Preparations for an intensive youth and adult literacy programme have just concluded in Bo, Kambia and Kono, in which close to 100 facilitators have been trained to teach farmers to read and write. The programme has been organized by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, and is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Irish Government.
The training initiative is designed to create opportunities for citizen involvement in local governance. It aims to enable over 3,000 youth and adult farmers to read and write so that they can engage with their Local Councils. Civil society’s effectiveness in monitoring Council activities is directly related to reducing corruption and ensuring the Councils are responsive to local needs. The training will contribute to the transparency, accountability and participation aspects of Local Government. It will also reinforce the development of UNDP’s Agricultural Business Units (farmer groups that are implementing the decentralisation of agriculture and food security activities) by providing literacy opportunities to their members.
Illiteracy is one of the key challenges Sierra Leone faces in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and lifting itself off the bottom of the Human Development Index. Current levels of illiteracy of 70% in the country limit the ability of citizens to monitor Local Council activities and more specifically limit farmers’ abilities to manage their businesses. Tackling this problem is a priority in ensuring the new Local Government structures deliver the services people need.
Farmers have pledged to transform their production practices from subsistence farming to formal sector, surplus farming, with commitments to increase their acreage, save 20% of their output and contribute 20% of it to their Local Council. Increasing literacy rates is important to ensuring farmers keep these commitments.
Speaking at the closing ceremony for the teacher training in Kono, UNDP Programme Specialist, Stephen Bainous Kargbo, noted that ‘perceptions need to change. Farming must be treated as a business, a way of earning enough money to improve farmer’s livelihoods. It is the responsibility of the teachers to sell this idea to the farmers. They are the ambassadors of the project and its success depends on them.’
A participant of the programme, Patrick Kelly, further stated that, ‘the fact that most of our farmers are uneducated has really affected our country’s development. This programme addresses this issue’. He promised to take ownership of the programme to ensure its success.
The pilot programme costs US$150,000 and runs from December 2007 to the end of 2008. It is planned to roll it out on a nationwide basis, provided successful results are been achieved from the pilot.