The SARD- SC project conducted a ten- day gender outcomes harvesting in Sierra Leone,recently to assess how the project has contributed to economic and social empowerment of women organized around cassava processing units and how this achievement reinforced complementarities between men and women engaged in cassava value chain as equal partners. It was also to assess how the beneficiaries of project interventions have brought about social developmental outcomes.
Agriculture is the main stay of the country and economy, with a subsistence farming system. A larger number of the farmers are women, constituting 70 percent of the labour force in cultivation, harvesting, food production, processing and marketing. Cassava is the staple food and essential for food security and source of income for farmers. Since the war ended in 2002,IITA and other development agencies have contributed their quota to develop the country’s agriculture and economy following the ravages of the war. The SARD-SC project, since its inception in 2012 has also been contributing to developing the value chain of cassava, through technical backstopping , introduction of new innovations and technology, such as improved quality of cassava stems to farmers, training and capacity development of people on better agronomic practices and construction of four processing centers in the four districts of Sierra Leone.
However, four years after, there is a need to examine the project’s scorecard in Sierra Leone. How the project is reducing poverty in households and contributing to enhancing food security is a pertinent question. A more imperative question is the impact the project is making on poverty reduction, generation of income controlled by women and translation of this into household food and nutritional security, asset building and investment on social developmental goals for the wellbeing of future generation. To find answers to this question and many more , Dr. Amare Tegbaru, the SARD-SC Gender Specialist led a team of the project staff on a ten- day gender outcome and harvesting mission to Sierra Leone. The team comprised Dr. Marie Yomeni, Cassava Commodity Specialist, Dr. Paul Dontsop Nguezet, Project Impact Economist, Bode Olaoluwa, Audio-Visual Manager, Adebola- Adewole, Project Communication Officer, Amato Masirika, Mr Slyvanus Fannah, Demby Mamakor, IITA staff and Mr. Lansana Sesay from SLARI.
Dr. Tegbaru said the gender outcome harvesting mission was to assess the impact of the project in all its ramifications on the extent it has helped to reduce poverty among women cassava processors , and how the introduction of new agricultural innovations and technology by the project in collaboration with partners has increased their productivity and consequently contributed to enhancing food security and income, changing gender roles and decision making.. “We want to see the outcomes and early impact of the project on women cassava processors and their livelihoods, uncover the under-recognized roles of women in agricultural production that goes beyond rural subsistence and provide robust evidence their important contributions in cassava value chains in aprticular: 1) as farm owners and managers of processing (units)factories: 2) processors and product developers; 3) marketers of cassava products; 4) leaders and investors in community developments . For this we have to visits a number of places – cassava processing centers built and equipped by IITA and SARD-SC project, UPoCA sites.”
The team traversed the length and breadth of the Sierra Leone visiting cassava processing centers, UPoCA sites and holding Focal Group discussions and interviews in Makeni, Bo district, Magbenyani, Kaptema and Sanyadelu, in the north, south and Eastern part of the country. The impact of the project can be seen in the all the cassava centers visited in the resourcefulness of the women to add value to cassava crops thereby generating new and innovative cassava products introduced to their market. “This could not have been possible, said Dr. Yomeni , without the capacity development training given to the women by the project.” The project has taught them how to add value to cassava crops. In this country, cassava used to be processed only into few traditional foods such foofoo and gari, but with the introduction of new technology, the women are now processing cassava into starch and HQCF, coconut gari, flour, odorless foofoo, mushrooms from cassava peels and sundry other products.
Interestingly, cassava processing has taken on a toga of a country- wide industry for women in Sierra Leone, many of these centers have women working, operating equipment and carrying out the whole gamut of cassava processing of peeling, washing, grating, pressing, sieving, frying and drying. Cassava cultivation and processing is taken very seriously in the country because it is a very lucrative business. Therefore, the women are organized into groups or cooperatives in their communities, with individuals taking up specified different roles but working assiduously and communally to realize the same goal of self reliance, food security and improved income.
The ten- day mission took the team to many processing centers in all the districts of the country. Interviews were held with the women on their cassava cultivation to processing and the marketing of cassava products which have become a good source of income for them. The first visit took the team to Makeni, in the northern part of the country where there was a strong association of women cassava processors, known as the Starch Women’s Group ,also known as Tamaraneh Starch Processors.
The association, consisting of 35 members, is based in Makeni Town and was established in 2013. Led by Kadiatu Koroma, the group specializes in processing cassava to starch which is a lucrative business, fetching them good money which some of them have used to build modest houses. For Fatimah Fornah, a member of the group, who is the grater of the group with a small grating machine, could not hide her joy as a result of improved income for grating for the group. Her income, Fornah said had increased to 60,000 Lyons a day from 2,000. For Fornah and others, the SARD-SC project has been a life changing experience.
Every where the team went, they were received and welcomed with singing and dancing. The women processors showed their appreciation to the team and the IITA/SARD-SC project for its contribution to enhancing their income and consequently improving their standard of living. Their improved status in the community has earned them respect and a voice in their respective homes, they are no longer dependent on their husbands for money.