Inspiring youth into oil palm cultivation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has one of the most productive oil palm landscapes in West Africa with smallholder oil palm farmers accounting for 32,000 hectares of farmlands and producing 80% of the total fresh fruit bunches. Yet the average annual oil palm yield is just under three tons per hectare—almost seven times less than the global average yield of 25 tons per hectare per year. Best management practices training is changing that.

Photo: Farmers in Tokpoi Village on their eight acres oil palm farm in Kailahun District © Solidaridad/Sierra Leone

A sector with potential

In the deep rain forest of Peje West Chiefdom in the Kailahun district of Sierra Leone lies Tokpoi, a village enriched with oil palm plantations owned by smallholder farmers. But like most oil palm producing communities in the country, the youth see the cultivation of the commodity as a less attractive economic activity.

“From the setting up of the nursery to the matured stage of oil palm involves hard work. At the end of a harvest season, the income we generate is less than the efforts we put in,” says Kabba Vandy, a 29-year-old youth farmer in Tokpoi village.

Besides Kabba’s concern for the demanding nature of oil palm cultivation, farmers in Sierra Leone are confronted with far bigger challenges ranging from the lack of access to improved oil palm seedlings, inadequate extension services and little youth interest in the cultivation of the commodity.

Inspiring action at the community level

 In 2019, Kabba and 89 other farmers participated in Solidaridad’s training to enhance their knowledge on best management practices (BMP) in oil palm under the second phase of the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme, which seeks to transform the oil palm sector in the subregion. What he didn’t anticipate was that the skills he acquired would inspire his community to embrace oil palm farming as a profitable business.

After the training, Kabba became a BMP facilitator tasked with the responsibility of forming groups that encourage other farmers to apply best management practices in their oil palm plantations. 

Kabba formed a group of 12 (seven men and five women) who are now providing farm management services to other oil palm farmers for a fee. The group offers a range of services like circle weeding, pruning, brushing and pathway creation.

Through these services, they raised 1 million Leone (100 dollars) in just one month after the formation of the group. 

The good thing about the work we do is that it has not only increased the demand for our services to other nearby communities but also attracted disinterested youths into oil palm farming.” -Kabba Vandy, Oil Palm farmer

Photo: Kabba Vandy is a proud oil palm farmers in Tokpoi Village © Solidaridad/Sierra Leone

Solidaridad’s Oil Palm Programme Manager in Sierra Leone, John Maada Paul Sinah says “Solidaridad, through the oil palm programme, has provided business opportunities, decent work and improved the livelihoods of young people across 52 communities”.

On a recent field visit by the Programme Advisory Group to assess the progress and challenges of implementing the programme, Augustine Sellu, Eco-Bank Microfinance manager and a member of the group said they were excited to see the youth in Tokpoi village take self-development initiatives seriously. 

Gearing up for the next phase

The second phase of the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana.

In Sierra Leone, the programme is implemented in 178 communities and has so far benefited 5,225 farmers, one of which is Kabba. 

Like Kabba, the programme seeks to inspire more than 2,900 youth to take up oil palm production as a business by providing the requisite capacity support. Through this, Solidaridad will contribute to the sustainable development of the commodity in Sierra Leone to provide socio-economic benefits to people, including farmers.

Read more about our work in Palm Oil.

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