Slow Food Edinburgh members and supporters who contributed to the 10000 Gardens in Africa project have been anxiously awaiting news of “our” garden in the hills at Walay in western Sierra Leone since the Ebola epidemic hit that country earlier this year.
Our last communication with Abdul Mamoud Akorama, the garden curator, was in August, but within the past few days, we have had an update from the 10,000 Gardens co-ordinator at Slow Food International, Michela Lente, She has had contact on an almost daily basis with Patrick Mansaray, Slow Food national co-ordinator in Sierra Leone.
So far, a central donation from SF International of €5000 has been sent to the country to assist the producers and their families with food and medicines. At the forthcoming Terra Madre, there will be a campaign to support the Ebola relief programme and Slow Food members and delegates are invited to contribute. A report will also be given by the only Sierra Leone delegate, Ibrahim Mansary, co-ordinator of the gardens, who by serendipity, moved to the Ivory Coast (which is Ebola free) four months before the onset of the outbreak.
But the current picture is best and very vividly painted in a telephone interview Patrick Mansaray gave on the 8th October:
“Ebola is real and is now with us in the country. There is no denial today among the population. Although it is expected to be eradicated one day, which date is yet uncertain.
It will leave an indelible footprint on a large pool of orphaned children and a battered economy, health system and food crisis. The total death rate is increasing every day. Statistics from the Ministry of Health on 7th September 2014 reported that 13 out of the 14 Administrative Districts have had incidents of the Ebola virus.
The impact of the disease is very high, more especially among the communities in the Kailahun and Kenema Districts in the Eastern Region that holds the epicentres. These two Districts have been quarantined since 7th August 2014 and the movement of people within these areas is restricted. All transport in and out of these areas is rationed. Though Honda bikes are to start running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, all recreational activities e.g. cinemas, restaurants and sports events are suspended indefinitely.
Three additional districts have now been quarantined bringing the total of the most affected areas/districts to 5.
Everyday life in these areas is very difficult, as most people are farmers or petty traders.
The lives of people are equally difficult for people living both in the urban and rural communities as each of them relies on the other for their daily food survival. Most of the surplus fruits and vegetables produced by the rural farmers are consumed by the urban dwellers and the rural communities in turn sell their products in exchange for items such as salt, Maggie, soap, clothing or other materials for their families.
Since the outbreak of Ebola, all the week-end mini markets (Bazaars) have been closed and shopping for their daily food is very difficult for both rural and urban dwellers.
All schools or Educational institutions have been closed since July, 2014 and all public examinations suspended for an indefinite period.
Working in the fields is problematic. Normally at this time, village communities form themselves into groups of 5 to 10 people and work on a rotational basis in their farms to enable them to cultivate a sizeable acreage of land for their domestic food consumption and to take the surplus for sale. Since the outbreak of Ebola, there has been a ban on assembly of more than five people in one place. There is a decline in the cultivation of the normal size of farmlands this year because, of the imposition of the Public Health State of Emergency.
Slow Food gardens must still try to continue during this crisis period.
The spirit of collaboration among the members of Slow Food garden communities has been strengthened. Most communities now depend on their gardens’ products for their daily food during this food crisis. The gardens have been of great help to families who barter their farm products with their neighboring communities in exchange for items such as salt and Maggie.
Slow Food ideology has significantly influenced these communities, making them realize the value of their own resources and the need to remain linked to their land and traditions. This has helped most of the Slow Food garden communities to overcome this dreadful food crisis. To stop communicating and assisting them at this particular time is not advisable.”
Patrick reinforced a plea for support from the international communities for everything from highly-trained Ebola specialists, laboratory staff, family doctors and nurses, hospital beds and equipment to food for the nation. Slow Food International will be doing what it can to provide assistance.
What can you do? Well, we would urge everyone to give to organisations such as Doctors Without Borders who are both on the frontline of this battle, but also training health workers to work safely and professionally. You can also strengthen the 10 000 Gardens in Africa network by donating here. Thank you.