By Mohamed Fofanah
Jabbah is the chair of a 26-member organisation of farmers in Lumley, just outside the Sierra Leonean capital,
The WMFC is a Chinese government aid project which is improving the agricultural output of groups like Jabbah's in
A translator is an essential part of the team, and the
"The Chinese people gave us this new rice and they came with their big machines to plough the land," says Jabbah. "Then they told us that when we sow the seeds we should cover it up and that we should not do heaps but sow on the flat land."
The Lumley group were dubious, but it took only a single growing season to overcome this.
"We were skeptical because previously we would make several heaps and then throw the rice seeds on them and leave them to grow and then hope and pray it turns out well. But when we experimented with the Chinese way of doing things, we realized that the rice was doing better than what we used to sow in our own way," said Jabbah.
Xie Yu Fei, who is coordinating the WMFC in Freetown, told IPS that the idea is holistic support for the groups they are working with. "We take them through the planting season up to post-harvest stages."
The techniques being shared are basic, he says. "We show them how to apply fertilisers, how to space their crops - especially rice - and how to sanitise their farms. Previously they would just weed on the farm and leave weeds and other debris around the farm and this brings in bacteria that destroy their crops.
WMFC's technicians also advise the local farmers on the best time to plant various crops.
Claudius Farnnel, the agriculture ministry’s extension supervisor for the Freetown urban area, says other development partners have operated farmer field schools similar to the Chinese demonstration farms. "However their projects are not sustainable they start for 3-4 months engage farmers, then everything stops, and their support, in terms of inputs is relatively small," he said.
He added that the Chinese have proved willing to provide long-term support, as well as targeting local associations of farmers. The WFMC has invested just under $800,000 in assistance.
He is optimistic that such support can reduce
Farnnel noted that in the peri-urban areas around
High-yielding hybrids are part of making the most of limited space. Last year, Farnnell says, the demonstration plot at Ogoo Farm location in
This variety has now been widely distributed to farmers around the capital.
Beyond the farm gate
Chinese assistance in processing harvested rice has also been essential.
"It would have been a major problem for us if we did not have the rice mill," said Aminata Mandowa, another beneficiary of the Lumley agricultural station. "With the bumper harvest, most of the rice would be spoilt, but the Chinese [milled] the rice for us on a cost-recovery basis and that has enabled us to take it to the market and sell easily."
Fei said that his programme's support is not limited to farmer-based organisations. Every year since 2005, 30 or more farmers and Ministry of Agriculture officials have been sent to
"The Chinese had made tremendous impact in the agricultural sector in the country," said the Public Information Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mohamed Conteh. "They are manning the rice research station in Rokupr in the Kambia district. And that research station had been helping in shaping the country’s rice production."
He told IPS that Chinese agriculture experts are present all over the country and have also been helping the government and individual farmers with production of sugar cane at the Magbass sugar complex in Magburaka, in the north of the country.
"This Chinese aid is actually touching on the lives of Sierra Leoneans," Jabbah says. "I am now looking for a bigger [piece of] land [to buy] with proceeds from previous yields to expand my rice farming. I thank the Chinese so much for helping me stand on my feet, I hope they continue to stay and help many other Sierra Leoneans."