With supports and sponsorship from COOPI Sierra Leone and European Union (EU), five Sierra Leonean farmers who visited Cape Town in South Africa for a five days learning and exchange programme which commenced on Sunday 10th and ended on Tuesday 19th October 2010, have successfully returned home well enriched with knowledge on modern agriculture.
The five farmers who were drawn from the Mountain Farmers Association (MoFA) and the National farmers Association left Sierra Leone on Saturday 9th October for Cape Town where they were expected to exchange ideologies and mechanisms on modern farm management ways to improve on small scale farming as practiced in South Africa.
Addressing newsmen on behalf of the visiting farmer on experiences and knowledge gained during the exchange tour, the Partner Coordinator for COOPI/NAFSL who was part of the team, Mr. Dick Sylvester Johnson revealed that the team of Sierra Leonean farmers was hosted by one of Cape Towns’ leading farmers association named Abalimi Bezekhaya that have over the years been working to overcome poverty through organic-micro-farming in home and community allocated gardens.
He said one thing they learnt in Cape Town is that urban agriculture is a wonderful development tool that changes livelihoods and transforms society for the better. On the contrary, Mr. Johnson further highlighted some challenges faced by micro-farmers in Cape Town such as unavailability of fertile land, climate change, pests, diseases, age (most of the farmers are vulnerable women), no networking with commercial farmers, laziness on the part of young people, service providers not easy to come by, Illiteracy and high crime rate, among others, adding that unlike Sierra Leone, in Cape Town, the Department of Agriculture provides 5,000 gallons plastic water tanks and irrigation systems, 40ft length containers to be utilized as office space and storage facilities for tools and other equipment, organic manure, and IPM kits for farmers while as the City of Cape Town allocates land to farmers for free, the Prisons Department deploys prisoners to assist farmers on regular basis, Tertiary students do research and practical on their farms, school children have an opportunity to own a plot in a garden close to their school premises which makes it a very exciting for kids because it encourages them to grow backyard garden in their respective homes.
However, Mr. Johnson stated that the programme has made an impact in their lives especially now that they have gained knowledge on areas such as overcoming food poverty among the poor, ethical consumption, calendar planting that helps farmers know which month to grow what, honesty and transparency from suppliers and similarly to the consumers, understanding the consumers before you plant, gaining trust of your customers through your genuine attitude, encouraging young people to participate more fully on urban agriculture in order to drive poverty and disease away, and utilizing green vegetables for organic compost, cleanliness in the garden, labeling each bed, and above all, love for each other in the garden.
The Programme Director for COOPI Ravindra Naravanaswamy called on the farmers to ensure that they use what they have learnt from the programme to transform farming in their various localities, adding that they should serve as examples for modern and improved small scale agriculture in Sierra Leone.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.