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Rainy season

It is rainy season in Sierra Leone.
Many people living in unsafe housing, in Freetown, have died following mudslides and flooding.
It is sad to witness these highly avoidable tragedies.
To me, helping the people of Sierra Leone is transferring knowledge to my community.

The Cacao Elegguá plantation hasn’t been affected by the flooding as it is located about 300 km from Freetown. But the beginning of the rainy season has been busy at the farm.
We’ve planted many crops, such as plantain, banana, cashew and papaya which are being  intercropped  with the cacao.
The cacao trees have then finally been transplanted from the nursery to 10 acres of  land.
If they are irrigated they will bear fruit in 2 and a half year. Without irrigation, they will take twice that time.
I am in the process of implementing a solar pump and will be experimenting with some  drip irrigation. We intend  to  commence our  irrigation  from October.

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Three months

I have just spent three whole months in Borgbuabu, and immersed myself in this great agroforestry project.
Three months that were tough and sometimes lonely.
Living on the plantation without way of communicating with the outside world was not always easy, but it enabled me to put all my energy in the project, make some definite, ground-breaking progress, and bring the Cacao Elegguá  vision to life.

For the project is so much more than the growing of cocoa trees.
I aspire to create a sustainable environment, where crops, plants and trees will complement and enrich one another. Livestock and bee pollination will be an integral part of the ecosystem.
The cocoa pods have been growing well in the nursery, as have the moringa, neem, and papaya.
I have also planted okras, cabbages, peppers, tomatoes, watermelons, cucumbers, as well as many other crops for consumption and revenue.
I’ve started creating roads around the plantation to  make the farm more accessible.
I’ve made good progress on the construction of the plantation outbuildings: dry toilets are complete, I am now concentrating on completing the bathroom, workshop, and goat pen.

Next, I will be telling you more about the making of our own organic fertiliser.

 

The village needs your help!

Volunteers needed for Cacao Elegguá, an agroforestry and permaculture, eco-building construction project on an Eco Farm situated in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

Our Ethos

We blend agriculture, forestry and environmental sustainability to enhance positive interactions between trees,  crops and livestock.
We employ local population and develop knowledge in the community.

The Cacao Elegguá project

Cacao Elegguá is a brand new venture started in the Kenema province of Sierra Leone, on 263 acres of tropical forest. Everything from, nursery set-up, drip irrigation installation, to design traditional styled facilities with eco considerations.

We are utilising the principles of agroforestry and permaculture to enhance the biodiversity and the preservation of the natural ecosystem.
Principal crop is cocoa but we will also be growing plantain, banana, maize, cassava among other crops.

We aim to construct an Eco Farm  including accommodation, construct a pond, a dam and design roads
We are in the process of planting 50 acres of cocoa. A hundred seedlings of Moringa will also be ready to be planted in April.
Medicinal plants, perennial crops will be added to this. We’ll design and implement drip irrigation and introducing livestock (goats, hens..)  to the farm.

Volunteer profiles

Agroforestry and permaculture specialists
Agriculturists & people with good agriculture knowledge

  • Knowledge of designing a permaculture/ agroforestry farm.
  • Knowledge of irrigation system especially drip irrigation.
  • Knowledge of pond, dam constriction and swales
  • Excellent Knowledge of farm crop planting, cultivating, and harvesting.
  • Expertise in the use of common hand tools and farm machinery and equipment.
  • Nursery and greenhouse knowledge
  • Knowledge to plan, monitored and scheduled farming activities and performed farming activities such as planting, cultivating, irrigating, harvesting, applying and fertiliser.
  • Experience of working in a farm in varying capacities and able to contribute to this exciting project
  • knowledge of goats, cows and chicken livestock’s

Duties:

  • Assist in planning, design of farm layout, pond creation, swales and irrigation planning and implementation.
  • Tend to farm animals and livestock in a bid to keep them fed and healthy
  • Cultivate soil and sow crops on a designated piece of land
  • Perform slashing and maintenance activities to ensure weed control
  • Perform harvesting activities by using equipment such as tractors
  • Observe livestock for signs of illnesses and report any observations
  • Irrigate soil to ensure the quality of crop

Architects and construction workers

Volunteers will participate in the construction of outbuildings for the Cacao Elegguá Eco Farm. You will have the opportunity to participate in many of the construction stages.

Skills required:

  • Engineering & Building
  • Architecture
  • Plumbing & electrical
  • Carpentry

Chef/Cooks

Utilising all of the available foods growing in the farm (manioc, sweet potato, yam, plantain…)
A dynamic and imaginative check/ cook who is interested in taking on the challenge of discovering & using local organic ingredients to learn new recipes and utilise their knowledge to create delicious dishes

What we expect

Volunteering hours: 25 to 35 hours a week
We are looking for people who can spend from at least a month with us, working eight hours a day, five days a week.
When: from February 2017
Places available: 22

Languages spoken

English
Desirable: Spanish & French

What we offer

Free accommodation
We have spacious 6 man comfortable tents which will be occupied by 3 people. There are separate tents for females. Solid houses are in the process of being built.
Hammocks are also available.

Free food
Local food, grown on the farm (yam, plantain, cassava, fish).
A small participation will be required for food provisions bought for the volunteers.

What’s not included: flight, internal transport, travel health insurance, pocket money, visa.

What else …The local town is Kenema and the journey to the village is 28miles by local bike taxi. A bus can be taken from Freetown to Kenema, which is a 5 to 6 hours’ drive. It recommended to leave Freetown with the earliest bus.
You are welcome to hitch a lift with us when we drive into town. The area is very peaceful and volunteers will get time to relax and go bird spotting in the forest. We are located  near the Tiwai island and the Gola Forest.
We keep a positive attitude and above all, we are flexible to change and excited to bring a positive endeavour to Kenema. Life at the farm is very simple with no electricity but we are going to install a solar system. We recommend that you bring your own solar lights for the evenings.

How to apply

Please send your CV and a cover letter detailing your interest in the project and how you would contribute.
Our email: cacaoeleggua@gmail.com

Sierra Leone myths debunked

Sierra Leone is war-torn and dangerous.
The Civil War conflict ended in 2002. It is a peaceful country with great potential.

There’s still Ebola
Sierra Leone was declared Ebola transmission free by the World Health Organisation on 17 March 2016.

There’s lions and tigers at large

Sierra Leone fauna consists of hippopotamus, antelopes, buffalos,  monkeys and baboons. You’re not likely to run into a leopard in Kenema!

It’s extremely hot and dry
Sierra Leone climate is tropical, with a rainy season and a dry season.
Temperatures average 30 degrees all year around, much like many Caribbean islands.

Setting up the Cacao Elegguá nursery

I’m planting 50 acres of cocoa on a first instance, using beans from the Forastero specie.
I purchased the cocoa pods from the Sierra Leone Research Institute. The Institute is doing ongoing research on cocoa and also has a plantation. Their seeds are renowned for their good quality in Sierra Leone.
50 acres represents a third of what I ultimately intend to plant. I am starting small to ensure I trial the best practices possible in the plantation.

The first step in setting up the nursery was to create the infrastructure that would house the cocoa seedlings.
Wood had to be sourced from the forest and manure had to be acquired from a number of villages.

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Second step, polybags (that were manufactured by a Freetown company) were filled up with the manure.

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Third step, the pods were opened and two local women were recruited to plant two seeds per bag.
In the process, we also planted moringa seeds, a plant with  numerous health benefits that I intend to grow and possibly sell.

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Seedlings need to be watered daily before 10am and after 5pm.

4 weeks later, and the seedlings have already grown:

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In about 5 months time, they will be ready to be planted!

Cacao Elegguá: a social project

The village of Borgbuabu, where my cocoa plantation is located is very small. It counts about one hundred souls.
Most villagers are smallhold farmers whose crops serve the purpose of feeding their family. There is also a carpenter, a builder and a blacksmith.
The school is run by three volunteers teachers, and the schoolkids pay a nominal registration school fee.

Borgbuabu school

Ninety nine percent of the inhabitants are illiterate. There is no electricity or telecommunication signal in the village.

The Cacao Elegguá project is committed to employing people from the village when possible. Its goal is to teach farmers about the latest sustainable agriculture techniques, so that they could in turn increase their production.
I ultimately plan to run several educational programmes with the assistance of volunteers.

Fostering durable change and working in conjunction with the local community is paramount to this project.

Des in camp Eleggua

Contract is signed!

The negotiations have come to a happy end.
The contract is signed. I am leasing 236.6 acres of land in Kenema. I will  grow cocoa, and as it turns out, a few other crops to make an income in the interim.
I haven’t been idle whilst the paperwork was in progress.
The labourers have started clearing the land to grow Gliricidia, a multipurpose legume which I will use for manure:

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The cocoa beans I purchased from the from the Sierra Leone Research Institute have arrived:

Cocoa pods

The Gliricidia will rejuvenate the soil and provide the necessary nutrient for the crops.
I’ve also started building a well in the plantation, so that I would not rely on the water of the village when I camp on site.

As for the cocoa nursery, it is almost complete. Pictures are coming soon!

Camping in the African bush

I am now spending most of my time setting up the operations in the agroforestry farm I am building between the villages of Borgbuabu and Giema, in the Kenema region, south east of Sierra Leone.
It takes about 5 hours to get there from Freetown and although I could have stayed in the villages, I have decided to start camping by the plantation.

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Camping is free and it’s great to be close to nature, waking up with the birds singing.
A little boy brings us water every morning so that we could shower. We have all we need!

Staying in a tent also gives me privacy after long days of work.
When I am out and about on the farm, people tend to congregate around me, I am the new kid on the block!

 

The cocoa plantation

The contract is still pending final approval, but here I am in Kenema, starting to prepare the operations in the cocoa plantation.
As it turns out, the land needs preparing to start planting.
Existing cocoa trees, affected by black pod disease, also needs to be removed. We’ll need to ensure we take a very good care of the new crops, to ensure the disease doesn’t come back.

I have been busy hiring about 15 individuals. An experienced farm manager, and manual labourers.
Whilst I will be present to supervise the progress, I also need people on site to help, when I am away.

I will not plant cocoa over the whole land on the first year. I will try the cacao seeds that have been given to me by the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute and assess the results before doing a full plantation.
I’ll also plant cassava and pineapple.

A pagode and dormitories are  being built next to the land, for those that need to be close to the crops and also wwoofers, that I aim at bringing to the project next year.
I’m sure they will enjoy being here. The Moa river runs alongside the plantation, it’s beautiful.

Negotiating with the villages, a breakthrough

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!

Setting up an agroforestry farm in Sierra Leone

Whilst I’m embarking in the great endeavour that is growing cacao in Sierra Leone, I am acquiring knowledge from the experts in the field.
Last October, I met Professor Paul Hadley from the School of Agriculture Policy & Development, at the University of Reading. We discussed implementation of best practices in setting up a cocoa farm.
His wealth of knowledge in the field were invaluable and his words, very encouraging.

Back in Sierra Leone, I met Mr. Patrick Sawyer, Head of Agriculture at Njala University, Freetown. I visited his farm on site and was amazed with the success of method of his soil management and the positive effect it had on his crops which I found staggering.
I learnt that soil in tropical places like Sierra Leone loses its nutrient with sustained rainfalls. Mr Patrick Sawyer created a technique to retain the nutrients, an ingenious modus operandi I intend to use in my own farm.

In an agroforestry farm, trees or shrubs are grown around or amongst crops.
For cacao, it is a great way to provide partial shade to the cocoa tree and improve yield and sustainability.
Since it takes 3 to 5 years for a cocoa tree to reach maturity and become productive, I have decided to concurrently grow plantain and banana trees, pineapple and cassavas.
Once I have come to an agreement with the leaders of Borgbuagbu, I will start the process of seting up a cocoa nursery.
Meanwhile, I am gathering material to build the nusery infrastructure and communial buildings