Thursday, October 1, 2009

A visit to the farm

Yesterday Alpha took me to visit his farm. Alpha is a boy of 15 who lives here in Mapaki with his family. He and Carolyn were good friends, and he has come often to visit me as well. He is currently in the last year of Junior Secondary School (JSS) here in Mapaki. Alpha dreams of becoming a doctor one day, so he works hard at his studies.

I mentioned to him that I was interested in visiting some farms, so yesterday he brought me to visit. (Photo at right is of Alpha's father harvesting rice. See more photos of the farm at The family farm is close to Mapaki, only about a 5 minute walk down the road towards Maso, and then a climb up a path to the top of a hill. Alpha told me that his farm is probably smaller than the average in the village. I am rubbish at estimating area and distances, so I won’t try to guess how big it was, but it didn’t seem huge. Alpha told me that a farm’s size is really just limited by the amount of seeds a family has. Families save seeds to use in planting the next time, but of course they also need to eat so are limited in what they can save. If Alpha’s family had access to money for more seeds they would simply clear more land for planting.

The farms here are generally mixed crop farms. On Alpha’s farm was planted rice, sorghum, corn, cassava, a few types of beans, and some vegetables (I saw a few hot peppers and tomatoes). There are also palm trees for coconuts, palm wine and palm oil. Different cops are harvested and planted at different times, and even rice is generally harvested and planted 3 times per year (depends on the type of rice though). The staple crop here is definitely rice (there is a saying that a Sierra Leonean hasn’t eaten until he has had rice), so that is the majority of what is planted. Planting is not done in an organized way in the sense of rows or anything like that – my understanding is that seeds are just thrown and grow where they land. There is no form of irrigation available as far as I can tell – this is why the dry season here is also known as the “hungry” season, because food doesn’t grow as well without the rains.

Apparently Sierra Leone also imports a lot of rice, so people have really been affected by the increasing price of rice and other food commodities over the last year. The price of a bag of rice has increased from 100,000 LE to 120,000 LE. I noticed that the rice I ate at chop houses (restaurants) in Makeni was plain white rice, different from the rice we eat here in Mapaki, which is harvested from the fields.

When the rice is ready to be harvested, it is cut down with a machete and then tied up in little bundles and hung up for a few hours to dry. Once dried, it has to be threshed to separate the seeds from the stalks. Then it must be pounded to open up the seeds to get the grain for cooking. Maintaining the farm and harvesting and processing food are hard work. Generally, the whole family works on the farm. When we visited, Alpha’s father was there as well as his two sisters, Sine (sp?) and Alice. I think that Alice is the older sister, around 24, and the two little boys in my photos are hers. Sine is 19. People go to their farms in the morning and sometimes do not return until dark. Everything is done by hand or with basic tools. Children work on the farms as well as adults – they gather wood, clean, pound rice, etc. Now that Alpha is back in school after the holidays, he generally only works on the farm on weekends.

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