Catholic Charities Collaborate to Boost Capacity of Sierra Leonean Women in Agriculture

Poster announcing a symposium for women in Agricultural ventures in Bo, Sierra Leone Credit: Healy International Relief Foundation

Healy International Relief Foundation (HealyIRF), in collaboration with Caritas Freetown and Njala University in Sierra Leone, has completed a five-day symposium to boost the financial muscle of struggling small-scale women in agriculture in the West African country.

In a Tuesday, February 21 interview with ACI Africa, HealyIRF In-Country Manager, Ishmeal Alfred Charles, said that women, who account for the largest percentage of small-scale farmers in Bo, in Sierra Leone’s Southern Province can barely support their families, let alone sustain their farming ventures.

According to Charles, farmers, especially in Bo District, are stuck in a cycle of poverty and lack knowledge of best farming practices to improve their farm yields.

“Many women in Bo have so much energy and strength. Most run small-scale businesses, making just about 20 dollars from their entire produce. It is from these meager earnings that they take care of their families and set aside resources to maintain their ventures. Most of them struggle to get capital for seeds and farm inputs,” Charles, who also serves as the Programs Manager of Caritas Freetown, said.

He added, “Our population is 52 percent women. We need to ensure that they are empowered and significantly engaged in a constructive way.” 


During the five-day symposium last week, 50 women in Agriculture drawn from Bo were allowed to engage with others from the United States of America who, Charles said, had experienced similar farming challenges before and found ways to address them. 

He said, “The farmers had an opportunity to learn from each other. They shared some bad agricultural practices in Sierra Leone that continue to affect the yield every year.”

“This project seeks to create a nexus between market values where women in agriculture who produce, say, vegetable leaves will be able to have their customer base. This way, they won't have to go to the market to sell, but rather, pay attention to producing more quality leaves,” Charles said.

Those present at the symposium participated in discussions, exchange of ideas, learning, and group discussions.

Professors from Njala University in Sierra Leone provided the training that was funded by the U.S. Embassy in Sierra Leone through HealyIRF, a charity that was inspired by Monsignor Daniel Sullivan.

More in Africa

Farmers were trained on the best honey production and management techniques, backyard garden techniques, and organic ways to manage pests and diseases on their crops and animals.

The farmers were also equipped with techniques to preserve seeds and seedlings for the next planting seasons.

The Head of the Department of Animal Health Sciences at Njala University, Professor Roland Soluku, cautioned the farmers against employing harmful farm management methods such as the burning of bushes, noting that the method is not friendly to the environment.

The professor encouraged more use of manure in place of synthetic fertilizers, noting that the fertilizers had made the soil already too acidic.

Caritas Freetown and Njala were used as implementing partners of the project.


Charles told ACI Africa that one of the expected outcomes of the project is to see farmers build networks among themselves and continue with collaborative learning. 

“Njala University has set up a team of mentors that will follow through with these women for a minimum of six months to see how they will build up group dynamics among themselves and to see how best they learn collaboratively among themselves and share ideas and challenges, and how to overcome them,” the Caritas Freetown Programs Manager said.

He added that the Sierra Leonean University has distinguished itself in imparting best agriculture-related skills.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.