After a long 48-hour journey from Chicago to Freetown, I landed safely on the shores of my beloved homeland, Sierra Leone. I traveled all night from Freetown to Njala Campus, where I had a tough night due to the hot and humid weather. But at last, the journey ended joyfully.
After my undergraduate studies at Njala University, I wanted so badly to work with an agricultural institution to impact the agricultural sector in Sierra Leone. My passion for agriculture started when I had the chance to visit my parents’ farm in 2009. My father’s hard work, courage, passion, and love of farming became an inspiration for me. When I started graduate school in Illinois, I always thought about impacting the lives of women and girls in Africa, mainly in Sierra Leone, as they are less privileged. This research is an attempt to make life better for smallholder farmers, especially women farmers across Sierra Leone and West Africa, to reduce the workload and challenges they face in transporting water from streams and rivers for irrigation during the dry season.
I am so thankful for being one of the Global Food Security Graduate Fellowship Program award recipients. This fellowship has allowed me to work toward my goal by introducing a device to help lift water to the field to increase seasonal productivity. I am a Sierra Leonean and being born and raised in a developing country like Sierra Leone, I experienced firsthand the political, social, cultural, and economic implications of Sierra Leones’s poor and ineffective agricultural system. Food prices continually increase during the rainy seasons, making life difficult for low-income farmers and many others in the country.
My project, “Survey of Potential Sites for Locating Spiral Water Wheel Pump in Streams in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone,” can improve on-farm water for irrigation and reduce the chronic and acute food insecurity problem prevalent, especially among rural populations and smallholder farmers. Both small- and large-scale producers can use this design pump to help increase water access to the farm to improve seasonal production.
The first and second weeks of January started with meeting with the irrigation specialist of Njala University, Agricultural Engineering Department, Dr. Mohamed M. Blango, departmental head, and Dr. A. B. Rashid Noah, senior lecturer of the department. I then spent two to three hours traveling on a motorcycle to my research sites the following week to meet with the Paramount chiefs, section chiefs, and farm owners. Prior to this visit, my friends Richard B. Williams and Sulaiman K. Koroma had already gone to the two research sites to have a brief meeting with the Paramount chiefs and section chiefs. They asked questions about the history of the rivers and streams of each location because, in Sierra Leone, most stream or river has some connection with superstitious beliefs. Upon my arrival to the site at Yele, Gbonkolenken Chiefdom, I was amazed by the overwhelming welcome we received from the chiefs and farm owners.
The week of Jan. 24 was mainly dedicated to transporting equipment and materials to research sites in Tonkolili District (Yele and Makali). Transportation proved to be very challenging, mainly due to vehicle unavailability and the status of the road network. It was very hectic and stressful, but with reasonable progress.
In Yele, the Paramount chief graciously provided the wood required for building the wheel pump. The village had a carpentry workshop suitable for doing most of the woodworking there. We constructed the wheel and had a workshop with women farmers and potential university students (SSS3 students). The pump construction took longer than normal because I took the time to include all six students in all aspects of the construction. There was no electricity in the village, so we switched to manual tools when the batteries for the power tools were depleted. That slowed the work down, but it went very well and was appreciated by everyone. Working with students and women on this project has been the most enjoyable aspect of the trip so far. I had the privilege of sharing a valuable lesson I learned from the University of Illinois. It was a great experience for me, and I appreciated the opportunity of getting to do that.
February was dedicated to surveying the potential sites for deploying the spiral water wheel pump in Tonkolili District, Gbonkolenken chiefdom (Yele town), Kunike Barina chiefdom (Makali town). After deploying the wheel into the stream, we spent time with the women farmers in their small gardens, where they plant potato, cassava, and other vegetables. They explained the challenges in lifting water from the streams to irrigate their garden. There was an interactive discussion with the women farmers. They asked many questions; I took time to answer to every one of them. My colleague and I learned a great deal from them. We walked around most of the farms close to the stream and river for each site.
In Makali, we surveyed stream sections and measured water depth and velocity. At the sections we surveyed, the streamflow velocity was less than what is required to operate the pump. We will continue to survey other sections and collect weekly stream depth and flow data.
In Mongeri, we surveyed the section of the Taia River and measured the water depth and velocity along the Tonkolili and Bo Districts. I found the river to be suitable for deploying the wheel pump. I will continue to take weekly data on the stream depth and velocity throughout the dry season.
In Njala, I had the privilege to train three students, Catherine Johnny, Lucinda Jalloh, and Mohamed S. Bangura, final year, second year, and third-year students, respectively, of the Agricultural Engineering Department on the use of some power tools and instructing them how to build a water wheel pump to be deployed at the village of Kaniya. Catherine and I also collected data from a tributary to the Taia River in the Njala campus.
From the survey done in Tonkolili District, Gbonkolenken chiefdom proves to have a suitable location for deploying the spiral water wheel pump. However, the only challenge is the site with the higher flow is far from the large vegetable gardens. While working in Tonkolili District, I found another place suitable for deploying the wheel pump along the Taia River. Possible locations were found in Mongeri town, Valuniya chiefdom, Bo District and Kaniya village, Kori chiefdom, Moyamba District. These places prove to have a steady flow with high velocity throughout the dry season. The river serves both for drinking, bathing, irrigating vegetable crops, and domestic uses.
Many thanks to Richard and Sulaiman, who exemplify the true definition of friendship, for investing their time in helping me to make this research a successful one. I am thankful to the University of Illinois, College of ACES, and the Global Food Security Fellowship Program that made this possible. I am very grateful to my friends and the people I met at my research sites for their support and willingness to work with me in this research. I am particularly thankful to my academic advisor, professor Richard Cooke, for his sound advice, direction, and dedication to helping and working with students. I am sure that this is just the beginning of a lasting friendship and an excellent research opportunity for secondary and university students, girls, and women farmers to improve sustainable food production in the country.
The Office of International Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has initiated the Global Food Security Graduate Fellowship Program to support exceptional students who are interested in conducting research in a developing country, in collaboration with a mentor from an International Agricultural Research Center in the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research or a national research institute devoted to food and agricultural issues. Agnes was awarded a 2021 Fellowship for her project “Survey of Potential Sites for Locating Spiral Water Wheel Pump in Streams in Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone."