These are “social organisations with an economic purpose which are not registered as business entities with the government, and therefore not registered as bodies corporate before the law”. Informal groups play an important role in facilitating training, education, and accessing credit from NGOs and donor funded programmes. These groups are effective at supporting their members’ self-employment activities through mutual aid, and access to development assistance programmes. Most rural development agencies work closely with these informal groups for training and technology transfer, and to facilitate credit for farming, trade and food processing activities. 48
Farmers in Sierra Leone have recently been organised into formal farmers associations, limited liability companies, and cooperatives.49 The farmers’ associations offer a good potential for reaching the farmers in the rural areas since they are fairly representative of their farming communities. They are well placed to support the mobilisation of village groups to access needed inputs and services in the farming communities.
Expansion of access and better management of natural resources - the basic means of production (i.e. access to land, forest, pastures and water resources).
Improved access to services, credit and marketing outlets, processing, by leveraging them as a result of their representative and advocacy activities, or their financial clout.
Making their voices heard on decision-making processes in which resource allocations are determined, as well as policies that affect the context in which they produce, market, transform, and export their products. In larger numbers, farmers gain bargaining power and can have a more effective input in decision-making processes that affect their lives.
National Federation of Farmers of Sierra Leone (NAFFSL)
Farmers in Sierra Leone have formally organised themselves into local farmers’ associations or co-operatives to facilitate their cooperation in crop production, processing and marketing activities as well as all other operations associated with fish and livestock. The National Federation of Farmers of Sierra Leone (NaFFSL) is an umbrella organisation of “approved” farmer based organisations in Sierra Leone.50 NAFFSL is intended “to function as an apex body of the approved FBOs to defend members’ morale (sic) and material interest at grass-root level (villages, chiefdoms, wards, district, and national) and International level by development actions, constructive dialogue, lobbying, advocacy and experience sharing to meaningfully engage farming as a business.”51
Traditionally, farmers associations such as the National Association of Farmers in Sierra Leone have worked very closely with technocrats mainly in the Ministry of Agriculture, the Co-operative Department, NGOs, agricultural research institutions etc, offering agricultural extension and other delivery services to them. The establishment of NAFFSL is likely to have a positive impact on this relationship, with a stronger voice for the farmers’ organisations. The stated vision of NAFFSL is “to be an umbrella farmers’ organisation of Sierra Leone, a framework of reference, of dialogue and coordination, sharing vision and action, which offers better services and security to the members and which influences the policies and strategies as regards sustainable rural development at all levels.” NAFFSL will take a keen interest in commercial agriculture as outlined in its objectives (See Box 2).
Box 2: Aims and Objectives of the NAFFSL Article 2: The Federation shall concern itself with all matters affecting all farmers in Sierra Leone through the approved FBOs and shall act accordingly with respect therefore as may be considered expedient to:
Act as private sector to play a key role in the Nation’s agricultural development processes.
Ensure that committed grass-root farmers are identified, and organised into legal FBOs and empowered to work as a Federation for the good of all its members.
Promote and defend the value of competitive and sustainable agriculture practices which shall be at the disposal of peasant farmers and agricultural producers.
Support and supervise the consultation and structuring of peasant farmers and agricultural producers.
Favour dialogue and cooperation between Federation and Government and foreign organizations.
Inform and confirm the members of the approved FBOs.
Establish subsidiary agro-companies / industry and enter into joint venture partnership with bilateral and multilateral organisations for the purpose of carrying on the business of the Federation.
Promote National HIV/AIDS/STDs and other farmers’ health awareness and preventive measures through effective sensitization programme.
Promote, maintain peace, unity and cooperation amongst members with similar aspirations.
Do any other business deemed necessary as approved by the Federation.
Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are schools where the fields and the village environment provide the learning places in which adult education methods are applied. Originally developed in Asia for promoting the uptake of Integrated Pest Management system in rice farming, FFS are now being used in many developing countries to empower farmers’ groups to acquire, adapt and act upon knowledge on many other aspects of farming and rural life relevant to their particular needs.52 Originally FFS were facilitated by government extension staff but in recent years the trend has been to encourage and train farmers to become facilitators, with the government services and NGOs offering training, referral and monitoring services. Farmer Field Schools have been set up by different NGOs in various communities throughout the country, offering technical training, access to inputs and markets for crops, with varying degrees of success.
The Consortium for Rehabilitation and Development (CORAD) which has been working together since mid-2003 is currently implementing two programmes supported by a US Cash Grant and a Title II Grant to restore agricultural-based livelihoods, improve food security and build community resiliency.53
Building on the successes and lessons learned from a previous Title II programme, CORAD is in its third year of implementing a 3 year USAID funded “Promoting Linkages for Livelihood Security and Economic Development” (LINKS) Programme to expand economic activities in rural communities and to re-establish agricultural input and output marketing linkages between these communities and the mezzo and national level market players.
The Livelihood Expansion for Asset Development (LEAD), the current Title II programme, is specifically designed to add value to the LINKS programme by building on the foundations established by a previous Title II programme the Developmental Relief Programme (DRP) in the rural areas in the agriculture and health sectors with new activities that leverage impact; specifically target and enable poor farmers and economically marginalized youth to undertake new or expanded livelihood activities; expand community resiliency with improved linkages to health services, community water and sanitation, agricultural infrastructure and community-managed safety nets and to empower community-based groups to practice and promote principles of good governance.
In its effort to build community resilience and ensure a market led development process CORAD has been using the FFS as a vehicle for development in the implementation of both the LINKS and LEAD programmes.