As Mary Sia Kombo walks through the trees and shrubs of her family’s cocoa farm, images of her father flood her memory. “He used to carry me to the farm with him,” recalls 23-year-old Kombo. “It was a special time spent with my father. I learned a lot.”
Though her father died in 2007, she remembers how he encouraged her to pursue farming – and to work hard at it. “He showed me many techniques of farming. I’m always missing him,” she says. However, the farm her father owned could not be maintained after the devastation of the country’s 11-year civil war. When the war ended in 2002, he father tried to revitalise the farm, but it was difficult. After his death, there was still a lot of work to be done.
Despite agriculture accounting for almost half of the country’s gross domestic product, farms neglected owing to the war are common. A project initiated by the German government is hoping to revive the cocoa industry by offering a programme known as the Integrated Farmers Training to youth like Kombo, who has been involved with the programme since its launch in February 2014.
The project is implemented by the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ) with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Currently, about 5,000 young people from the eastern districts of Kailahun and Kono are learning about the cocoa farm trade, many of them owning the plantations upon which they learn to farm. “So many [farmers] died, and younger generations were not able to take care of plantations. The knowledge was lost and interest was not there,” says Ralf Zimmermann, the team leader of the cocoa component of the programme.