Women’s Agri-Business

Women’s Agri-Business

The rainy season is starting, so the plowing needs to be done quickly. Instead of picks and hoes, the tilling will be done with tractors thanks to our collaboration with Village Hope Inc.

Dr. Jon Bart heads this organization, which has worked in Sierra Leone for eight years. Village Hope recently launched a commerical gari processing plant in Masori, a few miles south of Makeni. His goal is to launch profitable businesses that will provide good jobs and raise the standard of living to middle class level.

tractorsAfter watching women do backbreaking farm work with hand tools, we’ve had a long term dream of getting a tractor to Sierra Leone. Lack of mechanization is often the limiting factor for growing crops. Farmers explained to us that they “don’t have power” to farm larger plots. Here’s the photo of Village Hope Inc’s three beautiful Massey Ferguson tractors, which can be a real gamechanger in that region.

In our ag project in Lungi, women on the Leadership Committee, like my dear friends Hawa and Wara, were by far the most dependable, hard-working, and trustworthy participants. They have entrepreneurial ideas, but no access to capital and limited literacy and business skills.

Jon is working with a group of women farmers  to start a small community farm that will implement modern farming and business practices. He can rent land for $5 per acre and till it at very low cost with the new equipment. White Field Partners is excited to join Village Hope Inc. in this initiative. This will also provide an opportunity to connect with the expertise of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture.

It is widely agreed that farming in rural parts of Sierra Leone can be profitable if (a) modern methods such as enhanced varieties, fertilizer, tractors, and herbicide are used and (b) the proper team is in place.  The latter requirement has often been hard to achieve, and, as a result, many past farming projects have failed.  For example, the Agricultural Business Centers started several years ago in Sierra Leone had tractors and other equipment but nearly all of them failed within a few years.

In this project, we hope to demonstrate that profits that can be made using modern methods when the right team is running the project.  Our organization, Village Hope, has been working in Sierra Leone for eight years.  We have gradually built up a team of 10-20 people including many residents in the village where we work, agricultural specialists from throughout Sierra Leone, and expert advisors from around the world.

We will establish a 5 acre farm run by women.  The farm will have 3 acres of rice and 2 of corn and small plots for a few other crops (e.g., cocoyams, potatoes, beans).  Although the main purpose of the project is to encourage women in farming using modern methods, we will also have a 5 acre farm for men because we think not doing this would lead to resentment in the community.  The total acreage will thus be 6 acres of rice and 4 of corn.

Jon has done an economic analysis that projects significant profit from both rice and maize. Farmers will receive half the profit, and half will be reinvested. There are always numerous risks in Sierra Leone, but we think this initiative has great potential.