The U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone, through its Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program funded a five-day Sustainable Agriculture and Business Development Symposium for fifty-six (56) women farmers and held a one-day workshop for twenty five (25) market sellers in February, 2023.
Implemented by Healey International Relief Foundation (HIRF), in partnership with Caritas and Njala University, Bo the symposium was a great success.
According to Benjamin Parra, HIRF’s Executive Director, based in the United States, the grant had 3 priority areas, and HIRF selected the Green Economy and Entrepreneurship track which focused on strengthening connections between U.S. and Sierra Leonean businesses, expand economic opportunities, entrepreneurship and financial independence among women, youth, and underserved populations, particularly programs that promote innovation and economic opportunity related to climate change. The project’s focus was also on demonstrating how America and Sierra Leone can work together to achieve climate goals.
Ms. Omega Tawonezvi, one of the symposium facilitators, and an American based in the US working extensively on women’s entrepreneurial skills building, explained that the symposium curriculum covered sharing of best practices in green and sustainable farming, teaching of business development skills such as basic financial literacy, how to recognize business opportunities, identifying and understanding market demand.
She also explained that some of the key highlights of the symposium was having US based participants be part of the cultural exchange, sharing best practices and engaging in great discussions, questions, and answers on how to keep cooperatives thriving, climate change and eco-friendly farming practices, high yielding crops, biodiversity, and a lot more.
US-based speakers who joined the symposium virtually
included Ms.Spandhla, a woman farmer practicing green and organic subsistence farming in Montgomery County Maryland, Douglas Weisberger, Senior Planning Specialist, Sustainability Programs at the Department of Environmental Protection, Montgomery County Maryland, Brian Higgins, a clinical social worker, beekeeper and sustainable living farmer in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Ms. Bridget Mbeng, a mushroom farmer from the state of Delaware, and who has trained over 1500 women on the process of mushroom cultivation.
Professor Roland Soluku the Head of Department of Animal Health Sciences at Njala University, who was also one of the lead trainers, thanked the donors, the United States Embassy, the people of America, and the HIRF Team, for working in partnership with Njala University and including him and his team in the opportunity to exchange ideas with US based experts and farmers. He expressed his excitement on the opportunity to discuss sustainable agricultural practices and entrepreneurship with the women farmers and market sellers.
Dr. Suluku reiterated his advice to participants to stop burning charcoal which is contributing to deforestation, a growing crisis, describing it as frustrating because all those have an impact on the productivity of agriculture initiatives and on livelihoods.
Training co-facilitator, Alfred Halim Navo, explained that the growing of healthy and sufficient crops in Sierra Leone is not only the key challenge farmers face but also the inability to make reasonable profits to cover basic needs.
A participant from Waiima Village, Memuna Kaloko, described the training as educational and timely. She relayed how grateful she was for the many simple techniques she could immediately start implementing in her farm, such as lowering the height of the soil beds for certain crops she planted and the direction she should plan her irrigation for better absorption and conservation of water. Similarly, Hawa Wanga of Sewa River Agricultural Women’s Group spoke about being more aware of how some of her previous farming practices are contributing factors in compromising the soil, and environment but with the knowledge gained from the symposium she assured all she will implement better practices and educate other farmers on same.
The symposium successfully closed with each registered participant receiving a certificate of completion, a smartphone, and a solar lamp. Joining the HIRF training team and visiting board members in the closing ceremony and congratulating participants were Professor Bashiru Koroma, Vice Chancellor and Principal of Njala University, Dr. Rashid Ansumana, Dean of the School of Community Health Sciences and two local chiefs.