Tuesday, 1 May 2012

2012 Season Opening

After four months of MOP preparation the first mango collection occurred yesterday, April 30, 2012, at Mabum Station, a village in Tonkolili District. The collection had some challenges, but was successful overall. 

The biggest challenge was for the AFJ EW in accessing the money to purchase the mangoes. The Splash (mobile money transfer) did not come through to her until nearly 5:00 p.m. By this time, the bank was closed so the Splash agent could not access enough money. Hopefully next week the money will be sent in advance to each AFJ EW so they are set and ready to go for every collection. It was left for the AFJ EW to explain to the MaCoCo members through the CAC Chairman (who also happens to be the village headman). They accepted delayed payment without too much complaint and were paid this morning by the AFJ EW. I was pleasantly surprised that despite this challenge, the collection proceeded without much frustration.  

Sorting the mangoes presented another challenge. Some farmers presented mangoes that were not yet ripe, but thankfully there were only a few crates of these green mangoes.  The AFJ EW had to turn them down. These mangoes will not go to waste despite the fact that AFJ did not purchase them—they will ripen and either be used within the village or sold to the fresh market in Magburaka (the closest metropolitan area). 

Normally it will be important that farmers only harvest the amount of crates specified in the text message, but because this was the first collection a slight excess was pre-approved by the factory the day before. The original plan was 250 crates, the actual number of crates sold was 283. Most of the MaCoCo members are women. The number of crates each member sold ranged from five to thirty-nine. This range would amount to 20,000 – 156,000 Le or approximately $4.60 - $35.86. Considering that these members are largely subsistence farmers supporting families and are living on $1-2 per day, the impact of that profit is notable. Adding the fact that May, June, and July are also called “the hungry time” because rice and groundnuts (peanuts) are not yet ready to harvest and the stores from the previous season are dwindling, the impact is profound. 

About 95% of the crates sold were the Big Cherry variety—the one preferred by AFJ this year. This is likely due to ready availability of Big Cherry in this area instead of selective harvesting to meet the preference. No matter the reason, the factory will be pleased with this supplier. 

I’ll conclude with one additional success. When the AFJ EW approached the secretary to determine the amount of payment, she pulled out her phone to do the calculation. When the secretary saw the AFJ EW making the calculation, he immediately began doing his own on the calculator provided by the MOP to verify the payment. The other MaCoCo leaders watched and agreed with the figure. Both the AFJ EW and the MaCoCo secretary came to the same figure and agreed to the purchase. It was so good to witness that the tools and training the team has worked on are being used and are helpful to the MaCoCo – AFJ business relationship. 

The CAC Chairman making the verbal request to AFJ last Thursday

 A MaCoCo member with her mangoes

 Packing the crates

The discussion about how full the crates should be

Mohamed, the local pastor and the secretary for both the CAC and MaCoCo, setting up a table in the MOP notebook for keeping record of each member's transaction

AFJ EW checking mango quality

 The World Hope Country Director, Saidu (right) and World Hope Regional Manager, Bernadette (left) were able to attend the collection to experience it firsthand

A mountain of mangoes

Packing the truck lasted until after the sun went down!

 A MaCoCo member with her crates


Friday, 27 April 2012

MOP Collection Materials

Andrew and I have been especially busy lately. As our time in Sierra Leone winds down, we have been working hard with the team to make sure all parties are prepared for collection season. 

A preseason meeting led by Claudio Scotto (CEO of Africa Felix Juice and a recent TED Talk presenter) and Musa Tholley (MOP Coordinator) was held Sunday at the World Hope International (WHI) Makeni office.  Both the Africa Felix Juice (AFJ) and WHI extension worker teams were present. The meeting was a forum for discussing successes and challenges of last season, changes this season, and collection logistics. The AFJ extension workers (EWs) were paired with WHI EWs. These Extension worker teams will work side by side throughout the season but with different responsibilities and different mandates. AFJ EWs will represent the factory in issues of quality evaluation, crate packing, and purchasing. WHI EWs will be present at collections, represent the interests and concerns of the farmers, and keep collection records. 

As Andrew and I have shared a few posts back, Collection Area Committees (CAC) communicate on behalf of their incorporated MaCoCos (Mango Coordinating Committees – the village or town mango cooperatives) to the factory. A critical component of the communication is the number of crates the CAC anticipates will be sold on the agreed upon collection date. To assist MaCoCos in making accurate crate estimations, the MOP team proposed to AFJ that they loan one crate per collection area (so, 58 “estimation crates”) for the entirety of the season. Wednesday, the MOP received these crates at the office.  We stacked them almost up to the ceiling in our already crowded WHI Agriculture office! I was able to accompany Albert as he began distribution of the 2012 MOP materials. Each CAC receives an estimation crate and a calculator--to total MaCoCo crate estimations and verify MaCoCo payment at the time of collection. Each MaCoCo receives a ledger book to keep track of MaCoCo members’ mango sales, a pen, a mango purchase receipt book and carbon, and a clear file to store their supply contract and other documents for protection from the rain. 

The CAC estimation crates have been particularly well received. One Chairman of a newly incorporated MaCoCo refused to sign a supply contract with AFJ until he saw a crate. We took this as a positive sign because the hope of the MOP is that cooperatives will become empowered business units that represent their own interests to the factory. After he and his village saw the crate, they were pleased with the price and handed in their signed contract.

A CAC representative calculates the price for 250 crates

Albert explaining the mango purchase receipt to a MaCoCo secretary-- this secretary is only 16, but he has served as the village secretary for other development committees and is one of the most educated community members.

Albert explaining the materials to the Mabum Station CAC Chairman and youth

A MaCoCo member with the estimation crate


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Contract Signing Photo Recap

Alpha, a new AFJ Extension Worker (left) and Albert, a World Hope Extension Worker (right) at the contract signing meeting in Mayoloh. Alpha is the son of a master farmer that participates in the MOP. Alpha is familiar with the MOP and served as a MaCoCo secretary last season.

Juliana, a Local Councillor in Bombali District, with the AFJ contract she signed on behalf of the MaCoCo she chairs.

Representatives from Kunsho, Makai, Mapainda, and Makorie signing a contract with AFJ Extension Worker Abu Shariff. All of these villages are part of the same collection area and came together to sign their respective contracts. This is encouraging because it shows a willingness to collaborate, something that is essential to the success of collections.

 A local leader with his group's contract

Alpha and a teacher from Magburaka contracting for the 2012 sale of mangoes.

Because many farmers are illiterate, thumb prints are sometimes used as signatures.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Contract Signing Preparation

As the mango season quickly approaches, each MaCoCo participating in the MOP will sign a supply contract with AFJ.  We had hoped to have contracts signed by March 15th since the first collection is expected in the last week of April.  Unfortunately, delays in trucking arrangements and constraints at the factory have pushed back these signings, but they have finally been officially scheduled to begin this Saturday (April 14th), continue over the weekend, and will hopefully be completed by Tuesday (the 17th).

In the meantime, the MOP team continues to train villagers in the communication protocol in order to insure that every designated communication agent feels confident and ready to begin collection communication directly with the factory (see previous post).  In addition, the team has developed a schedule and list for contract-signing locations (there will be 10) so that everything will be ready for the signings to begin. 

Today, the Supervisor and Extension Workers were able to maintenance the motorbikes. These bikes get a lot of wear and tear from the bumpy dirt roads and constant use.  About every month, they get a complete check-up including an oil change and new sprockets and spark plugs.

We’re excited to be ready and at last get going on contract signings so that we can move ahead to the main point of the project- AFJ buying mangoes directly from villagers who have harvested the produce themselves and self-organized (with some WHI help) so that they are in a position to reap the benefits of a regular, large sales of a plentiful natural resource.  For this to be fully realized there will probably be logistical issues down the road to be worked out, but for now we are moving forward to get the collection season off to a sound start.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Collection Communication: An Updated Model

Anya sensitizing a Collection Secretary on text message communication
Andrew with the MOP Extension Workers during the training workshop

In order for mango collections to happen this season, it is important that Africa Felix Juice, the factory, and the community supplying mangoes are able to have effective and direct communication. Those involved with the MOP came up with a “communication protocol.”  Basically, initial contact between the factory and farmers during collection season will be made by a simple phone conversation in which the chairperson or secretary of each collection area committee informs the factory of the number of crates to be collected from their area as well as the time and date. After AFJ confirms or adjusts this in conversation, a series of text messages are exchanged. The reason this happens is twofold. First, it gives the factory, which will be flooded with dozens of phone calls from at least four districts in Sierra Leone, a saved record to help them coordinate trucking and process logistics for the week. Second, it provides farmers recorded confirmation of an agreed upon pickup, which they can use to hold the factory accountable.

This model is different from last year in that the communication is directly between the suppliers and the factory rather than using the World Hope Extension Workers as a go-between. This change will empower villagers to coordinate these transactions for themselves and it also provides motivation to be well-organized institutionally and active for their own development. While AFJ hopes to be around for the long-haul, sustainable development requires that World Hope prepare villagers to transition into a more independent relationship with the factory.  This is one step in that direction.

While most rural Sierra Leoneans do not have cell phones, almost every community does have at least one or two cell phone-owning members. Many do not have experience with text message communication. In fact, we are finding that often villagers only know how to send and receive phone calls. For a villager, making a phone call is expensive. However, sending a text message is only a fraction of that cost. In teaching villagers how to use text messaging for communication with the factory, they can begin to use this skill for other purposes as well. When we have attended these training sessions with the WHI Extension Workers, we have noticed that many people are hesitant to learn at first, but once they discover they can make and send messages themselves on the phones they already own, they are eager to learn and even send practice messages to Extension Workers. 

We hope this new method of communication will take off and be beneficial to the villagers and their relationship with business partners, like AFJ.

Sample text message for collection created by a collection chairperson

Saturday, 31 March 2012

More Photos

Village-level meeting 

One time, we saw a woman carrying 12 baskets of charcoal on her head! Here's a more typical load

 Gathering village feedback, Baimba, Andrew, and Albert

 Some villagers put mango profits towards livestock purchase

Andrew and I had the opportunity to attend the graduation ceremony of the University of Sierra Leone with Ms. Bernadette, the WHI Makeni Regional Manager

An almond tree blossom

 Zinc roof and cement block house

 Village level meeting (notice the crocodile like hide on the wall)

We were able to spend a day relaxing at River No. 2 beach

The president, Ernest Bai Koroma at the graduation ceremony

Activities Update

Well, things have been busy here.  Add that to the recent network crash and the result is a week without a new blog post. Since Andrew is traveling in Kono this weekend for research and the network is back up and running, I am taking the opportunity to catch you up on our activities. 

Steve, the former MOP Coordinator and current WHI Special Program Assistant visited this last week to help prepare the factory, First Step, and the MOP Team for this rapidly approaching mango season. Thanks to his diligence and negotiations, things are moving along on all fronts. 

One notable success this week is the finalization of the communication protocol to be used between Collection Area Committees (CAC; the village institutions organized by the MOP team) and the supply chain and logistics unit at the factory. Because the idea of the MOP is to connect villagers (the suppliers) to a market for their mangoes (the factory, Africa Felix Juice--AFJ) and not to run the supply chain, the communication design for this season is directly between the CACs and AFJ. To make sure the communication is standardized and works well for both parties, WHI and AFJ have carried out a few simulations.  The WHI Extension Workers will be trained next week so that they can, in turn, train all of the collection area chairpersons and secretaries. 

This week I was also able to pay a visit to Mayatta, a village in Gbendembu-Ngowahun Chiefdom. I know of Mayatta through connections and work with EduNations, a member of the Sierra Leone Alliance.  The hope is that Mayatta will participate in the MOP this season for increased economic viability which will contribute to the sustainability of the EduNations school.  The leaders were in favor of the opportunity and held a village meeting the same evening to gain village consensus. The WHI EW Marie will continue working with them to develop their MaCoCo and train them. 

Finally, God gave us another form of encouragement this week. It just so happened that another WHI team was staying at our guesthouse. During breakfast, I discovered that they were from Holland, MI where I grew up. Soon, we figured out that we actually know each other and attended the same church when I was younger. It was great to catch up with them, talk about our work in Sierra Leone (MOP and their medical work in Bombali Bana Village), and share meals together. When they left, they gave us some snacks and medicine to top it off. Thanks, Central Wesleyan Church team!

Steve and Andrew on our tour of AFJ

 Andrew and Musa testing the communication mechanism

In Mayatta, we ended up with a flat tire. Thanks to the local mechanic and teamwork, we made it back to Makeni!

Steve took this photo for us at our favorite cookery near the WHI Makeni Office


 Our friends from Michigan! Ray, Sherri, Kristen, and Sue