Catholic Priest’s Value Addition Project Changing Fortunes for Farmers in Sierra Leone

Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh, the founder of GreenEnv Agribusiness Company in Sierra Leone's Diocese of Makeni. Credit:Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh

Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh believes that the best way to make the message of the Gospel a reality among the people is by meeting their biggest need. And for the people served by the Catholic Diocese of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone, the biggest challenge is getting out of poverty.

Most households in the northern parts of Sierra Leone rely on subsistence farming, and ginger is the most cultivated crop among these deprived farmers who rely on brokers to sell their produce.

Fr. Conteh, a young Priest of the Diocese of Makeni, knows this challenge too well, having seen his parents struggle to make ends meet despite cultivating the valuable spice. He grew up in a rural community where he says 60 percent of farmers are cultivating ginger and cassava with no ready market. 

A chunk of harvested ginger and cassava ends up rotting or is auctioned, leaving the farmers frustrated, he tells ACI Africa.

Credit: Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh


Fr. Conteh says that his desire as he grew up to become a Priest was to change the fortunes of poor farmers in northern Sierra Leone, by putting agribusiness at the core of his pastoral work.

After a journey of blood, sweat, and tears, Fr. Conteh has built GreenEnv Agribusiness, a mammoth state-of-the-art processing firm that is adding value to ginger that he buys in deals that farmers have found juicier. 

The 33-year-old Priest has also planted an orchard on an 80-acre piece of land that has various kinds of fruit trees and a thriving bee-keeping venture. There is also growing animal husbandry that he recently started with 25 goats, some sheep, and chicken. He plans to expand the orchard to a 200-acre farm in a bid to enlighten locals in northern Sierra Leone on the beauty of value addition and agribusiness.

Credit: Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh

“As a Diocesan Priest serving the people of God where I grew up, my roots challenge me to change the situation of poor farmers. I am from the rural parts of Sierra Leone where we have lots of vulnerable, poverty-stricken women and youth who are struggling to make ends meet despite working very hard on their farms,” Fr. Conteh says in the Thursday, January 5 interview with ACI Africa. 

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He adds, “Growing up in this poverty-stricken community, I saw the struggles that my parents went through in an attempt to meet our needs. Then as I journeyed to become a Priest, I realized that the best way to liberate them was through agriculture.”

“I have realized that many Priests are leveraging education to preach the good news. They are leveraging charity work to evangelize. I realized that the best way to evangelize my community and to make the Gospel a reality among the people is through agriculture, which the people are very passionate about. There was a need to start with something they are familiar with. That is ginger farming,” he says. 

Credit: Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh

Fr. Conteh notes that the Church in Africa can no longer rely entirely on donor funding, underscoring the need for Church leaders to be creative in sustaining their evangelization ministry.

“We are in the period of self-reliance and we are experiencing donor fatigue. Those who have been sending us funds are no longer doing so with consistency because they too are affected by the unpredictable economic patterns owing to things such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine,” he says.


At GreenEnv Agribusiness, Fr. Conteh who is the CEO of the company aims to create an eco-friendly initiative that improves the ecosystem, one that creates decent jobs for rural women and youths, and one that creates food sustainability through an orchard-driven initiative.

Credit: Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh

The company has cultivated 80 acres of ginger and 45 acres of cassava and planted thousands of fruit trees including coconuts, avocado, pear, tamarind, orange, grapefruits, lime, cashew, mango, and bitter kola trees.

This way, Fr. Conteh’s initiative is creating a viable green orchard environment that has also started to support beekeeping initiatives.

The initiative is also aimed at creating awareness of the need to protect the environment and stop rampant deforestation in northern Sierra Leone.

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“There is too much deforestation in the northern part of Sierra Leone,” the Catholic Priest says, and adds, “Farming is no longer attractive because of the exploitation of middlemen and the lack of markets for the perishable farm products, and the people have turned to cutting down trees. That is why we are pushing for an orchard-driven initiative. We also realized that ginger does very well under trees.”

The company’s present traction is the establishment of a ginger and cassava processing factory and a bakery located at Kamabai, the headquarters town of Biriwa Limba Chiefdom, North of Sierra Leone. These facilities are now equipped with key ginger, cassava, and bread processing line machines through grant help from GIZ, World Bank, SL-Agcelerator, Cordaid, AIDE, and Capitol Foods

Credit: Fr. Michael Baimba Conteh

The company buys raw ginger and cassava tubers from farmers at a fair price and processes the produce into cost-effective and smartly packaged ginger and cassava products. 

Processed products include ginger powder, ginger tea, seasoning, spice, cassava flour, ginger-cassava bread, ginger-cassava doughnuts, and ginger-cassava meant pie. These products are currently being sold in Sierra Leone. 

The company comprises five permanent staff and 15 casual staff and has also established five groups of women and youths ginger farmers’ out growers, each comprising 15 members. 

Some women serve as sales agents of the company’s ginger and cassava foods in the remote communities of Biriwa Chiefdom, Makeni, Lunsar, Port Loko, Lungi, and Freetown.

Fr. Conteh tells ACI Africa that the demand for the company’s natural ginger and cassava foods is higher than the supply presently, due to limited finance and incomplete ginger and cassava processing line machines.  

The company’s vision, he says, is to expand nationally and internationally, and to create 3,000 jobs for vulnerable women and youth by 2025.

“Am thinking of expanding this to all parishes I go to. I desire to encourage our parishes to be self-reliant, and to make evangelization sustainable in this part of the world,” Fr. Conteh says.

His biggest challenge, he shares, is the lack of funding to realize the potential of the agribusiness initiative.

“We don't have complete machinery to add value to the ginger. We don't have a ginger drier and grinder. Whatever we have is very inefficient,” he says, and adds, “Farmers are so excited about the idea. Many have come on board and we lack funds to buy from all of them. We look forward to forging more collaborations to realize our potential.”

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.