Agriculture including forestry and fisheries is the backbone of the economy and the main source of livelihoods in Sierra Leone. It employs about 70% – 75% of the active labour force and contributed close to 50% of the country’s economic GDP in 2017.………………………….
(Turmabum, Southern Province – 11th June, 2021) His Excellency Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio has on Saturday, 11th June 2021 launched the 31.4 Million USD Regional Rice Value Chain Project in Turmabum, Southern Sierra Leone.
His Excellency fully assured that achieving food security through sustainable agriculture remains a national agenda for ending hunger and starvation and boosting the country’s human capital development index.
While making a keynote address in the presence of locals, development partners, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and BADEA, His Excellency maintained that the project is designed to benefit over 7,000 women and youth farmers, along with 35,000 farming families. He continued on the note that the country has a vast arable land that is endowed with consistent rain fall and favourable weather conditions, yet we are still faced with challenges on the importation of rice largely due to the lack of sustainable agricultural investment plans over the years, as this has been triggering his government to spend hundreds of millions of USD every year in the importation of rice and other assorted food items into the country. He therefore said instead of taking short-cuts and populous agricultural interventions for political propaganda, his government has come up with a permanent fix – a long term solution that will strengthen the participation of the private sector and by extension cut down the huge revenue that government continue to spend to import rice into the country.
Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh who doubled as the chair-person for the occasion thanked IDB and BADEA for the timely support rendered to the country’s agricultural sector, affirming that the project is not only a national goal for the president and his government, but it is also a huge achievement for the country at large. He reassured that the anticipated outcome of the project will drastically save government revenue and cut down large scale importation of rice.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry – Dr. Abubakarr Karim reaffirmed that the project will cater job opportunities for the locals, cut down the importation of rice, and compliment the country’s aspiration for food self-sufficiency by 2023.
While presenting certificates to farmers for their tremendous contributions into the agricultural sector, Dr. Karim also crowned President Bio as chief farmer and declared First Lady Fatima Bio as champion of agriculture.
Dr. Karim concluded by thanking all those present in this milestone occasion and encouraged the farmers and all private and non-private agricultural development partners to continue giving their full support to revive the agricultural sector.
Paramount Chief Alex Maada J.J Kainpumu 11 appreciated President Bio and his government for giving them the opportunity to host this special occasion. He assured that they would take ownership of the project to make sure that its desired benefit for the government and people of Sierra Leone is fully realised.
The Turmabum Rice Project is a 31.4 Million USD financed by the GoSL, IDB, and BADEA and is designed to benefit 5000 beneficiaries in Turmabum (Bonthe District), and 2000 beneficiaries in Samu and Mambolo (Kambia District) for a period of 5 years.
Women Farmer Based Organizations from the sixteen Agricultural Districts of Sierra Leone, has paid a courtesy call on the Deputy Minister II of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Theresa Teneh Dick to congratulate her for her Ministerial appointment and abreast her of their agricultural activities, success stories and challenges in the Sector.
Outlining their successes, Farmers explained that they contribute to about 70% of agricultural production, processing, value addition and marketing as well as rural job creation in the country.
The Women Farmers however lamented that they are challenged with the permanent acquisition of farmland, appropriate farm machinery and access to loan facilities among other things that will aid increased agricultural production and productivity in the country.
Discussing his Ministry’s National Agricultural Transformation Plan, the Chief Agricultural Officer, Mr Amara Idara Sheriff explained the Strategic Policy Shift which focuses on Private Sector Led Farm Mechanization through the establishment of Machine Rings and Farmer Service Centres, Agricultural Credit Facility to Private Sector Actors to import Seeds, Fertilizers and Agro Chemicals, an E – Voucher System to foster Efficiency , Transparency as well as Cost Reduction in Government Input Delivery and an E – Extension System to compliment the Extension Strategy to reach millions of farmers with information to help Decision Making, Boost Production and Income Generation. .
Welcoming and congratulating the women farmers for appreciating and bestowing confidence in her appointment as Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Theresa Teneh Dick assured them of her unflinching determination to ensure that Women Farmers benefit from all farmer support services provided by her Ministry, the Agricultural Projects and donor partners.
Dr. Theresa Teneh Dick explained that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Retired Brigadier Dr. Julius Maada Bio appointed her as Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry because of his confidence in the positive role women play in national development.
She entreated the Women Farmer Based Organizations to be focused and work in unison regardless of tribal, political and regional sentiments in order to benefit from the many available opportunities to transform the Agriculture Sector as the engine that propels national growth and development.
The Deputy Agriculture and Forestry Minister II, assured the Women Farmers that their challenges will be catalogued and discussed at management level with the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Abubakarr Karim, to proffer possible and lasting solutions.
The occasion was graced by the Offices of the Permanent Secretary, the Technical Advisory and Resource Mobilization Unit, the Agricultural Extension Services Division and the Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project and of the National Federation of Farmers of Sierra Leone.
In a bid to transform the Agricultural Sector in Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has embarked on strategic policy shifts aimed at increasing land under cultivation and boosting yields. These interventions/initiatives are focused on setting the enabling environment that promotes private sector investment in Agriculture, reduce inefficiencies in service delivery and protect smallholder farmers involved in agriculture……………………
About twelve months ago, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) embarked on a journey to transform the agriculture sector in line with H.E President Bio’s vision for a sector that attracts private commercial investment, is driven by innovation and mechanisation, creates jobs and sustainably feeds the people of Sierra Leone.
This past week, my team and I took two giant steps towards implementing this vision. First, On Thursday March 11th, 2021, MAF partnered with the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) to launch a hundred billion Leones (USD 10 million) Agriculture Credit Facility (ACF) to finance private sector participation in the sector. This facility will be accessed through commercial banks by agribusinesses to import or produce agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides. As an incentive to the private sector, we negotiated an interest as low as 5%, compared to the going market rate in the mid-twenty percent. As a further guarantee to avoid crowding out the private sector, MAF will no longer directly procure and distribute agricultural inputs to farmers in the country. Instead, MAF will directly support registered vulnerable farmers through a smart subsidy program, which will be rolled out via an e-wallet system that farmers can redeem for inputs from agro-dealers across the country. In collaboration with the (Ministry of Finance, MAF will establish a Clearing House (an escrow account) worth sixty billion Leones (USD 6 million) to cash out e-wallet. This means stepping away from years of a government-led procurement process rife with inefficiency and corruption for the Ministry. The smart subsidy will attract private investors in the sector and lead to big wins for our farmers, who will benefit from cheaper, quality, and timely inputs. This approach also helps the government to reduce costs and opportunism in input delivery in the country.
Another equally exciting achievement for my team and I this week, was signing contracts with fourteen private operators to lease and manage fourteen Machine Rings across the country. This signing ceremony marked a new approach to promoting agriculture mechanisation. For the first time, the government makes 410 machines and implements worth Le 168 billion available to farmers through the private sector. Previous failed approaches relied heavily on government, farmer groups or private individuals that were not business-oriented. This new lease-to-own public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement is business-oriented, which is why each Ring operator will pay the government the full cost of the Ring by the end of the lease period. They are expected to build profitable businesses that will allow them to make annual payments to the government.
This mechanisation approach will rapidly put more lowland areas under rice cultivation and set us on a path to deliver on H.E President Bio’s Human Capital Development (HCD) target of 86% rice-self-sufficiency by the end of 2023. The Machine Ring concept also immediately creates jobs in the fourteen districts. We estimate creating about 820 jobs for machine operators, and additional hundreds linked to repairs and maintenance services. This will help reduce youth unemployment in rural areas. And perhaps most critically, this approach will be made sustainable by establishing an Agriculture Mechanisation Fund, resourced from machine operators’ annual payments. The private sector will access this Fund at a low-interest rate to replace machines and grow their fleet. The Fund will also be used to train and certify operators to support mechanisation growth in the country.
With the private sector leading in these critical areas, my job is made easier. I will be the fiercest advocate for our farmers, making sure quality service is delivered to them. For input provision, we have already placed the necessary policies and regulatory bodies to support this private sector shift, including The National Fertilizer Regulatory Agency Act 2018, The National Fertilizer Policy 2017, The Seed Policy 2017, and The Sierra Leone Seed Certification Agency Act 2018. For the Machine Rings, MAF will set up a cross-MDA and community level monitoring teams and use fleet management technology to ensure the private sector keeps its promise. We will also maintain the responsibility to provide agriculture advisory to our farmers, relying on digital technology to reach as many farmers as possible while keeping costs down.
The progress made so far is an excellent example of effective collaboration at all levels in the sector, including MDA, donors, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society. My leadership team is also grateful to the hardworking civil servants at MAF who have committed themselves to make H.E President Bio’s goals a reality and to help our farmers. Without their effort, we will not succeed. This work has also been supported by a team of technical advisors, including Advisors from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), who has been working alongside Division Heads to get the policy shift’s technical pieces and delivery mechanisms right.
Let me be the first to say that these achievements, while significant, are only a component of what is needed to boost productivity in the sector. The sector still requires a lot more investments and many more bold and innovative programs. We will celebrate these successes today, but tomorrow we will roll our sleeves to tackle the next challenge segment-by-segment of each priority crop and livestock value chain in the country. With a mandate and support from H.E President Bio, my Ministry will not rest until we put into place other interventions that will support a true transformation in the sector.
***The author, Dr. Abubakarr Karim is the Acting Minister of Agriclture and Forestry (MAF)
The government of Sierra Leone has received a loan and a grant in the amount of US$34.12 million equivalent from the Islamic Development toward the cost of the Sierra Leone Reginal Rice Value Chain Development Bank toward the cost of the Sierra Leone Regional Rice Value Chain Development Project (SLRRVDP).