Seed Loaning Program is a Game Changer for Farmers in Sierra Leone
April 24, 2017
In agriculture-based economies like Bauya and Lunsar, Sierra Leone, seeds are a form of currency. They can be used to buy and sell, and they can be saved for future planting seasons. However, in the communities where we serve, it’s uncommon to find a farmer who can successfully save enough seeds from one harvest to plant for the next. The dry season is several months long, and many times seeds that were meant to be saved are eaten or sold when things get desperate, or are lost to pests or rot when not stored properly. When the rains return and it’s time to plant again, farmers without seeds have to buy seeds on credit (when prices have doubled) at rates as high as 100%. They plan to pay off the loans after their harvest, but — to complete this vicious cycle — their crops are worth very little at the end of the season because of market saturation.
Protecting seeds for the valuable currency they are is important to economic sustainability, and a new seed loaning initiative in Sierra Leone is giving a hand up to farmers stuck in this cycle of buying seeds on credit.
Several months ago, Joe Lassayo, lead field officer in Bauya, came to Just Hope with an idea that would help farmers in several ways. He proposed a seed loaning program, whereby Just Hope would loan two bags of seeds, at zero percent interest, to local farmer groups with the following conditions:
- They agree to plant at least 12 plots using conservation agriculture methods. There would be enough seeds to plant more than twice this much land, so the farmers agree to plant another 12 plots using traditional methods, and the rest of the seeds as they chose.
- They will return two bags of healthy seeds to Just Hope at the end of the second rainy season harvest.
The benefits of this simple program are significant.
First, farmers will have access to seeds at zero percent interest, lowering their risk and helping them keep more of their harvest.
Second, the program gets more farmers trying the conservation agriculture methods, which can result in four times as much produce.
Third, Just Hope will be able to start a seed bank that safeguards many thousands of seeds through the dry season, which provides local agricultural security and the opportunity to demonstrate proper seed saving techniques to local farmers.
Finally, the plots resulting from this effort will provide valuable conservation agriculture data that Just Hope can use to continually improve processes.
Nine groups of farmers that are already involved in savings groups – five in Bauya and four in Lunsar – have agreed to participate in the first round of seed loaning. They are preparing their fields now and will plant two bags of groundnuts as previously described. This November, after their second harvest, they will return two bags of groundnuts to Just Hope, having acquired higher yields and new skills that can deliver economic self-reliance and security.
“The seed loaning program is of tremendous value to the farmer groups,” said Joe. “This program guides them and by doing so, empowers them.”
Shanty Mansaray, project manager in Lunsar, added, “This program is exposing more farmers to the conservation agriculture methods, which they can compare to traditional methods and see the difference for themselves.”