Salone News

Introducing Yoni Cassava Initiative

By  | 18 November 2020 at 18:01 | 1218 views

A new project in rural Sierra Leone offers incentives for farmers to keep children and older youngsters from working the land and send them to school instead.

The Yoni Cassava Initiative, based in the Mile 91 area of Tonkolili District, freely provides school uniforms and basic learning supplies like backpacks, exercise books, pens, and pencils, for school-age children. It also offers vocational training for older beneficiaries to learn skills like carpentry, tailoring, and welding. This education promotion is a close complement to the core of the project, which is agriculture.

The goal is to help farmers increase the scale of their operations and, through post-harvest processing, also add value to crop yields before bringing their wares to market. The project’s two-pronged approach is designed to ultimately boost agricultural incomes. The provision of technical support and access to mechanized equipment/tools would make farmers less dependent on manual labour. The free provision of supplies for basic education and opportunities for vocational training are meant to motivate families to send – and keep – their children and dependants in school.

According to a formal report by project officer S.T.A. Bonodick, Siera Grass-Roots Agency (SIGA) has nearly completed the construction of a cassava processing plant for the benefit of farmers in the area. SIGA is working on this initiative in close partnership with Brot fur die Welt (Bread for the World), which is based in Germany.

The education/training component of the project is consistent with SIGA’s three-year implementation of its Education for Children in Work Situations (ECWS) initiative. It started in July 2018 and was initially scheduled to end June 2020. Constraints related to the COVID-19 global pandemic have caused an extension of this timeline to next year 2021. “The project is funded mainly by BftW with contributions from the communities and SIGA,” reads the report.

SIGA and Bread for the World representatives

About 300 children between the ages of six and 18 years are direct beneficiaries in the basic education scheme. Many other community members are undergoing vocational training. For the latter, the project provides facilities, trainers, materials, training tools, and machines.

SIGA reports positive outcomes for the ECWS. Project beneficiaries are enthusiastic about the Yoni Cassava Initiative, billed as a “partnership for food and income generation.” Construction of the Yoni Cassava Processing Centre is motivating people in the area.

“Community elders, leaders, church groups, farming organizations of youths have all been inspired. They have started their respective cassava farms,” Bonodick reports. One challenge now is helping farmers increase the scale of cultivation to levels which would match – and thus make optimal use of - the available processing facilities.

Inside the Yoni processing centre

“A key problem is hiring tractors for the cultivation of larger areas of cassava,” says Vidal Roberts, executive director of SIGA. Roberts told The Patriotic Vanguard that “Sometimes the young men and women raise funds to hire tractors to plough large areas for cassava cultivation. The shortage of tractors-for-hire limits the size of farms.”

The mini-tractor SIGA has procured is more suited for transportation of farm tools and small-scale cultivation. According to Roberts, a tractor and trailer can also help move larger quantities of the harvested cassava to the processing centre. “Even a used tractor with implements like a rotary tiller would help.”

Farmers in the project area traditionally engage in small-scale, backyard cultivation of cassava. This is mostly as a source of food for households. Also, processing has been limited to cottage industry levels, with the use of slow and tedious ways to transform the tuber into products like gari, foofoo, flour, and starch.

SIGA’s strategy is to help make cassava production/processing quicker and less cumbersome. The project provides a high-yielding variety of the cassava tuber which is more suitable for larger scale cultivation – and processing.

By providing mechanized processing facilities at the centre, the Yoni Cassava Initiative will be helping farming households process more cassava and with greater efficiency.

The new centre is now being fitted with equipment for a wide range of cassava processing activities. Among these processors are a cassava peeler, a grater, a hydraulic press, a frying bowl, a hammer mill, and a sieve.

There is an 18 KVA petrol-powered electric generator, as well as a freshly dug water well with a pump and mounted storage tank, exclusively for the centre. These utilities should make operations run smoothly.