For Mimi Pabai, 42, a mother of three, she can now see light at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of the EU-funded Boosting Agriculture and Food Security (BAFS) project in which selected farmers in Bo District are beneficiaries. In the Faala community of the Bo District, Southern Province of Sierra Leone, where she is head of the Gualatima Women’s Cooperative, there are visible signs of the gains brought to her farming activities. “Life was hard when I lost my husband during the January 6, 1999 rebel invasion of Freetown at the climax of the 11-year civil war of Sierra Leone. I returned to Bo to see how I could make my life meaningful since I already had the basics in gardening,” Mimi says. In Bo, she decided to bring other women who had suffered similar fate together to form a self-help group. This initiative led to the establishment of the Gualatima formation of a women’s cooperative with the aim of embarking on gardening as a source of livelihood. “It was not easy in the beginning since we had no access to land. After several requests, the community elders gave us a portion of land for our farming activities. This enabled us to cultivate leafy vegetables. Subsequently, we brought other women on board. “The increase in the number of women led to the demand for more land for expansion of our work,” Mimi says. With time, through Mimi’s initiative, the number of women grew exponentially. Mimi was subsequently made leader of 49 women’s groups, with a strong membership of 1,955 from several communities in the Bo and Moyamba districts of Sierra Leone. “When I was appointed chairlady, this was a turnaround in my life as many women joined me and we began doing big things.” Over the past two years, our target had been to venture into cashew production, but we had no land and no cashew seedlings. When I heard about the BAFS project, I contacted Solidaridad and they happily supported us with cashew seedlings after the town chief gave us more land. According to Mimi, Solidaridad was the first organization to change the narrative of women not owning cash crop farms. Together with her group, they were lucky to have been the first women’s group to receive and plant 107 acres of cashew seedlings under the Boosting Agriculture and Food Security (BAFS) project. The project targets smallholder farmers as the driving force of agricultural production in Sierra Leone. “We were proud to see the Solidaridad vehicle with the seedlings in our community. It makes us proud and more committed as farmers.” Solidaridad West Africa, through the European Union funding, focuses on cashew, coffee and cocoa. The overall objective of the BAFS project is to reduce poverty and food insecurity while improving household living conditions, as well as higher incomes. This is achieved by a special focus on increasing the quality and quantity of production, processing, marketing and trading while implementing environmentally sound agricultural practices. The project seeks to improve household living conditions by promoting tree crop intensification and diversification through intercropping techniques such that the women would be able to make enough money and remain self-reliant. The project is implemented by Solidaridad (lead implementer) and the Cotton Tree Foundation as the co-implementer across 10 districts of Sierra Leone. “Solidaridad focuses on supporting farmers, especially women and the youth to meet the food and nutritional needs of their families, as well as improving their economic wellbeing and is, therefore, happy with this partnership with the EU and the Government of Sierra Leone,” says Nicholas Jengre, Country Representative for Solidaridad.
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