Photos, video and story by Bill Fitzgerald
The business of burning wood to produce charcoal has been linked to support of Al Shabbab in the Horn of Africa. While Heifer is not addressing terrorism in Sierra Leone, we are addressing desertification and soil depletion.
The vast swaths of savanna outside Freetown are subject to annual burning during “the dries” of March and April. A single spark or careless match and a fire erupts that lasts for days and threatens villages like Robombeh. There, the Sabenti Women’s Farmers Association is working to establish cashew plantations that will provide long-term income and make the savanna less susceptible to fire, since taller, mature trees are typically above and safe from the flames. Farmers around Robombeh have traditionally harvested any available wood to burn under piles of earth to make high quality charcoal. The charcoal is bagged and sold as fuel for stoves in Freetown and elsewhere in Sierra Leone.
Fire is a danger in Koinadugu District also, where I was yesterday, but that heavily forested and hilly region suffers from traditional “slash and burn” agriculture, rather than the charcoal trade. Heifer is working there to train farmers in integrated agriculture that will replenish, rather than deplete the soil.
In the video below, Heifer Senior Project Officer Val Koker talks about the Sabenti Women’s Farmers Association.
Bill Fitzgerald is Heifer International’s creative director. You can read his previous posts about project visits in Sierra Leone here.
|A wood pile smolders as it’s burned into charcoal
|Bagged charcoal ready for sale|
|Cashew seedling planted by a Heifer-sponsored group|
|A mature cashew tree|