Hello, it is Michael Kanneh again from Malema, the Gola rainforest in Sierra Leone.
Last time I told you about my life as a cocoa farmer, you can read it here. Now I want to tell you a bit more about how I spend my days working on the farm.
Every morning I go to the farm to work on the land. Except for Sunday. It is warm and rainy now; we are in the middle of the rain season. There is not much cocoa, so I work on preparing the land for the next harvest.
First, I always check the farm to see if there is any disease on the trees. Black pod disease is a big problem. Also, there are rats, snakes and other animals that eat the pods. Or monkeys, although I have not seen them in some time anymore. I think they are scared away because of the sounds that we make during farming.
So, I remove the dried pods and the ones that got affected by the disease. I prune the cocoa pods using a machete and I remove the weeds from the farm. I have learned all this from my father and brother, who are also cocoa farmers. It is important to take care of the farm well because the trees easily get sick. Especially the ones that have too much shade, so I need to maintain this very well.
It is not easy being a farmer. What I find the most difficult thing is the uncertainty. You plant a tree, and you grow the crop. You spend the time on it, and then it gets eaten by the animals who live in the forest, or the trees get sick. Also, cocoa is a seasonal crop. So, I also have palm oil, cassava and coffee plants growing on my land.
I do not have a car or a bike, so I always walk to the farm. It takes me about 1 hour each way. When it is lunchtime I sometimes go back to the house. All in all, it takes me 3-4 hours per day to get to my farm and home. I wish I could have a bike. Sometimes I get a ride from someone.
One other problem we have here in Malema, and in other regions is that it rains a lot. So, it is difficult to dry the beans properly. If I would have money, I would invest in a drying bed that is covered. I would also buy more land so that I can grow more different crops.
I notice that the weather is changing. When I was younger, the rain was not so much as now. This year it is bad. Sometimes it rains all day. It is not good for the cocoa because it rots away. We suffered big losses because of the rain.
The farming community in Malema is helpful. It helps the workload if you can share some of the work with a group. We all work together, lending money if needed, help on each other’s farms. Now is the low season. So, one day we all go to my farm, and the next day we go to someone else’s farm. We learn from each other and share knowledge, help with the harvest and other processes.
How do I see the future? I want to be an agricultural specialist. And a farmer, selling more crops and more cocoa. I keep myself busy reading books and magazines on agriculture. I want to learn.
I am a member of the Malema Cocoa Farmers Association, a cooperative that works in partnership with GRC, RSPB and Gaia Cacao. The project is good for me because it is a learning opportunity to take part in their training about quality. Because of Gaia Cacao, I now get to speak to buyers of the beans and hear new ideas about how to improve the quality. This is very nice, and I never did that before.
I invest in my wife’s education. She studies business management, so she can help develop the business further. I dream that my son follows in my footsteps to support the business when they grow up.
The vision of Gola Rainforest National Park is to act as a catalyst for peace, prosperity, and national pride in Sierra Leone, ensuring that its globally important habitats, rich biodiversity, environmental services, and the wider landscape are conserved and that neighboring communities are active environmental stewards of the natural resource base that underpins and enhances the livelihoods of farmers. This vision can only be successful if sustainable ways can be found to support the local communities and the conservation of the forest. One initiative for doing this is through the establishment of a financially viable and ecologically friendly cocoa business in the Greater Gola Landscape. Michael is a member of the Malema Cocoa Farmers Association, a cooperative that works together with the Gola Rainforest Conservation (GRC), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK, who provides technical and financial support. Gaia Cacao in the Netherlands is the partner oversees, who are selling the cocoa beans from this project to craft chocolate makers in Europe and the US. This is part of a strategy to increase the income of cocoa farmers like Michael, and others in the region. These beans are currently in Amsterdam. Interested to know more? Send an email to email@example.com.
Gaia Cacao is a special agency dedicated to growing the market for good, sustainable cacao. They source and sell beans, offer logistics to exporters and cooperatives and farmer training. Gaia Cacao is based in Amsterdam, the heart of the cacao sector, and was founded in 2019 by Marika van Santvoort and Mariana De La Rosa.
Article provided by Marika van Santvoort as part of a series diarising the daily life of a cocoa farmer