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CAN AZOLLA SAVE THE WORLD (AGAIN)? 48m years ago Azolla cooled the earth today it delivers a regenerative whole-system solution for SDGs

Developing a sustainable, scalable model using Azolla to transform nutrition, food security, health, livelihoods and climate adaptation.

Photo of Mo Bangura
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Hope 4 Ebola Orphans Sierra Leone

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Developed with farmers and diaspora over the summer of 2019 at a series of field meetings and farmer sensitization workshops and signed off at a stakeholders meeting in Sendugu in October 2019 with stakeholders including the Regent Chief, chiefdom councillor, Hope Sakuma project coordinator, village heads and FBO chairladies: Hope Sakuma NGO farm The Azolla Foundation 21 registered farming based organizations and village headmen Sanda Magbolontor District Councillor - Kadiatu Kamara Sanda Magbolontor Regent Chief - Pa Alimamy Conteh MAF District Agriculture Director - Francis Keikura Society 4 Climate Change Communications Sierra Leone Not In My Name Coalition - 19 community based organizations campaigning against child marriage, FGM, child exploitaion and for education and child rights Vidal Sesay - film maker

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Sierra Leone

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Sanda Magbolontor chiefdom is 544 km² (210 sq miles), in Karene district, North West Province, Sierra Leone, 71,740km²

What country is your selected Place located in?

Sierra Leone

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Sanda Magbolontor Chiefdom is my late father's place of birth he was district co-op officer back in the 1960's when a newly independent Sierra Leone showed much promise. 100 years earlier it was also the birthplace of Bai Bureh, the greatest of Sierra Leone warriors who bested the British during our own wars of independence and we now imagine Bai Bureh rising again - reborn as woman - to lead a war on hunger; fight climate and environmental battles and innovative education and social media campaigns - we offer our One Thousand and One (Afican) Nights.

The place we chose starts in a different place to the much of the developed world. Farmers farm in much the same way as their forbearers and our ancestors for hundreds and thousands of years. By hand with hand-made tools. With little in the way of mechanization crops are harvested by hand and products made by hand,  bee hives hand-woven,  palm oil, black soap and shea butter beaten by hand, hand dug canoes, spear-fishing. Bartering and informal markets. Herbal medicine. If our people make a conscious choice our place can develop differently, learning lessons from failed models and historic mistakes instead being destined to repeat them, skipping eras of industrialization to a new industry standard, a sustainable economy and society interconnected with the earth and each other, collaborative, regenerative and sustainable, meeting the earths’ urgent needs as well as our own with locally focused production for local consumption.

Our place is also at the heart of Sierra Leone’s Inland Valley Swamp (IVS) landscape - 6,900 km2 and around 10% of its land mass, less than 25% currently cultivated. 50% found in north, 25% in the east, 15% in the south, and less than 5% in the west – enabling our vision and model to spread, like ink on blotting paper, to neighbouring chiefdoms. And since finalizing our vision a fish farmer in neighbouring Tonkalli district is now adopting our integrated rice-azolla-duck-fish-vegetables system.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

This vision imagines transformational change for a unique and uniquely-deserving place - the most deprived chiefdom, in the most deprived district in one of the least developed countries in the world. The place represents both a microcosm of the challenges Sierra Leone faces and that country’s tremendously rich human and natural capital and the threats to them. This beautiful forested chiefdom and resilient people are situated in the north, home to more than half of Sierra Leone’s fertile Inland Valley Swaps but with that wetland landscape comes an inevitable corollary: the highest prevalence of mosquito populations and malaria in the country (59%) resulting in the highest child mortality rate (20%). An agrian forest society where subsistence farmers grow rice, palm oil and cassava carrying out all farming activities by hand, a lack of mechanization hinders progress. Food for most families is a communal bowl of rice, palm and pepper, plassas (greens) if they can afford, fish caught locally on occasion. Lacking essential vitamins and minerals many of the population are malnourished and exhibit boils. 

The principal, most direct means of entry is by hand-pulled ferry , 30 km of unmade track off the highway, the other, a meanderingly scenic 46 km track, looping through ancient forests replete with exotic birds and chimpanzees but unpassable in rainy season, making transport slow and export of produce problematic. In every sense, these communities are cut off. Literally cut off from essential supplies for a month each year, when the Mabanta river swells and the ferry locks and the people go hungry every rainy season; farmers unable to afford labour or fertilizer to grow enough rice reduced to eating the following seasons' seed, 9 out of 10 face food insecurity. 

Cut off from the wider world with limited internet and telephone signal, poverty is such that phones are a rarity. Cash is not in wide circulation with bartering, informal markets and irregular exploitative contacts dominating the local economy. And in every sense these communities are left behind. Goals, programmes and opportunities have passed by. Literacy and numeracy rates are some of the lowest in West Africa, only 3 in 10 can read; lessons are taught in Temne, the dominant local language but exams are taken in English. Limba, Fula, Loko and Krio are widely spoken. 

Traditional culture sees Societies playing a dominant role and women a subservient one. FGM is prevalent. Limited health facilities serve a population of 24,000 in 63 villages but are not free leaving citizens reliant on herbal medicine, effective for minor illnesses but not for life-threatening or undiagnosed conditions. Average life expectancy of 49 is 3 years below the national average. Youth feel strongly about deforestation, corruption and the lack of opportunity. They want to be given the chance to show that they can do better. They want change.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020 Sierra Leone faces multiple challenges: climate change; a burgeoning youth population; hunger and malnutrition rooted in poverty and pressures on its food systems. Pressures exacerbated in 2050 by further climate change and 60% population growth of 4 million, assuming birth rates drop from 5.4 to 1.2, much higher if not. A lack of farming inputs, mechanization, regular work and market linkages is aggravated by poor transport infrastructure. Poverty is such many farmers can’t repay seed and fertilizer loans so are excluded from programmes. Lack of tenure reinforces a semi-feudal system with landowners’ historic grant of only temporary stay to tenants without rights discourages investment by both parties in property or land. Policy interventions can be counted only partially successful when 9 in 10 lack basic sanitation; water is accessed from a single village pump or river so citizens rely on single-use plastic water sachets. 

Limited access to health facilities, poor diet and a high prevalence of malaria compromising immune systems sees poor health outcomes in 2020, with the shadow of lassa fever and Ebola ever-present. 2050 challenges will see antibiotic resistance and vaccine resistant mutating strains of virus Haemorrhagic fever. 

Ranked 3rd most vulnerable nation to climate change Sierra Leone is already one of the wettest places on earth with the number of intense storms increasing in sub-Saharan Africa three-fold since 1982. In August 2017 following twice the average rainfall in July, Freetown suffered record flooding and a mudslide claiming more than 1,000 lives, displacing thousands more. More intense rainy seasons already impact agriculture planting seasons and output. In May 2019 Freetown saw record temperatures of 107.0°F (41.7°C). Climate forecasts see the Sahara warming significantly leading to climate migration and a future for Sierra Leone of more intense rain, devastating flooding and landslides, less predictable, disrupted harvests. 2050 temperatures increase the likelihood of forest fires; reduce the likelihood of species adaptation. Sea levels may rise more sharply than predicted. With coastal ecosystems undermined by unchecked sand mining 3-5 kms of land may be lost seeing a majority of coastal population centres along the western peninsular under threat, causing significant displacement. Storm intensity will increase if deforestation continues unabated and in our place it continues through the governments’ timber ban, foreign timber merchants paying $1 a tree. 

Lack of education and access to ICT sees financial exclusion, a mistrust of bank accounts and loans and expensive fees on money transfers the principal means of diaspora cash support. Civil war & Ebola have diminished the social and civic space. A traditional culture losing the trappings, festivals & celebrations of its traditions but maintaining a rigid rule at risk of losing respect as the population becomes more educated and exposed to external influence.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision addresses the key challenges of hunger, poverty and climate change for our place and places like it with the implementation a unique bio-system and circular economy that adds value locally for local consumption. Our Azolla based food system is regenerative and sustainable and with our food system comes regenerative and sustainable energy and clean water and sanitation in every village clean boosting health outcomes. Our nature-based solution sees yield and nutrition boosted permanently, subsistence farmers costs reduced permanently, food safety and health improved and communities more resilient to climate change. The absence of fertilizer and pesticide providing an opportunity to shift quickly to a more nutritious and profitable organic model, processing crops and by-products locally for local consumption reducing reliance on imports, transport costs and emissions. 

Our vision addresses the causes of poverty, developing a model that encourages responsible production and consumption from the beginning; reducing supply chains to a minimum by processing locally for local markets; creates new value chains for Azolla and for crop waste by-products extracting maximum value. 

Our vision gives value to trees by diversifying into non timber products, tackling the challenge of deforestation at the grassroots and protecting the chiefdoms biodiversity and endangered species by enhancing stewardship and creating a magnet for eco and agro tourism. 

Our vision works with the grain of our people developing a landshare concept seeing tenant farmers receiving recognition, security and rights; establishing a fund to register land and incentivize productive farming; fostering a skilled workforce over 5 years boosting and developing a circular local economy; striking a balance between mechanization and jobs; deploying climate smart technology with minimal carbon footprint and soil disruption and producing sufficient biofuel and off-grid MW for the chiefdom’s 2050 needs, reducing reliance on imported fuel and it’s stretched out supply chain, transportation costs and emissions. 

Our vision also positions our underpopulated place to meet key 2050 challenges by providing A simple system producing food and clean water quickly from scratch in a place that could accommodate significantly increased population density in a planned way for climate change migrants from Freetown or affected places. Above all our vision helps tackle the overriding challenge of climate change by storing massive amounts of CO2 and nitrogen, helping offset rice paddy emissions. 

So, if you seek a regenerative whole system and virtuous circle look no further than Azolla, a plant that needs little to thrive, doubles in mass every few days and can store more planet-warming co2 than a forest! A plant that’s myriad benefits mirror the worlds' myriad challenges and which can help deliver the world's sustainable development goals.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.


When I first visited our farm as a child back in the summer of 2019 I was so shocked children my own age went hungry; their school had no qualified teachers or library and their homes had no toilet, water or electricity. 

Now, as I turn 40 in 2050, kids learn in virtual school and so do the adults! And thanks to Azolla most everything is made locally; everyone has a full belly, all the water, energy and work they want and their village needs. It took just 5 years for 63 villages working to a common purpose to turn our first chiefdom sustainable with harvested seed, no fertilizer cost or weeding time farmers soon thrived. Giving people their own landshare changed mindsets and everyone saw rewards from working collaboratively. Farmers came from everywhere to see how Azolla transformed this place. 

Sister Vicky says events like our women’s football gala and debutantes ball helped renew our traditions and society women transition away from FGM to new coming of age ceremonies I moved here on graduation, given my own plot, rice seed, a handful of Azolla, mating pairs of ducks and fish; now I farm and book-keep and love showing how to give our clay huts this fine finish and now chimps have space to thrive they put in an appearance for guests. 

Grandma was right: feed everyone, take mosquito breeding grounds away and provide clean water and the people will be strong again but it’s the bread my sister invented - nutritious cassava flour fortified by Azolla rich in protein and minerals - that gave every village and child a healthy start to the day. When Sugar Loaf finally split our brothers and sisters from Freetown were pleased to come, be granted land and feed themselves in only 4 months. And when the water wars came we all welcomed the chance to help settle whole communities whose land was lost.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

This four-year community-developed project consists of six modules and any prize money would fund these modules directly benefiting 1,800 subsistence farmers, 75% women and 600 children from 63 villages in Sanda Magbolontor providing a capital fund of $20,000 and $20,000 annually, benefiting 600 farmers and 200 children from 20 villages each year. The project aims to break even in year two and self-financing by year three to fund expansion of the programme to neighbouring chiefdoms in year four and beyond. 

Module 1 - Zero Hunger in Sanda Magbolontor 

A Improve nutrition and food security by intensifying rice production and implementing an integrated whole circle IVS rice-Azolla-duck-vegetable system - developing 100 hectares of integrated hub and feeder farms at seven sites 

B Improve resilience by diversifying into drought-resistant crops, cassava, cashew, okra to improve nutrition and reduce food insecurity during rainy season and times of climate stress 

Principal Outcomes: Improved yield and reduced input costs Improved nutrition and reduced malnutrition with increased availability of rice and vegetables Improved preservation techniques and reduced post-harvest losses Reduced food insecurity and improved resilience Improved soil health and reduced weeding times management of pesticides and non-organic fertilizers to enable future certification needs Rice paddy Co2 emissions offset   

Module 2 - No Poverty in Sanda Magbolontor 

A Improve livelihoods by developing Chiefdom value chains for groundnut, sesame, palm, cashew, cassava, honey, vegetables and fruit and by establishing a capital fund and implementing hub-based Collection and Processing Centres at strategic locations throughout the Chiefdom to add value, improve food safety and formalize markets. 

B Reduce subsistence farmer input costs and boost yield by developing and commercializing a range of low-cost Azolla-based bio-fertilizers and bio-feed alternatives 

C Diversify the chiefdom economy, create jobs and enhance biodiversity protection by adding value to trees with non-timber product (NTP) value chain development and training for api-culture, fungi-culture, vanilla, herbal pharma, essential oils, coffee and also by utilizing current crop waste to produce biofertilizer, cosmetic and hair care products providing fully-traceable halo products for export to profitable niche markets. 

Principal Outcomes: Improved livelihoods and reduction in poverty levels Key value chains developed significantly improving productivity, product quality and food safety Improved market linkages and increased farm gate prices, with profit return to farmers and community Sensitization of rural communities with irregular work patterns and limited to no rights for regular work, employment rights and responsibilities Reduced transportation costs and CO2 emissions for processed crops 

Module 3 - Decent Work and Economic Growth in Sanda Magbolontor 

A Develop the chiefdom economy and create jobs by establishing an enterprise development hub with business planning help and market facilitation offering ICT and entrepreneurship training and an internet cafe with extension officers to provide on-going support to help establish and sustain viable village and household micro-enterprises. 

B Boost the chiefdom economy, create jobs and enhance biodiversity protection by providing the infrastructure for Eco and Agro-tourism with provision of high-finish, traditional build accommodation at strategic locations throughout the chiefdom with guided tours of the Azolla circle, Bai Burehs’ birthplace, hiking, fishing, chimp and bird watching, star-gazing and delivery of an innovative programme of annual events and artisan workshops teaching a range of traditional arts and crafts. 

C Improve financial inclusion and rural connectivity by establishing Hope Sakuma Credit Union to increase access to financial services and encourage community and personal savings and promoting mobile banking and payment apps to increase digital inclusion. 

Principal Outcomes: Development of formalized markets and improved market linkages Effective teams focused on quality and consistency A pool of potential technicians and mechanics for further vocational training Improved rates of sustained enterprise creation Improved access to financial services, reduced rates on money transfers Improved rates of digital inclusion Improved rates of savings, reduced theft Income from tourism to maintain events and education programmes and continue development of the social space.   

Module 4 - Good Health, clean water and improved sanitation in Sanda Magbolontor 

A Improving health by deploying Azolla to reduce mosquito populations and reduce malaria and using Azolla to purify water reducing water-borne life-threatening illnesses like diarrhea, cholera and dysentery. 

B Increasing access to clean water and sanitation by purifying water from unsafe sources using Azolla and training and installing self-build toilets and waste water treatment in every village. 

C Improve health access by provision of nurses’ stations equipped with isolation room, first aid and diagnostic kit and defibrillators at co-located strategic centres with weekly nurse visits to improve diagnosis and provide outreach first aid training and facilitating local administration of government programmes.   

Module 5 – A Quality Education in Sanda Magbolontor 

A Improved literacy, numeracy and ICT levels and understanding of the SDGs with bursary funding for unqualified teachers and delivery of innovative Schools programmes for oral history, climate art, green clubs and camera clubs; development of weekend and holiday athletics and cycling clubs and English, math and coding bootcamps delivered by diaspora volunteers 

B Improved literacy and numeracy levels and understanding of the SDGs through delivery of adult education programmes for nutrition, reading, math, ICT, vocational training, environmental stewardship and agricultural training events, “Good Husband” and other SDG workshops focused on women and child rights. 

C Developing the social and community space with the launch of a women’s football league and annual gala, a women and youth cycling club and annual race; annual farmers festival; annual rice paddy art competition, a duck and Azolla festival, world food day event, photography and sound installations, street art and provision of a mobile library and cinema with a rolling programme of SDG movies to reach every village. 

D Delivery of an innovative modular film project documenting workshops, work and project activities edited to provide educational and training tools enabling other farming communities in IVS landscapes to benefit and also to aid marketing by showing a products journey from harvest to plate and the beneficiaries 

Module 6 – A clean, green and affordable biofuel for Sanda Magbolontor 

A Pilot Azolla Biosystems integrated process to assess ability to produce affordable energy locally improving energy infrastructure and access to electricity while reducing energy transportation costs and emissions. 


Elements from each module contribute to overarching outcomes for Goal 13: Climate Action, Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities and Goal 15, Life on Land; in addition to other cross-cutting outcomes for Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production and include: Improved levels of gender equality with targeted programmes benefiting 70% women, ensuring inclusion and improved skills levels for every village, everyone has a stake 

Enhanced standards of environmental land stewardship, bio-diversity mapping and protection 

Reduced deforestation and increased reforestation with a permission and replant based system to provide for the chiefdom’s timber needs and anticipate future certification requirements 

Significant levels of carbon capture and storage 

Delivery of 70 kw of clean energy for seven hub processing centres, also providing electricity for business hub, nurses station, schools ICT classes and night electricity for luma markets, monthly mobile cinema and neighbouring households 

A Sustainable Communities Capital Fund vested in and administered by the community, replenished by a small charge per bushel processed, KWh used and a percentage return from Hope Sakuma profits to be used towards servicing, repair and replacement of machinery and investment in infrastructure, health and education facilities. 

Community buildings constructed to a “Chiefdom standard” with locally available materials, including Azolla, vested in the community

A robust understanding and application of governance and bio-diversity standards Sensitization of women and youth on all aspects of the sustainable development goals Improved access to and use of ICT with training and the provision of two smart phones and a tablet per village to undertake offline mapping, camera club training 

Increased awareness and rates of recycling with the establishment of community recycling and disposal facilities, creating chiefdom value chains. 

Development of a strong Sierra Leone, sustainable, social enterprise, social good brand with products directly traceable to individual villages, farmers and beneficiaries with profits returned to farmers and vulnerable children, aiding export into profitable niche markets.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website
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Team (17)

Hope 4 Ebola Orphans's profile
Hope 4 Ebola Orphans Charity

Role added on team:

"Tim Sherry, admin (UK)"

Jonathan's profile
Jonathan Bujak

Role added on team:

"Azolla Foundation (UK)"

Deanna's profile
Deanna Rohrsheim

Role added on team:

"Education, arts (Australia)"

M'Mayila's profile
M'Mayila Yansaneh

Role added on team:

"Programme Director, Sierra Leone (SL/NL)"

Mo's profile
Alfred's profile
Alfred Fornah

Role added on team:

"Society 4 Climate Change Communications Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone)"

Etyang's profile
Etyang Tiberious

Role added on team:

"Stakeholder engagement (Kenya)"

Kevin's profile
Kevin Kung

Role added on team:

"bio-fertilzer collaborator (Kenya)"

Kumba's profile
Kumba Bangura

Role added on team:

"Ecotourism lead (UK/SL)"

Nina's profile
Nina Schumann-Cummins

Role added on team:

"Communications lead, volunteer coordination UK"

Abigail's profile
Abigail Clark

Role added on team:

"Health lead (UK)"

Mohammed's profile
Mohammed Hassan (PhD)

Role added on team:

"research collaborator Biochar based pesticide (Nigeria)"

Village Development 's profile

"Azolla-duck-fish-vegetables collaborator, establish network (Bangladesh)"

Yunus's profile
Yunus Abubakar

Role added on team:

"Biofuel collaborator (Nigeria)"

Ekereobong's profile
Ekereobong Ekwere

Role added on team:

"Azolla Collaborator (Nigeria)"

Amara's profile
Amara Sesay

Role added on team:

"Community liaison - Hope Sakuma project cordinator (Sierra Leone)"

Alexandra's profile
Alexandra Bujak

Role added on team:

"Azolla Foundation (worldwide), NTP forest based services"


Join the conversation:


Good job! I'm working on a similar project using spirulina. Food security and good climatic condition is the key to survival of human race. We have to create a network to push this agenda forward

Photo of Mo Bangura

Hi Stephen thank you for your kind comments :) We couldn't agree more! I ha a quick scan of your vision and would love to collaborate further particualrly if you are interested in expaning into Sierra Leone. We work closely with the Azolla Foundation and they have a very active network of around 60 groups around the world so maybe that would be a possible link and a good start? Kind Regards Mo


Very grateful Mo. My team and I would be glad collaborate further with you.

Photo of Mo Bangura

We think we've got quite a lot of synergy with you. It would be great to discuss further. My emails or give me yours and I'll drop you a line. Kind Regards Mo

Team or

Photo of Mo Bangura

Thansk Stephen and apologies for the dalay we got waylaid on something. Cheers Mo

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