By Abdul Hassan Fackie
The transformation of agriculture from subsistence to commercial is a major priority for the Food Security through Commercialization of Agriculture (FSCA) Project which operates in two districts in Sierra Leone, namely Koinadugu and Kono.
In order to achieve this prime objective, the training and equipping of small-scale farmers could not be overemphasized, which has been the major reason why the FSCA in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) have organized and supported a 30 week Farmer Field School (FFS) intensive training of over 2000 farmers in the two above mentioned districts
In a bid to boost the morale of these farmers a graduation and certification ceremony was organized on Saturday, 7th and Tuesday, 10th July, 2012 in the Koinadugu and Kono Districts respectively.
Delivering the opening address at the Senbgeh Community Centre in Kabala town, Koinadugu District, the Field Coordinator of the FSCA, Mr. Richard Goba, said the occasion was meant to certify farmers who had made it through the 30 weeks of intensive training. He added that the project had contributed time and resources and it was now up to the farmers to demonstrate that they have received new knowledge and techniques by introducing these new ideas into their daily farming activities.
In his statement, the Deputy Director of Extension at MAFFS, Mr. Bakarr J. Bangura, who also deputized the Minister, started by giving an overview of the Small-Holder Commercialization Programme (SCP).
He explained that African Heads of States gathered in Maputo, Mozambique where they agreed to raise the national agriculture budget from 2% to 10% which he said government had successfully done.
He added that the SCP which is a five year project is part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which is a twenty year process.
Addressing the farmers, Mr. Bangura highlighted four areas: firstly, farm inputs, which he said were previously given to farmers free, pointing out that this will not continue. Secondly, he said farmers must continue to work in groups in order to be able to attract support from government and non Governmental organisations. Thirdly, he stated that with their newly acquired knowledge the farmers must now be able to continue farming even after the end of the FSCA project, and concluded by advising the farmers to work harder and not to encourage gossip and backstabbing to affect their work.
On Tuesday, July 10, the graduating farmers and guests assembled at the Fiama Agricultural Business Centre in Bambaya Village, Fiama Chiefdom, Kono District, where the Chairman of the ceremony, Paramount Chief, Shar Y. M. Mbriwa II welcomed the visitors and congratulated the farmers in advance for what he called a step in the right direction towards the achievement of food security.
Giving a brief overview of FFS in the District, the FFS Coordinator, Mr. Dominic Kai, said the programme started in Asia where farmers had to come together because of problems about a particular pest which was destroying their crops. He added that in 2002 the Ministry of Agriculture initiated the idea of FFS all over the country.
On behalf of the FSCA, the Project Assistant, Miss Bridget O. Kamara, said the aim of the project was to increase production, add value to products and create market opportunities. She observed that the occasion was a memorable one which seeks to certify that the farmers had gone through 30 weeks of training in their different FFS.
In his comments, the FSCA Field Consultant in the District, Mr. Lahia Dumbuya, said at the initial stages of the project they identified and started working with small groups of farmers, most of whom have now become integral parts of different ABCs in the District. He advised the farmers to pass on the knowledge they have acquired to their colleagues who were not fortunate to attend the FFS training.
In his statement, the District Agricultural Officer (DAO), Mr. Musa Kandeh, spoke about the CAADP process and the birth of the SCP. He added that all agricultural development programmes are now aligned with the SCP and that under the SCP government had given several inputs to farmers especially those working in groups. He called on the farmers to do more in order to achieve their agricultural dreams. He pointed out that the FFS does not in any way condemn traditional methods of farming but what it does is a comparative study between old and new farming techniques and adopt the desired results. He also used the opportunity to remind the community that they should make good use of the ABCs by the storing, value addition and marketing of their farm produce.
A total of 2100 farmers graduated from different FFS in the two districts of which over 65% were females. Certificates were issued to the different FFS represented at the ceremony for onward distribution to individual farmers.