The person who introduced me to the village of Borgbuabu, where I am negotiating the lease of land to grow cacao, is Paramount Chief Kanneh.
He is an educated man with a vision to bring the needed changes to the villages around his chiefdom. He is also trying to champion environmental initiatives.
Chief Kanneh has supported me in many ways, namely in arranging the final meeting with the Agricultural District office and the landowners.
In our second set of negotiations, some of the villages objected to the lease of the land for various reasons.
Some thought we would stop them from fishing in the river that flows behind the land. Some thought we would electrify the river whilst others believed we would be purchasing the land and they would lose it forever.
Luckily the interpreter and project coordinator named Victor, who was from the Mande tribe just like the villagers, explained how their fears were incorrect. And we were able to move forward.
The villages are used to being bribed by individuals interested in leasing land to search for minerals. These people usually throw some money at them whilst keeping the lion share of the profit.
My challenge was to explain I needed to lease the land, in an endeavour that would take a few years to bear fruits (cocoa trees take 5 years to become productive).
Therefore I wasn’t in a position, nor could I afford to pay them very much at this early stage.
We finally had a breakthrough and first signed a pre-agreement, that laid the condition of the leasing of land, to grow cocoa.
We then made our way to the Agricultural District office to finalise and submit the agreement for final approval. I agreed to pay some of the expenses of the villagers, for them to be present in town, for signature.
Both myself and chief Kanneh have a common goal , which is to use this project as a trailblazer and a blueprint for change in the way community development is achieved. It’s a partnership between the investors and the community, which needs to be ethical and sustainable. We are both interested in ensuring that we leave a legacy that will be heralded as innovative and humanitarian.
It entails training, investment, mentoring, community building , education, independence and teaching the benefits of long term planning, which would be a different for them culturally!