Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
In Liberia and Sierra Leone, Week of Compassion is planting seeds for the future--literally and figuratively.
Ten years ago, Week of Compassion partner Agricultural Missions started the West Africa Initiative (WAI) as part of reconstruction following the 14-year civil war that devastated much of the rural sector in both countries. The initial focus of WAI was to improve food security in rural communities by increasing local food production. Through this comprehensive rural development program, Week of Compassion partners work to organize and train local farmers’ groups. But there are many challenges.
With the construction of new highways, communities within proximity of the roads saw diminishing agricultural activity. A decline in available acreage shifted land use patterns to more commercial purposes. Furthermore, many who were once farmers sought paid employment or became traders in more populated areas. Young people continue to move to the city or larger towns for perceived opportunity that often does not actually exist. Winston Carroo, Coordinator of International Programs for Agricultural Missions often asks local elders: “who will take care of you in your old age if all of the youth are gone?”
They are learning that they must plan-- and plant-- for the future.
Investing in that future is not just about caring for the land. It is also about embracing new practices and, just as importantly, nurturing a new generation of farmers. The Youth Agriculture Project, as part of the West Africa Initiative, embraces that future vision by training and empowering young people in new, sustainable agricultural practices.
At the outset, elders agree to grant land access for the program. The community then selects the youth participants; the group must contain both young men and women, who have some education, and also have a good reputation within the community. Volunteers and program staff from Agricultural Missions train the youth in new ways of cultivating the land. Then, that class of youth trains the next ‘crop’ of youth leaders.
Right now, the first set of youth trainers to complete the program are leading the next group.
Using new technologies that are not just environmentally friendly but “environmentally resilient,” the West Africa Initiative invests in futures by investing in both people and natural resources.
Ideally, in a few years these first classes of youth leaders will have established farmsteads in or around villages in which they now live. They will be able to support their families in a way that is environmentally sustainable, serving as examples to nearby communities who will also adopt these new practices.
“This is the future of farming,” says Carroo, “and farming consists of both the farmer and the land.It’s a ripple effect, but we are not the ones that sustain the ripples.” At whatever stage the staff and volunteers decide to no longer maintain a local presence, the program will remain in place-- and the institutional capacity stays there within the community.
When you give to Week of Compassion, you “Invest in Futures,” providing training for these youth agriculture leaders. With your help, they are planting seeds whose roots will remain for generations to come.