Lucia is Sidie’s wife and is also a cocoa farmer alongside her husband. She is proud of her work; she enjoys being a cocoa farmer and is part of the Ngoleagorbu Fairtrade co-operative.
“At first when we were not organised as the Ngoleagorbu cocoa farmers association, our lives were very difficult, because we were not earning a lot of money. But now we are organised as farmers, we really see an increase in our income and a lot of changes are taking place.”
Like Sidie, Lucia also told us about the price per kilogram increase that the bargaining power of the cooperative has given them. The price went from around 7,000 Leones per kilogram to around 15,000 Leones nowadays. There is also a 1,500 Leones Ngoleagorbu ‘bonus’ on top of the basic price that is paid by the co-operative to each farmer. As Lucia points out: “Fairtrade is very good for us, because there is a lot of transparency and we get a Fairtrade bonus from Ngoleagorbu. So Fairtrade is best for farmers because it works in the interests of the farmers.”
Lucia spoke very highly of the new ways of working that have come from being part of a wider community of farmers, providing mutual support for the more labour-intensive farm tasks: “At the time that we were not organised, we had to hire extra labour to come and work for us. It was costly. But now, whether you are a woman or a man, as long as you own a cocoa farm and you are part of Ngoleagorbu, other farmers will come and work for you. And we will work for them. So the paid labour money we used to give out is saved, which increases our income.”
The cooperative’s aims also include the empowerment of women, in a country where women’s rights are much further behind those in the UK. Women account for 52% of the population in Sierra Leone yet they hold less than 20% of elected positions. Their voice, visibility, participation and representation in important positions remains very low compared to men.
“Since Ngoleagorbu was formed, women now take part in leadership roles and have key responsibilities. We have a female buying officer. That would never have happened before. We feel more empowered in our community.”
Lucia is also the chairperson of the premium committee of TUNKOCFA, one of the 3 local farmers associations, united under the Ngoleagorbu co-operative.
Sadly, life isn’t always easy for a cocoa farmer in Sierra Leone. Lucia spoke at length about her experiences, including some of the many difficulties she and her community faces on a day to day basis.
Sierra Leone’s famous rainy season hits Sierra Leone hard, due to the African monsoon which runs from May to November. These heavy downpours bring their own challenges. “During rainy season, there is a shortage of food, because that’s the time the cocoa will not be bearing. Even farmers who are also doing rice farming, it’s not enough to sustain the family. And also when we are working on the farm in the pouring rain, we don’t have any rain protection kits, like rain gear or boots.”
Lucia and her fellow farmers are forced to strictly ration their daily food during the rainy season – she says it can be as little as 5 cups of rice per day for an extended family of 10-12 people. They are forced to supplement daily rations when times are hard with bush yams and snails, which Lucia and her family forage from the forest.
Education can be a struggle for families like Lucia’s. It is fairly common for families in Sierra Leone’s countryside to consist of 6 or 7 children. Families like this cannot afford school fees for everyone. Even with their income from cocoa, rice or palm nut farming, they struggle to have enough money to send their children to school. Lucia explains: “When the children are in Class 1 to Class 6, Primary School, it is a little bit easier for us because the fees involved are not too much. But Secondary School, it is very difficult because during that time we have to transfer the kids to either Kenema or Bo to attend, and we have to pay for lodging, food and school fees. University is even more expensive and only for wealthy people. So what happens to most of our children, they come back to work on the farm. They drop out of education because we don’t have the money.”
On the subject of health, Lucia talked of the problems that can arise when she or her family are sick or need medical attention. There are water-borne illnesses picked up from unclean water, and there are sometimes accidents on the farm. There is a health centre in Lucia’s town of Gorahun, but medicine is not free of charge and the family has to pay. The facilities at the small health centre in Gorahun are necessarily limited, so patients sometimes have to be taken to the nearest city, Kenema, for more serious treatment.
“It is very difficult for us to have money to pay for healthcare. At times people can be abandoned at the hospital because they don’t have money. If you have money, they attend to you, if you don’t have money, they don’t attend to you.”
Lucia also recounted stories of how people have died due to such last-minute hospital abandonment:
“For the pregnant woman, let’s say you are pregnant you go for a check up. It is not easy for you…. So if it’s time for you to give birth, and they say it’s a Caesarean case, it’s very difficult for them because the ambulance will come and take you to Kenema, and because they are not getting free treatment, they have to give money. So let’s say if they don’t have the money, sometimes, some people they have lost their life there.”