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Muriel’s diary – day 5: Borgbuabu

A few days into our stay, we take the short drive to the village of Borgbuabu.
Borgbuabu is the village that is leasing the land to Cacao Elegguá. It is situated in the district of Kenema, in the Eastern Province.
The village doesn’t count more than 500 people, and we mainly meet older women and children when we visit. Everyone else is at work.
I have a chat with Mr Abba, the school headteacher. He is on strike because of a lack of funding from the government. Since he is also the only teacher of the establishment, all the kids are out of school!
The most striking effect of the civil war that took place between 1991 and 2002 is in the education.
Most of the over 50 are educated and skilled; they would have been over 25 and would have completed their education by the time the civil war started.
By contrast, the younger population is barely literate.
Desmond would like to contribute to the community by building a new nursery.

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Mr Abba school headteacher

I also meet Ibrahim Gbondo, a community health worker who works in the Baoma Health Centre.
The centre treats the under 5s for three conditions: diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.
As it turns out, Kenema is a diamond rich region that was at the centre of the civil war back in 2000.
The infant mortality rate was extremely high then: nearly one in three children died before reaching their first birthday.
The IRC (International Rescue Committee) was until recently running this health centre, but it is now owned by the government.

Ibrahim Gbondo, a community health worker
Ibrahim Gbondo, a community health worker

The road to recovery is going to be long, but there is a lot of hope for those who are willing to work hard and believe in change. Education and health are key to the recovery of Sierre Leone. Desmond is aware that the contribution of Cacao Elegguá must start with these very important elements.


Source: 
ReliefWeb – IRC finds staggering infant-mortality rate in Sierra Leone’s Kenema district

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Muriel’s diary – day 4: it’s my birthday!

I was keen on coming to Sierra Leone in October, to bury the fateful date of my birthday.
Birthdays stopped being fun a few years into my thirties. And now, in the African bush, I have lost all notion of time and space.
Internet or phones do not work, it is a great disconnection.
We naturally wake up at 7am and whilst Desmond’s day starts immediately,  I just walk around the farm with Miles and Jason, Desmond’s friend who has traveled with us. We read books, reorganise the storage room (our hands on task for the stay) and hang out by the Barra.
I know today is special because, as the day draws to a close, people are coming and casually sitting on the benches of camp Eleggua. There’s also visitors that have come from Kenema. Very soon, a sound system is being installed and a huge pot of rice and sauce is being brought in.
The famous plum wine that was bought on the way to Kenema, and had remained untouched, is now open, and the party is starting.
It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and it’s a great party, with local music, great food and amazing company.
I couldn’t have asked for more!
I have a good feeling about the year ahead!

Muriel’s diary – day 3: what about the cocoa?

Cacao Elegguá is having a great impact into the economy of the local community: the farm employee headcount surpasses 40.
All new recruits are given an employee handbook that put the employee wellbeing and safety at the forefront.
Employees must wear protective footwear when working on the field or doing building work. They must also wear protective gloves and eyewear if working the wood.
All footwear and work accessories are provided by the farm.

I take a walk to the cocoa plantation with TS, the farm manager.
Ten acres of cocoa trees have been intercroped with pineapple, plantain trees and ginger.
It is quite an innovative way of growing the cocoa, but best for the trees, as the plantain trees provide much needed shade to the cocoa.
Whilst the the cocoa will bear fruit in three to five years, the pineapple will be ready in six months.
Many other crops have been planted: cashew, neem, moringa, potatoes as well eggplants, cabbage, lettuce, pepper and cucumbers to make the farm self-sustainable.
There is now livestock at the farm too!
5 goats,  1 sheep and 4 hens.
The farm has outgrown its original objective of only growing cocoa!

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Can you spot the cocoa?

A new management team now directs the operations at the farm.
First there is the Borgbuabu village chief: Chief Fodie Gbainda who is the Operations Manager. Then there is the construction manager: Cheku. Managing the farm operations are George and TS. And of course, Clifford, the project manager who has been present in the project from the very beginning.

Desmond regularly holds meetings to discuss the operations, and most of all, to transmit his vision for the future. It is great to hear him talk so passionately about what his aspirations are and whilst the farm development is nothing but easy or straightforward, it does feel that everyone at Cacao Elegguá understands the project and feel involved and happy to contribute.

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Staff meeting

What’s next: Desmond is building a house.
This will allow us to have a stable family home, a pied-a-terre to come back to.

Muriel’s diary – day 2: Welcome to Camp Elegguá!

We wake up in a beautiful clearing enclosed with bamboos.
Tents are set-up on sturdy wooden platforms. Bamboo benches have been built all around and very high trees provide a very gentle shade. This is camp Elegguá!
It is difficult to believe that this area was a wild bush just a year ago.

The beautiful Bell tent in its wooden platform. The definition of glamping!
Camp Elegguá

When we get-up, Desmond has already started his day, and we join him at the barra a community space at the heart of the plantation.
George, the assistant farm manager is opening the day by doing a role call.
George then welcomes us warmly to the farm. As Desmond’s family, he want us to feel at home, and by the end of our stay to know everyone by their first name. He then says a prayer, for peace on the day, for blessings for all. It is addressed to Allah first, and then to God.

The Cacao Elegguá farm is organised like a village.
The entrance is opened by a large driveway that leads to a little leafy roundabout.
By this roundabout sits the barra, this community space made of small walls and a roof. Everyone meets at the Barra. The workers taking a break. The women coming to cook (a cooker has been installed on a corner),  children also come and play.
Very soon, the barra becomes our favourite place, we get to know Fati, a young, slender and very friendly woman that often cooks for us against a payment, as well as her little sister Sata that likes to play with our son Miles.
We later meet the village Chief, and his wife Mariama. Their daughter has been named after me. To honour Desmond of his contribution to the community.

A storage space is built by the barra as well as a kitchen connected to a large solar panel. From then, a path leads to the camp.

 

 

 

Muriel’s diary – day 1: a trip to Sierra Leone

It’s barely been a year since Desmond has secured the Cacao Elegguá plantation land, in an area called “Famanger” tucked between the villages of Borgbuabu and Gliema.
I am very excited to finally meet the community and see the progress of the farm for myself.

Getting to the plantation takes time.
The first stretch, from Freetown to Kenema is easy. The roads are great and there’s lots to see on the road. We’re able to buy fruits, local food and the national drink, a fruity soft drink called “Vimto”.
We even stop over in a village where we buy a big jerrican of Bamboo wine. No one is able to give us the recipe of this sweet and delicious alcoholic beverage, but we’re told it’s made with rice.

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Mainly great roads, and a challenging final stretch
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On the road to Kenema. Beautiful cornrows, I asked this young lady whether I could take a picture to have it done to my hair

In the village, I get to sample the ladies toilets. They’re amazing. An outdoor space circled with leafy bamboos. There’s also bamboo leaves on the floor.
The final stretch of the trip starts in Kenema and ends at the plantation.
It’s a 2 hour drive of country roads with huge potholes.
Now I understand the benefit of a Land Rover. No other car would survive!

The night has set in when we finally reach Borgbuabu. And I see so many faces that greet us already. I’ve heard so much of this village, and now I’m finally here.
We’ll meet people again soon, as we must head to the plantation for the night.

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