A cooperative in Sierra Leone helps women unlock 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 cooperative agriculture and management training (provided by Feed the Minds local partner, MEWODA) which enabled her to unlock her potential and establish a secure agricultural livelihood.

Previously, the family struggled to support themselves and considered moving to Freetown where her husband could earn a higher salary. Today Kadiatu successfully manages her own farm and the neighboring cooperative farm and earns a good income so that the family can stay in the village.

Kadiatuu shared her inspiring story with Amos Mate, Senior Programs and Partnerships Manager at Feed the Minds, during her recent visit to Sierra Leone.

Amos Mate (AM): Kadiatu, how and when did the idea of ​​cooperative agriculture 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, the village mama queen and the youth leader attended the meeting at the office of MEWODA. We received training on the concept of cooperative and its importance.

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

AM: How was your life before joining the cooperative?

Kadiatu: Before joining the cooperative, I and my husband, Mr. Abu Fornah, lived together in the village of Mangaray. We supported our children through agricultural work and market gardening. With my husband, I had practiced small-scale agriculture in order to support our family. We struggled together to meet other pressing and competing needs with the little we got from our small-scale garden work. I had been looking for support to increase the production of my farm, but it had never been possible. At one point I even thought about a loan, but realized that we had no collateral and no one was willing to take the risk of issuing such loans. Then I had discussed several times with my husband how we could increase the production of our farm, but we only had to depend on our energy and recycled seeds after each season.

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

Kadiatu: The yield is the best you can get in this region and the cooperative has helped me to increase the yield of my crops. My total harvest for the three month interval averaged 27 bags (February to April). During the rainy season, I harvest four times a month and get 36 bags from May to July. Therefore, throughout the growing season, I make 63 bags of pepper. Depending on the market demand for pepper, I sell pepper for a maximum of SLL300,000 (£19.60) per bag and earn SLL81,900,000 (£5,349,400).

AM: The growth in yields came from an increase in cultivated areas. How did you cultivate more land and become a large-scale farmer?

Kadiatu: To move into large-scale farming, my husband helped clear additional land along the river so that there was easy access to water. Community land is far from home. I have to walk at least 45 minutes. It meant I couldn’t come home to cook lunch for my kids. I saved with the cooperative and bought a motorbike so my husband could take me to the farm and take the children to school. Since I spent 12 hours on the farm doing different chores, we decided it was appropriate to build a shadow on the farm where I can cook meals for my children while I work and my husband can use the motorcycle to take meals for them at home so that when they come home from school they can eat and do their homework without waiting for me. The younger ones, who have spent half a day at school, come to the shade where they can rest and even sleep while I work. This strategy has helped and other women have adopted it.

A M: Would you be happy if your husband found a job in Freetown and would you move if he moved there?

Kadiatu: Well, if my husband has to leave the farm to work in Freetown, I will only allow it if he earns at least Le. 10,000,000 (£653) per month. There is no point in him earning less, he pays for his accommodation and food at home, there is free food and accommodation and he can still earn more. There are jobs in the village. The number of young people who come to pick pepper and carry out other tasks on these two farms demonstrates that within the village we have skills-matching jobs.

In terms of moving, no. I will not move. 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 up to him to travel and also to support the work of the farm during his 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 agricultural 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 appropriate support, they are able to utilize underutilized resources, especially labor and land, to boost productivity and increase household income considerably. Moreover, it is false that women in rural areas lack economic knowledge. Kadiatu, like many other women I have spoken with, does not think their husbands should go to work in town because they have enough work at home on their farms, which has the potential to bring in more income. ‘silver. Helping women to participate in production is an appropriate strategy to create jobs in rural areas and lay the foundations for future investments.

Second, by providing their children with shelter, food and a place to learn while they work their crops, women can turn their land into productive workplaces with choices for service delivery.

Interviewed by Amos Mate, Senior Programs and Partnerships Manager, Feed the Minds

Virginia S. Braud