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All across the country of Sierra Leone, it is time to prepare the fields for planting.
Sheku Bunduka, Farming Facilitator: Now we are in Combema Village where the agricultural group is located.
Here in Combema village, like the rest of the country, there is almost nothing to plant. These farmers work collectively. Normally, they would plant more than 120 acres. this year they will be lucky to cultivate a mere 17.
Alpha Kallon, farmer: (Speaking Mende)
Phileas Jusu, Translator, Sierra Leone Conference: They were able to harvest to some extent but deep in the crisis they had to fall back on the seeds and use them for food. This entire community was quarantined and because they were quarantined they could not move, they had to eat the seeds as food.
Agriculture, most of it subsistence farming, is a driving force of the economy. But just as officials seem to be getting a handle on the spread of Ebola, the country is losing its grip on food security. Denis Lansana is a leader at Kercher United Methodist Church in Kenema. He says the church is concerned about famine.
Denis Lansana, Kercher United Methodist Church: Food security, it is about to be a problem in this country. We will feel a lot of hunger in this country, that is our concern now.
During many months of Ebola quarantines, markets were closed and movement between villages was against the law. No trade. No money. It’s left the country very vulnerable, when people are hungry, they are susceptible to political upheaval.
When Ebola cases were at their highest, The United Methodist Church delivered food to starving families. And, whenever possible, it continues to provide emergency aid as farmers struggle to put seed in the ground.
The long range plan is to open a United Methodist University in 2016. Curriculum will focus on theology, nursing and agriculture. It is through this agriculture program that the church will address malnutrition and hunger, empowering communities to feed themselves with healthier crops that supplement the starchy West African staple: cassava.
Safiatu Bockari, Farmer: (Speaking Mende)
Bunduka: But this year, no, they have nothing.
But, for farmers like Safiatu Bockari, the critical need is now.
Through the help of an organization called Agricultural Missions Incorporated, farming groups have been successful here. This collective, comprised of mostly women, is in a village called Tilorma. In the local language it means “rendezvous” but, ironically, the Ebola crisis kept the group from working together for months on end.
Bunduka: If you do not come together, how will you take materials to the market? Even the market there were bans on the market.
The farmers take us to a field where limited “brushing” is occurring. Normally the group would be vigorously clearing and burning for late spring planting. Typically, the women would use the previous year’s profits to hire strong men to fell the larger trees. But there’s no money in the coffers. They admit that it was difficult to watch last year’s crop literally go to the birds.
Sento Conteh, Facilitator, Agricultural Missions, Inc.: The birds destroyed most of the rice because farmers are not allowed to come in groups and people are afraid of going out because of the public emergency, there are barricades, there were policemen assigned to all of the communities to watch people’s movements so they were afraid of coming out. So you see most of the seeds just spoiled in the bush. But never the less, they managed to get some, like I said, as a group.
They managed to harvest and save three bags of seed. Usually they would have more than 10 times this amount.
Sound: This is what we have for seeds.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says it’s a crisis situation. Over 1.2 million people in the Ebola affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need immediate assistance.
These farmers are survivors of a brutal, decade-long civil war that ended in 2002. Their village still shows the scars.
Bunduka: So, you see really apart from Ebola you see that the war destroyed this town.
But this new enemy, in the form of an unseen virus, is an adversary that they never saw coming.
Bunduka: Throughout 11 years you lost everything, everything was destroyed and then the time you really want to come up on your feet then there is another plague – this Ebola. It shattered everything in the hands of the community people, everybody. Psychologically we are affected. There is no money and there is no help. That is why we are really yearning for generous people to come to our aid.
It’s estimated that by the end of summer 2015, over four-and-a-half million people will be affected. But farmers say they won’t sit back and watch it happen.
Alpha Kallon, Farmer: We don’t need to rest or to sit down without doing anything. So we need to continue anyway. I mean, really, they are hard-working people.