30-Year Celebration Stories: Agroecology and Empowerment in Sierra Leone

05 Dec 2019

Slow Food’s grassroots network, which stretches from Mexico to Taiwan, typifies its commitment to a participatory approach to ensure good, clean and fair food for all. This coming together of disparate groups within specific loci, guided by the Slow Food philosophy, has enabled the movement’s proliferation into the most remote corners of the world.

In the highlands of Segbwema, a town in the Kailahun District of eastern Sierra Leone, 25 locals across age groups joined forces to form the Segbwema Mende Traditional Slow Food Community on July 30, 2019. “The Slow Food network is the very definition of the kind of meaningful, sustainable innovation that is required to meet the grand challenges of the 21st century — climate change, overpopulation, urbanization, rising demands of food, energy and water, poverty and access to healthcare,” say the community’s members.

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Set against the backdrop of growing mechanization in agriculture, through the use of single imported crop and fertilizers, which led to the abandonment of local seed varieties and cultivation techniques, the group sought to “promote local foods, traditional gastronomy and sustainable food production through organic farming. This enabled us to establish and maintain soil-plant, plant-animal and animal-soil interdependence and create a sustainable agro-ecological system based on local resources,” says Fatmata Mansaray, Spokesperson, Segbwema Mende Traditional Slow Food Community.

Mansaray, who played a vital role in the formation of this community, traces the impetus to pioneer change at the grassroots level to a visit to Slow Food’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto – an artisanal food festival held every two years in Turin, Italy, showcasing specialty products from across the world that uphold Slow Food’s philosophy. “The event made me think about how I could contribute to the Slow Food philosophy. The big takeaway was understanding the importance of teamwork and how each person’s talent could be used to change the world, starting from the way in which food is produced and consumed,” she adds.

In addition to organizing events and debates, preparing projects in collaboration with producers such as the School Feeding Program and the Kola Nut Traditional Storytelling Initiative, the group also actively sponsors and participates in the creation of food gardens under Slow Food’s “10,000 Gardens in Africa” project. “The Gardens project has been a wonderful success. Not only have many families been able to sell their surplus produce for profit but there has also been a ‘rich harvest’ in the lives of the participants as many have discovered the joy of helping others as they share food, seeds and know-how. The gardens, along with providing fresh fruits and vegetables, have become agents of empowerment,” says Mansaray.

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In schools, “the Gardens project helps children learn valuable gardening and business skills. Along with introducing them to local plant varieties and environmentally-friendly cultivation techniques. By teaching them how to eat a diverse and balanced diet, we have learned about the profound impact of food on a child’s life – from health to academic success,” she says.

The practice of organic farming methods adopted by the community, however, is hampered by the lack the suitable tools for gardening. Despite this, the group is able to meet the growing demands of their customers at the Farm Gate Market organized by them. “We get a lot of orders and our customers are mainly local residents. We are very happy with the Farm Gate Market as it allows our customers to be sure of exactly what they will consume. But the best outcome of the gardening process has been that the women involved are now able to contribute to their children’s education as well as their family’s expenses,” says Mansaray.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Slow Food manifesto – an important moment in the history of the organisation and its activities. To mark the occasion, we have launched 30 Years of the Slow Food Manifesto – Our Food, Our Planet, Our Future, an international campaign to celebrate our history and look forward to the future of the planet. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting projects from our network around the world that promote good, clean and fair food for all.

Supporting Slow Food means helping fund projects that empower local communities, protect biodiversity and make food sovereignty a reality for all.

Help us celebrate 30 years of Slow Food action by making a donation or attending a fundraising event in your area.

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