What are we going to do with 90,000 pineapples?

February 5, 2015

In our line of work, the phrase “subject to change” is common in our vocabulary. Solid, well formed plans are without question a necessary component of our success. And yet the plans, and we who implement them, must remain flexible, because circumstances change – sometimes, on a dime. We are certainly experiencing an extreme dose of that in Sierra Leone. As custodians of your support, we want to give you an update on the pineapple crop and the newest challenge facing us there.

In the fall of 2013, we worked with several dozen workers in Bauya to complete the planting of five acres of pineapple plants – 90,000 plants in total. The plan was that these plants would fruit in about 18 months and also provide two “suckers” per plant, which could be removed and used to start new plants. That would have put us around early summer of this year for our first harvest. Beginning early last summer, Ebola swept through Sierra Leone, causing thousands of deaths, travel bans, border closings, quarantines, school closings, and an annihilation of the fragile economy that existed. The company that had offered to buy our harvest lost nearly every one of their expatriate managers and workers, who headed home when the seriousness of the situation became clear.

We held steady, praying that Ebola would be contained and eliminated, for the sake of all the people of Sierra Leone mainly, but also so our workers in Bauya would still have an economic opportunity at harvest time. Our ‘boots on the ground,’ Sullay Turay and Joseph Lassayo, faithfully managed the project, and ushered through the rainy season and into the dry season a most beautiful crop of pineapple plants.

In mid-January, about six months away from anticipated harvest time, and as the Ebola epidemic was starting to show signs of containment, we encountered another turn in the road: pineapples. Gorgeous pineapples, sitting up proud and colorful on strong stalks – but entirely too early.

A short aside here. Pineapple plants have stout, saw-like leaves that are as sharp as razors. A field of mature plants growing in tight rows alongside each other is impenetrable without special pants and other gear. Our team doesn’t have that gear for two reasons: one, the borders between Bauya and Freetown, where the gear can be bought, have been closed for months; and two, we didn’t expect to need the gear until this summer.

So back to the beautiful surprise pineapples. At present, we don’t know the extent of the early fruiting. Now that borders have reopened, Sullay has made a trip into Freetown to procure the pants, safety glasses, boots and gloves so that he can investigate how many pineapples we have. Our pineapple buyer is not up and running again but is looking hopefully at the month of May. If it’s just a few pineapples, and the majority of the crop appears to be on schedule for a summer harvest, it’s possible that we can get back on track with our original plan. If the entire crop is fruiting, then we will have a challenge indeed.