DIARY IN THE LIFE OF A COCOA FARMER IN SIERRA LEONE

My name is Michael Kanneh, and I am 29 years old. I live in Jojoima town, in the Malema chiefdom in Sierra Leone. This town is on the foot of the Gola rainforest, connecting both Sierra Leone and Liberia by a huge strip of tropical rainforest. I grew up in this town, as well as Kenema town, so I know this region well.  

I am married. My wife’s name is Mamie Michael, and we have a 4-year-old son Jiamiru Kanneh. This September he will go to school for the first time. My wife studies business management at the university in Kenema.

Photo 1: my wife and my child Jiamiru, as well as the children of my brother.
I am in the middle and next to me is my father.

We live in a house with cousins, nieces, uncles. One big family under one roof. It is not ideal because it is busy and there is not so much space, but the good thing is that my family helps on the farm when I need it.

I am a cocoa farmer. My land is 4 acres and has about 1.600 cocoa trees. The trees give me 7 bags of 57 Kg each per picking season, which is from July to March. Almost 400 Kg of beans which gives me an income of around €760.  It is more than 75% from my total income. It is not enough. The yields are low because many of my trees are old. I think about 40 years old.

Besides cocoa, I also have coffee, cassava, and palm oil. I sell this locally on the market. When it is not a season for cocoa, this gives us income, but cocoa is my main source of income.

The land is my own. I got it from my father 8 years ago. He was also a cocoa farmer like my grandfather was, and my brother is. They taught me everything that I know about cocoa farming today. When I was 18 years old and finished my school, I joined them on the land, because I wanted to learn about farming. I am proud that I now have my own farm.

I am a member of the Malema Cocoa Farmers Association, a cooperative that works together with GRC and RSPB locally, and Gaia Cacao in the Netherlands.

Photo 2: me and my cocoa trees. I have 4 acres of land with about 100 cocoa trees.
This gives me 500 Kg of beans per year.

My days look usually the same. I wake up early to support my wife and family in the house. Then at 9:00, I walk to the farm which is about 45 min away. In the afternoon, I go back to the house to have lunch with my family.

In the evening I usually go back to my farm to see if no one steals my crops. I don’t mean people, but animals and monkeys! This is the reality of living in the rainforest. The animals come to the farms and eat from the ripe cocoa pods. It is a real problem. So, I have put a mockup from clothes, to scare them away. I walk a lot to the farm. If I had a motorbike it would be easier. Next time I tell you more about my life.

Background:
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.

GRC and RSPB are the local partners on the ground that work with the MALEMA farmer group and other groups. Gaia Cacao is their partner oversees, selling the cocoa beans from this project to bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Europe and the US, as part of a strategy to increase the income of cocoa farmers in the region.

The beans are currently in Amsterdam. Interested to give it a go? Send an email to info@gaiacacao.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

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