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Tired of Odd Jobs in the City, He Is Farming in His Old Guinean Village

CONAKRY, Apr 16 2012 (IPS) - Like many rural youth, Abdoulaye Soumah spent a few years in Conakry, trying his hand at various jobs in the big city. But he has since returned to his home village, transforming a seven-hectare plot of land inherited from his parents into a model of success.

“I produce about three tonnes of rice per hectare, and harvested a total of 20 tonnes in November. I keep a small part to feed my family and sell the rest,” Soumah told IPS during a tour of his fields at Somayah, 50 kilometres from the capital.

“A 100-kilo sack of rice sells for 650,000 Guinean francs (around 100 dollars). My harvest is generally bought up by rural traders and some from the city. They buy unprocessed rice, which they store before reselling it in markets in Conakry,” he said.

Soumah doesn’t own any agricultural machinery. Since setting up his farm in 2008, he has relied on relatives and locals hired on an occasional basis – paying each worker less than a dollar a day – for labour-intensive tasks like planting, weeding and harvesting.

He also enjoys support from local agricultural extension workers like Sékou Mansaré.

“Even though there is abundant rain in the region, we’re practicing irrigated rice cultivation here,” said Mansaré, explaining a system of small embankments and trenches that channel water through the rice fields.

“We sometimes use pumps to adjust the water level as needed during the different stages of growth, or to drain the water before the harvest,” said Mansaré, who also advocates the use of organic fertiliser.

He advises farmers to use locally-available resources wherever possible. He makes fertiliser from agricultural waste like cow dung and chicken manure, and the water for irrigation comes from the nearby Mériyéré River.

Rice is the staple food for Guineans, with national output ranging between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes per year, according to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. But the country’s rice harvest is not enough to feed its population of 10.6 million, and Guinea imports between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes of rice per year.

An initiative launched by the government in 2011 is aimed at reducing the dependence on imports by increasing domestic production by farmers like Soumah.

“I grow a local rice variety called ‘Djoukémé’, which is prized for the way it expands when it’s cooked,” he told IPS.

With his rice farm providing him with an income of roughly 20,000 dollars a year, the 29-year-old has been able to send his children to school, build a house for himself, and even reinvest some of his profits in a small flock of sheep and a motorcycle, which he operates as a local taxi.

“The Soumah farm should be an example for other youth who balk at working the land for a living. They should be inspired by his success,” said Koleya Bangoura, a prominent personality in Somayah.

“Farming is difficult,” he conceded, “and young people don’t always have access to credit to finance their projects.”

Bangoura also noted a growing scarcity of land for aspiring farmers due to urban sprawl from the capital.

In May 2011, Guinea and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) signed an agreement providing 31 million dollars to support the country’s national investment programme in agriculture. The overall objective of the programme is to sustainably boost income and food security for poor rural people in Guinea.

“IFAD, working with Guinea, is investing a lot in response to the challenge of food insecurity,” said Jean Marc Telliano, Guinea’s agriculture minister, in Rome in February.

Visiting Somayah, IPS noted that there is a lack of information among potential beneficiaries as to how to access the new support.

“I heard that the conditions for selection for loans are very rigorous,” Soumah told IPS. “In any case, I don’t want to become dependent on support like this.”

Ibrahima Bangoura, from the Association of Youth for Agricultural Development, based in Conakry, said: “We have to improve the perception of financing amongst role-players in the agriculture sector. This is a key responsibility for the government and donors.”

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