages both her own farm and the cooperative farm next door and earns a good income so that the family is able to remain in the village. 

Cooperative in Sierra Leone helps women release their potentialKadiatuu shared her inspiring story with Amos Mate, Senior Programme and Partnerships Manager at Feed the Minds, during his recent visit to Sierra Leone.  

Amos Mate (AM): Kadiatu, how and when did the idea of cooperative farming come to your village and how did you join the cooperative? 

Kadiatu: The idea of a cooperative was introduced in our village by MEWODA in 2015. Stakeholders including the town chief, village mammy queen and youth leader attended the meeting at the MEWODA office. We received training on the concept of a cooperative and its importance. 

At the end of the meeting, we organised ourselves as a group, elected executive members and registered with the cooperative society, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children Affairs. To many of us, we were just following the wind. Since our village mammy queen was there, we did not need to question but follow. 

AM:   What was your life like before joining the cooperative?

Kadiatu: Before joining the cooperative, me and my husband, Mr Abu Fornah, lived together in Mangaray Village. We supported our children through farm work and vegetable gardening. Along with my husband, I had been farming on a small scale in order to support our family. We struggled together to satisfy other pressing and competing needs with the little we got from our small-scale garden work. I had looked for support to increase my farm production, but it had never been possible. At one point, I even thought of a loan but realised that we had no collateral, and nobody was ready to take the risk by issuing such loans. Then, I had discussed with my husband several times how we could increase our farm production, but all we were to depend on was our energy and recycled seeds after every season. 

AM: How has the cooperative contributed to your crop yields? 

Kadiatu: The yield is the best one can get in this region and the cooperative has helped in terms of increasing my crop yields. My total harvest for the three-month interval averaged 27 bags (from February to April). Whilst during the rainy season, I harvest four times in a month getting 36 bags from May to July. Therefore, throughout the growing season, I make 63 bags of pepper. Depending on the demand for pepper in the market, I sell pepper at most SLL,300,000 (£19.60) per bag and earn SLL 81,900,000 (£5,349.400).                  

AM: The growth in yields came as a result of an increase in the land under cultivation. How did you cultivate more land and transform yourself into a large-scale farmer?

Kadiatu: To shift to large-scale farming, my husband supported in clearing extra land along the river so that it is easy to access water. The community land is far from where we live. I have to walk for at least 45 minutes. This meant I could not come back home to prepare lunch for my children. I saved with the cooperative and purchased a motorbike so that my husband could take me to the farm and take the children to school. Since I spent 12 hours on the farm performing different tasks, we decided it was appropriate to build a shade on the farm where I can prepare meals for my children as I worked and my husband can use the motorbike to take the meals for them at home so that when they return from school, they can eat and do their homework without waiting for me. The younger children, who spent half a day in school, come to the shade where they can rest and even sleep as I work. This strategy has helped, and other women have adopted it.

AM: Would you be happy if your husband secures a job in Freetown and would you relocate if he moves there?

Kadiatu: Well, if my husband has to leave the farm to work in Freetown, I will only allow it if he will earn at least Le. 10,000,000 (£653) monthly. There is no point in him earning less, paying for accommodation and food while at home, there is food and free accommodation and he is still able to earn more. There are jobs within the village. The number of youth who come to pick up the pepper and perform other duties on these two farms demonstrate that within the village, we have jobs that suit the skills.

In terms of relocation, no. I will not relocate. I will be happy to visit him in Freetown but that will only happen when I have no work to do on the farm. Otherwise, it will be upon him to travel and also support the farm work when he visits. For me, it is better to work hard and invest in Freetown, but not to live there at all. I believe we can expand our farming activities and introduce other crops since we are near the river and people need food during the long dry seasons.

In conclusion, Sierra Leonean women have shown that, when given the proper support, they are capable of utilising underutilised resources, particularly labour and land, to boost productivity and dramatically raise household income. Furthermore, it is untrue that women in rural regions lack knowledge of economic matters. Kadiatu, like many of the other women I spoke with, doesn’t think their husbands should go for jobs in the city because they have enough work at home on their farms, which have the potential to bring in more money. Providing support for women to participate in production is an appropriate strategy to generate jobs in rural regions and lay the groundwork for future investment.

Second, by providing their children with shelter, food, and a place to learn as they work on their crops, women may transform their land into productive workstations with choices for service delivery.

Interviewed by Amos Mate, Senior Programme & Partnerships Manager, Feed the Minds

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