Sowing the Seeds of Knowledge: An Interview with Linda Borghi and Olatunde Johnson

By Ronica Lu

Organization Info: Friends of the Earth Sierra Leone (FOESL) is an NGO founded in 1988 committed to the preservation and rational use of environmental resources. The ‘Seeds of Knowledge’ farm on the premise hosts a range of agricultural activities. The farm is part of the Appropriate Technology Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which focuses on helping women and girls learn vocational and technical skills to help increase their incomes, independence, and knowledge base. The Small-Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming system was first implemented on the FOESL farm in early 2011. FOESL and the farm are funded through membership fees, subscriptions, and fundraising activities.

Small plot intensive farming in action (Photo Credit: Wally Satzewich)

Name, Affiliation, and Bio: Olatunde Johnson is the Executive Director of FOESL and Lead Educator at its Seeds of Knowledge Farm. He is a leading environmentalist in West Africa. In addition to leading the agricultural program for the center he campaigns for water, food sovereignty, forests, climate and energy justice, gender, children, and waste management projects at the local, national, and international levels.

Linda Borghi is lead consultant for SPIN farming operations at FOESL. She is a farmer who has dedicated her life to SPIN-farming and biodynamics. She began farming in 1988, establishing Abundant Life Farm in New York. In 2009, Linda spoke at the United Nations conference entitled, “Food, Famine and the Future of Food Technology.”  She currently gives talks and workshops on Biodynamic SPIN-Farming and with groups in Uganda, Nigeria, and Guatemala, in addition to Sierra Leone, to implement SPIN farming.

What is the approximate acreage or area you get to work with at the farm?

Olatunde: The area that we have dedicated to the farm is a total of 26 acres of land located in Samuel Town, Waterloo, just outside Freetown.

Linda: The farm is brand new and just six months old. We have almost a total of 400 people working on the farm during different days and times throughout the year, and our on-site compost pile has just started as well.

Can you explain SPIN farming and what types of plants and foods do you grow out of SPIN farming on the premises?

Linda: Biodynamic SPIN farming is a method for fertility that utilizes sprays made from cow dung mixed with silica and herbs, instead of synthetic and chemical pesticides. Biodynamic SPIN farming works to keep the farm self-contained so that it does not have to rely constantly on external inputs.  We focus on a lot of high value crops, including grains and spring cassava.

Olatunde: We have four types of activities at the farm. We grow plants and food, raise livestock, store seeds, and process and preserve food. The staples grown through SPIN farming include cassava, potato, maize, and groundnut.  Vegetables include lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, beans, watermelon, and flute guard.  The fruits we grow include pears, citrus, palm, paw-paw, banana, plantain, apple, and mango. In addition, herbal greens, medicinal plants, and barrier grasses for mulch (lemon grass, comfrey) are grown on the premises.  In addition, we raise chickens, rabbits, and bees.

How does SPIN farming fit into the vision of the Approriate Technology Centre?

Olatunde:  The purpose of the technology centre is to transform the lives of the rural poor people by teaching them vocational and technical skills, including typing, computer literacy, wood work, tailoring and dress making, soap making, food processing, computer studies, carpentry, and organic farming. Farming, in particular, will help to alleviate poverty and malnutrition in Sierra Leone through the increased production of fresh and healthy vegetables.

The organization also operates an organic training unit at Freetown Secondary School for Girls (FSSG) where students receive training in basic organic agricultural techniques.  Through SPIN farming, we are hoping to enable unemployed youth to help reduce the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture, and improve the health of the people and land.

How do you plan to promote and educate farmers on the benefits of seed saving?

Linda:  Our plan is to promote seeds saving through individual practice and demonstration at the farm. Members of the farm are trained on how to collect and save seeds for their families and community.

What types of cooperatives have been undertaken to achieve a sustainable farm?

Olatunde:  The SPIN farming Association of Sierra Leone is a recent cooperative whose membership includes farmers and other individuals of the community. Each group has ten members and they work to promote the vision of SPIN farming. They are ready to demonstrate the practices of biodynamic and SPIN farming to alleviate poverty and malnutrition in Sierra Leone through the production of safe vegetables. Our partnerships encourage the collaboration of ideas and resources with national and international NGOs.

How has the status of the farm progressed so far?

Linda: We need to raise money to keep moving forward with resources to purchase starter seeds, get vehicles to drive to and from the center to the farm, and help educate groups of people on SPIN farming techniques. I have started a fundraising webpage where interested visitors can learn more about the project here.

Olatunde: Funding is critical to expanding the already succesful operations on the farm, For example, our food processing center has been the solution to the problem of our post harvest amounts.

Ronica Lu is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one-minute book trailer, click HERE.

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