The University of Arizona

The agricultural impasse: creating "normal" post-war development in Northern Sierra Leone

Catherine Bolten


This article analyzes the notion of "normal" post-war development in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone in light of the fact that local people, the national government, and NGOs appear to be at an impasse concerning agricultural practices.  I argue that fundamentally different perspectives on what construes desirable post-war development are causing this deadlock.  The government adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to make the country more attractive donors (and more resistant to donor fatigue), thus making primary education compulsory and removing important child labor from farms. NGOs, believing that the government's adoption of the CRC meant that Sierra Leoneans agreed with universal education, design and fund agricultural programs from which child labor is excluded.  Local people are torn between wanting their children—whom they dutifully send to school—to have a better future outside of agriculture, and needing their assistance to ensure operating farms in the present.  These children, once they either finish or drop out of school, rarely return to the villages.  Lacking any other means to recruit labor, farmers argue passionately that they need mechanization in order to ensure future food security, and are usually rebuffed by NGOs who call them lazy.  Local people yearn for a life where they can have educated children and productive farms, and resist efforts by their government and aid organizations to "develop" their children without replacing their labor. This labor has been diminishing since diamond mining and education created alternatives to farming beginning in the 1930s.  Where the international community assumes that the labor-poor, low-level subsistence farming that existed before the war is the norm that should be recreated in the aftermath, local people resist these initiatives that will only recreate the end-state of years of agricultural deterioration.  Their idea of a "normal" world is one where large farms can provide farmers with the cash and surpluses they need to live in dignity.

Keywords: agriculture, education, child labor, mechanization, NGOs, Sierra Leone, Africa

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