The five mountain villages of Gloucester, Leicester, Regent, Bathurst and Charlotte, have been a breadbasket of the city of Freetown for generations. Fresh vegetables and fruits have been grown up in the hills and valleys of these communities and supplied to the ever-increasing population across the city. As the planting season begins, gardeners have expressed their concerns over the challenges they face in providing the ingredients needed for a balanced diet. Every June and July, the swamps are abandoned, and the farmers move upland to grow vegetables. Meanwhile, the massive urbanization that is taking place in the villages has reduced significantly the arable land for any meaningful agricultural activity. Karim Sesay, a vegetable grower in Gloucester, said “The farmers in this village return to their gardens by the end of the rains in September/October. They clear the swamps, nurse their seedlings and after the holidays, massive planting begins. We plant lettuce, cabbage, carrot, parsley, coriander, mint, flowers, runner beans, spinach and lots more,” he added. The sprawling settlements around the gardens pose challenges for the gardeners and their crops. Rachel Williams, a pepper grower from Gloucester, said, “The people that are living near our gardens sometimes throw their rubbish in them. Also, their dogs will come and dig up our crops and spoil them. The biggest threat we now face is thieves who steal our crops under the cover of darkness after our hard labour,” she said. Adding, “We use the proceeds from our gardens to sustain our families and provide our children’s needs”.
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“A bed of lettuce cost approximately Le100,000 and when we take it to the market we are expected to sell it to make profit. The price of vegetables has increased tremendously due to the scarcity of farmland. Gardeners are being evicted to give way for construction of houses causing increases in the prices of fresh vegetables and fruits,” said Aminata Kamara, a vegetable seller at the Kissy Road Market, “Salad Gron”, in Freetown. In an overview of the agricultural activities of the villages, a seasoned and aged gardener at Regent, Sorie Kargbo, said, “Bathurst and Charlotte are villages that were known for producing huge quantity, fresh fruits like mangoes, guava, pear, lemon, oranges and berries including fruits. They were also very popular with piggeries, but now, the lands have been sold. This makes fruits very scarce in those areas.” He went on to say that the reduced farmlands in the villages that produce vegetables like Gloucester, Leicester and Regent are threatened by soil erosion. Farmers are now spending money to clear their gardens from gravel placing a huge financial burden on them. This is going to have a negative impact on the quantity and price of fruits and vegetables in the city, if urgent action is not taken,” Kargbo noted.
By David Thoronka
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