Rebuilding cocoa farmers’ skills

Growing new trees and improving the variety will result in better harvests and mean a change of life for these farmers.Mariama Khai Fornah, BBC Media Action producer and trainer

From 2011-2015 a creative combination of radio programming, community work and distance learning boosted the skills of cocoa farmers in Eastern Sierra Leone.

The project aimed to rebuild farmers' skills, increase the quality and amount of cocoa they produced and encourage more people to take up farming to support themselves and their families.

Lost knowledge

Before the country's civil war of 1991-2002, cocoa was a major export crop for Sierra Leone. But during the war many farmers were killed and farms were destroyed, together with generations of knowledge about cocoa production.

By the time the conflict ended exports of cocoa from Sierra Leone had dropped by over 60%. Remaining farmers found themselves caught in a vicious cycle.

"Many of them sold their cocoa through a barter system after they had earlier secured loans or building materials from cocoa buyers or exporters," said BBC Media Action's David Musiime, "The cost of these loans meant that they had no bargaining power and had to sell their cocoa to the buyer at whatever price they were given."

Mariama Khai Fornah, a producer and trainer for BBC Media Action in Sierra Leone, described rebuilding farmers’ skills as "crucial".

"After the war, people came back to their homes and they had nothing. Growing new trees and improving the variety will result in better harvests and mean a change of life for these farmers," she said.

The power of radio

The project was aimed at cocoa farmers in three districts: Kenema, Kono and Kailahun.

A 15-minute radio drama called NgoiYaLende (Unity Boat), performed in the regional language Mende, was shaped by a baseline survey. Focus group discussions were conducted at the start of the project

The drama starred local actors and was broadcast on partner station, Eastern Radio, whose staff members were trained and mentored by BBC Media Action.

In addition to the drama, a phone-in radio programme encouraged farmers to call in with questions for cocoa experts. 

Community work

Field schools for farmers were established. They consisted of listener groups at demonstration farms who listened to teaching modules and practice techniques. After each meeting, facilitators collected information on the effectiveness of the presentations.

Distance training

As well as working with Eastern Radio, BBC Media Action collaborated with many other partners and within existing structures, including: Njala University, Eastern Radio, SLARI and non-governmental organisations such as Welt Hunger Hilfe (WHH), cocoa working groups and advisory groups.

A distance learning programme offered via Njala University consisted of 12 training modules about best practices in cocoa farming. The university also trained community facilitators to provide one to one training.

The farmers' participation was monitored throughout the course before a final practical examination.

Project information
Project name Pathways to Learning: Unblocking the Cocoa Value Chain in Eastern Sierra Leone
Funder European Union; Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO); ACDI/VOCA-Page Programme, German International Cooperation (GIZ)
Dates 2011-15
Themes Resilience and humanitarian
Outputs NgoiYaLende (Unity Boat)
Broadcast partners Eastern Radio, NJALA University, GTZ, PAGE, World Bank
Partners Njala University, Njala University, SLARI and non-governmental organisations such as Welt Hunger Hilfe (WHH)