Helping farmers reach Zero Hunger in Sierra Leone

Usman Kanu is a rice farmer from the Masimera chiefdom in Sierra Leone. Thanks to his participation in WFP's rice farming project he has doubled his yields in the last two harvests and has been able to build himself a house from the profits. The project – funded by the Government of Japan – provides rural families with the tools and techniques to better cultivate the land around their villages. Rice production in the whole area has shot up by 186 percent, making Usman's experience just one of many success stories. As harvest season approaches this year, farmers are hoping for even better results. 

Photo: WFP/Olivia Acland

MAYOMBO VILLAGE, MASIMERA CHIEFDOM  Sierra Leone.

Usman Kanu sits on the porch of his new house flanked by his wife and young son. "I began building this place last November," he says, "with the money that I saved from two harvests." He gets up and starts to walk around the house, proudly explaining which of the unfinished rooms is to become the bedroom and which will be the kitchen.

"Farming has been very good lately," he explains. "I used to grow just enough rice for myself and my family to eat, but now I harvest a lot. I can keep some and sell the rest at the market." In the last two years Usman's yield has doubled, largely thanks to his successful participation in a WFP project. The five-year scheme, known as the Japanese Bilateral Project, teaches farmers to better exploit the arable, swampy land around their villages. Over 75 percent of the country's rural population relies on farming as its primary livelihood. WFP is supporting these farmers to increase their rice production, which is a vital step towards improving food security in Sierra Leone.  

Photo: WFP/Olivia Acland

Planting less and growing more

Usman now uses just 5 kg of seeds to grow 8 bags of rice (weighing 800 kg), whereas previously 25 kg of seeds would produce half this yield.

Before the project was implemented in Masimera and Buya Romende, the two chiefdoms averaged 1 metric ton per hectare (ha). In 2014, after farmers received training, productivity surged by 86 percent. During the second harvest in 2015, the farmers increased production by 40 percent to cultivate 2.6 mt/ha. Amadu Bangura is field coordinator for WFP’s implementing partner BRAC, he says: "This year we're hoping to see even more of an increase." 

The marked improvements come as a result of monthly training that has shown the farmers how to better cultivate their crops. They learned to rehabilitate fertile land previously left wasted and unfarmed, with the ground split into manageable 0.2 ha holdings for each family. Beforehand farmers were just scattering seeds at random, meaning the crops would grow on top of each other and choke. Now they have been taught to first prepare the nursery beds and then plant in neat rows, allowing each crop a space of 20 cm by 25 cm.

Photo: WFP/Olivia Acland

Each of the project’s 530 beneficiaries was given 6 kg of seeds and 60 kg of fertilizer to get started. The farmers were taught how to apply the fertilizer, and the optimal time of year to harvest their crop. Before the training, many farmers were waiting too late into the season when the grains were overly dry and had already started to fall off. As Bangura says: "The problem was that people simply did not know how to get the most out of their land."

Saving the profits

A large metal box with four padlocks clapped onto it has come to represent Mayombo village's first ever community bank. As well as helping the farmers and their families to produce more crops, the scheme also encourages them to manage profits from their harvest.

Each family puts aside between 2,000 (USD 0.36) and 10,000 (USD 1.82) Leones a week and receives a stamp confirming the contribution in its log book. In this way the community not only saves but also has enough money to give out small loans to those who need them.

"Being able to take a loan from this box is empowering and good for business," says WFP Programme Assistant Akinyemi Scott-Boyle. "If they have access to this money they'll be able to easily buy fertilizer for the next harvest and pay it back once the profits come in."

So far a group of 50 farming families has managed to save 21,000,000 Leones (USD 3,817.54) in just ten months. In a country where the average yearly wage is estimated at USD 340, this is no small feat.

Photo: WFP/Olivia Acland

Helping Sierra Leone to become self sufficient

Sierra Leone – which was once the biggest exporter of rice in West Africa – now doesn't produce enough to feed its people all year round. The country has very good conditions for growing rice, yet spends between USD 200m and USD 300m a year importing the commodity, mainly from Asia. Both the civil war and the Ebola virus had very damaging effects on the agricultural sector, and now great stretches of arable land are left unused.

The project's long-term aim is to boost rice production within the country, so that less people have to rely on expensive imports. By the time the project finishes in 2017 these rural families should be in a far stronger position to not only feed themselves, but also to sell their surplus rice in local markets. By helping farmers to minimize costs and increase their yields, WFP is supporting Sierra Leone in boosting in-country rice production. 

Usman heads down to his holding, where thousands of bright green shoots poke out of swampy, wet land. "I really never knew that so few seeds could produce this much," he says, happily surveying his crop.

Photo: WFP/Olivia Acland