Ebola outbreak – interview with Ismail Foday, 60+ years, chief and farmer in Kailahun District, Sierra Leone
Two years following the declaration of an Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa, communities and governments in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are moving into the recovery phase, determined to make their countries stronger before Ebola decimated families, economies and health care systems.
During the outbreak, farmers were not allowed to tend to their fields, affecting both food production and the ability of families to earn a livelihood.
Ismail Foday is a chief and farmer in Kailahun District, the epicentre of the outbreak in Sierra Leone. Below, he talks of life before and during Ebola, and his hopes for the future.
ISMAIL FODAY, CHIEF AND FARMER, KAILAHUN DISTRICT, SIERRA LEONE
00:00 – 00:35 We saw farming life as a job responsible for our treasure. Our wealth, it was found in farming. We planted rice and other food crops for our feeding and we planted cash crops, cocoa, coffee as cash crops to get our income.
00:36 – 00:48 As long as our cocoa was bearing, as long as our farm was yielding we don’t care for any other thing outside. We were always very wealthy.
00:49 – 01:31 We got the money we wanted to build houses, decent houses to accommodate ourselves and our strangers. We got sufficient food. I did not know the cost of rice because imported rice at the time I decided not to eat imported rice. It was not necessary for me. I use this crude native rice which we produce in our own farms. That made me and my children, and all my dependents strong and healthy at all times.
01:32 – 02:12 It came and destroyed our population. It destroyed our agricultural bank. It stopped us from working in the bushes. It disabled us from achieving the duties that made us strong and healthy people. That was what Ebola did to us in this part of the country. It spoiled our workload. Our labour population. And disowned us of the ability to establish massive farms.
02:13 - 02:28 The assurance of existing the next day was lost completely because you do not know, maybe the bridge of Ebola is coming and will meet you in the farm and all of you will die overnight.
02:29 – 02:41 When we are strong and healthy, we remain healthy, then we are wealthy and able to engage in all life happy exercises in our community.
02:42 – 02:56 Every part of our land in Kailahun district is very fertile. That is the natural gift that we have. Even at the back of your house, you plant some rice seed, they will grow well and produce very well.
02:57 - 03:08 So here we do our annual farming activities to produce the quantum of food that we need for our annual consumption.
03:09 – 03:28 Until Ebola came and forced me to eat imported rice, I did not know the cost of rice in the market because we always made sure, the farming we do provide for us sufficient food to eat around the year.
03:29 – 04:05 For cash exercises, we also planted cash crops. We have large estates of cocoa, coffee, cola nut, oil palm, estates. We had them so that when we harvest the cocoa and sell it to business people and they export it, we see dollars fly into Sierra Leone to the advantage of farmers.
04:06 – 04:21 The bush here you see is our treasure. We get the quantum of food from the bush, and we get maximum quantity of money in exchange for our cash crop.
04:22 – 04:33 These crops that we plant require maintenance, regular maintenance. We have to do weeding, we have to hire labour to work.
04:34 – 04:48 Ebola disabled me, destroyed that work force. And since I was not able to get that work force up until now I cannot make the type of extensive farm like I used to make.
04:49 – 04:57 Because we could not farm, even the seed rice that we had, perished.
05:00 – 05:27 And everything perished. Agriculture suffered terribly in our hands. This treasure became disabled. Became disastrously destroyed. And that was what Ebola did to us. And we were reduced to poor men.
05:28 – 06:06 It will take me about five years, you see, to be reconstituted, to come back to my normal status. It has to take me time to collect essential seeds, viable seeds, that I will plant. It has to take time. The absence of funds. I need support in the name of funds that will help me to manage the labour force.
Needs the support of agriculture experts to show improved ways of farming…
06:07 – 06:36 Farming equipment, new techniques of farming. The doors are being opened. There are agriculturalists, specialists who know more about how to improve on our agriculture. This subsistence farming we have been doing the normal crude way, one-to-one machetes. We have known that it cannot make a fast estate.
06:37 – 06:55 Up to this moment I’m not able to feed my family because, as you have seen the extent of this farm, this is not the normal size of my farm that takes care of my family and other people.
06:56 – 07:08 This is not the type of farm that will feed my population. I want to improve on this. I have to improve on this. To regain my former glory.