Alumni Spotlight: Paul Conteh and his Agraverse
To Paul Conteh (MSW ’15), the Agraverse was a lightbulb moment.
Last year, Paul, an alumnus of the Global Mission Leadership Scholarship Program, was living in Freetown, Sierra Leone employed as a consultant for the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone, a Lab Lead for OctoSpace 360, and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology & Social Work at Fourah Bay College at the University of Sierra Leone. But he was consistently amazed at the vast, under-utilized farmland of the provincial areas of his country. “Do you know what is sad? Sierra Leone imports 99.9% of our consumable food,” Paul explains via email. “We need to change the food and economic arrangement of our country. Before I start to give lectures to Sierra Leoneans about the need to grow our own food, I should start by modeling the way for others.”
Prior to the presence of Agraverse, locals were engaged in illegal logging. Agraverse has introduced farming as an alternative means of livelihood. Agraverse spent 2022 working on direct farming with a small number of local farmers developing peanut and sesame crops, honest work that kept the farmers from the need to participate in illegal activity. When that proved successful, Paul expanded his vision, securing funds from Texas Baptist Hunger Offering to pilot the Ag-Builders model, an Outgrowers farming model, to develop more farmland in Tonko Limba Chiefdom and the community of Kamasasa.
The traditional Outgrowers model links networks of smallholder farmers with a company who supplies the farmers with growing necessities (seeds, fertilizers and pesticides etc.), as well as technical assistance and training. Under this model, the farmers usually agree to sell their crops back to the company for a pre-negotiated rate. This model can bring smallholder farmers into mutually beneficial partnerships, facilitate access to more diverse markets, and help improve crop yield and quality.
In the Ag-Builders model, Agraverse serves not only as a contractor, but a true partner. Under this new model, Agraverse gives seed loans (usually two peanut seed bushels each) to farmers who both own farmland and are part of an agro-based co-op, while also helping them finalize interest rates and loan guarantors and strategize around loan recovery. In short, Agraverse aims to participate in every aspect of the agricultural ecosystem with the goal of food security, economic empowerment, and rural development.
“The Agraverse impact in Tonko Limba Chiefdom is felt from a social, economic, and physical perspective,” Paul explains. “Socially, the Ag-Builders scheme has helped Sierra Leoneans understand the benefit of working together. Economically, Agraverse will be in a position to buy harvests from farmers and supply them to entrepreneurs in the city centers, the money from which can be used by farming families to support the well-being of their children. Finally, the food harvested from the Agraverse farms will be nutritious for household consumption.”
“In the next five years,” Paul continues, “Agraverse hopes to be involved in food production and create a non-profit arm – Agraverse Foundation – to educate & empower people on food and economic justice issues… My broader vision is for Agraverse to [also] own assets that support the agricultural value chain, including Agraverse Stores, Agraverse Institute for Food & Skills Development, Agraverse Rural Bank, Agraverse Research Centre, and Agraverse Food Park.”
In the meantime, Paul asks for prayers for Agraverse and its farming partners as it works towards ending hunger in Sierra Leone and beyond. For more information on farming, food production, and economic and ecological justice, or to partner with Agraverse, follow Paul on Facebook or contact him via Whats App (+232 34 288 334). He would love to connect with you!
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
James 5:7-8 (ESV)