Rice Advice in West Africa

CRS information officer for West Africa, Lane Hartill, visited eastern Sierra Leone last week and met with farmers who have increased their production thanks to CRS.

Rice Program

Musa Fomba, a farmer in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone, has increased his rice yield thanks to CRS’ farmer field schools, which teach farmers techniques to improve their crop yields. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Musa and I have something in common: We both grew up on a farm. I raised hogs and steers; he has sheep and pygmy goats. We chat about corrals and the price of goats per head. But then the conversation turns to rice, Musa’s main crop. When he offers to show me his field, I can’t wait.

I tromp for an hour through the forest, past the kids bathing in the stream, under the shadow of the palm oil trees he planted in 1984, through the 10 ft. high elephant grass, and up a dry, rocky riverbed. I’m soaked with sweat by the time we arrive. Musa sometimes does this trip four times a day. Farming is good exercise, he says, and judging by the map of muscles on his back, he’s right.

Spread out before us are rolling hills of rice. It catches the light and glows neon green. Musa beams, too. But the thing he is most proud of is missing: birds. They’re his sworn enemy, eating his profit right off the plant. But birds don’t like the deep jungle, he says, and he’s willing to hike here in order to harvest more rice.

Musa could have gone the route of thousands of Sierra Leonean young men: roaming the streets of major cities like Kenema or Freetown, hawking flip flops, pungent perfume, or anything else that lets them earn enough money to eat at night.

But he prefers farming, he’s not ashamed of saying. It’s what he grew up with. He knows that with persistence and a strong back, there’s money in it. This year he and his workers cleared 5.5 acres of land for his upland rice, grueling work done with sharp machetes and a rusty hoes. Two years ago he harvested 10 bags. This year, he’s thinks he’ll get 40. The difference? CRS. A field agent told him not to “broadcast” as much seed on the ground. That gives it more room to grow, increasing the yield.

Growing up, my sister and I got up every morning before school and fed the calves. Farming got old, quickly. But after talking to Musa, after wading through the armpit-high rice field and seeing how happy he was, I got to thinking: it might be nice to get place with a garden someday and broadcast a few seeds of my own.

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