Dr Abu Bakarr Karim
Minister of Agriculture & Forestry
Keynote Speech delivered via
International Conference on
Africa Agricultural Cooperation
9 September 2021 -
Mr. Chairman, His Excellencies, Colleague Ministers, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!
- Let me start by thanking the organizers of this webinar and for giving me the platform as keynote speaker and by extension the government of Sierra Leone. It is a pleasure for me as the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Sierra Leone to deliver this Keynote address at the International Conference on Vietnam-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Conference. The lessons from Vietnam, particularly in the development of the rice sector and becoming one of the leading exporters of rice globally is a lesson rice producing countries in Africa could learn from. In this respect, my keynote speech will highlight, how we are trying to increase rice production in Sierra Leone and the investment opportunities available to the private sector.
Sierra Leone is a major rice consuming and importing country. The country is a member of the Mano-River Union along with Cote d’Ivoire and the countries with which it shares boarders – Liberia and Guinea. The country is also a member of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), which provides access to a sub-regional market comprising 16 countries, and with a population of 400 million people, and a nominal GDP of about US$656 billion per annum. In addition, Sierra Leone is a signatory to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) with an aggregate GDP of US$2.1 trillion. Thus, Sierra Leone has access to a market size of 1.27 billion people, projected to rise to 1.7 billion by 2020, with a middle-class target of 600 million people by 2030.
- In 2019, the MAF started a Policy Shift in the agricultural input subsidy and service delivery. The objective of the policy shift is to increase rice (main staple food) productivity and production by encouraging private sector participation in food production. This is consistent with the national objective of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2023 in line with the MTNDP 2019-2023 and some Sustainable Development Goals. Other objectives arear to:
- make farming attractive and profitable;
- support private sector investment in agricultural value chain
- ensure that farmers have access to affordable farm inputs and mechanization services;
- improve access to agricultural finance, through matching grant (30% to 50% of market price of inputs and land preparation costs);
- The policy shift aims to also addressed the high import bill on rice (about US$200 million annually.
- We have also put in place the necessary institutions and legislature to support private sector investments in the agricultural sector. In this respect, we have created the Fertilizer Regulatory Agency and a Seed Regulatory Agency. These two agencies are geared towards ensuring that good quality fertilizers and seeds are produced in Sierra Leone or imported and made available to farmers.
- We have established a new body chaired by the President and Co-chaired by VP to champion and promote private sector investment in the country. The government is putting in place a legislation this year, that will integrate the investment promotion agency, corporate regulator, and PPP Unit into single agency
- We are working with the World Bank on an initiative to overhaul regulatory framework for business – creating a one-stop shop for engaging with government, scrapping unnecessary charges & duties, and reducing bureaucracy and red-tape.
- For the agricultural sector we are now proposing to establish a new strategic policy and delivery team – the Food Security Unit to drive reform and implementation.
- We are also introducing a joint delivery team between the Office of the President, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Fisheries. This will be tasked with overseeing our drive to achieve domestic self-sufficiency in the two main staples of our diet – fish & rice – within next five years.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
- Next week HE President Julius Maada Bio will officially launch Vision 2050 – Sierra Leone’s new economic transformation strategy. This will provide a new strategic framework for Sierra Leone’s long-term economic growth and development. Specifically, it will set out a new strategic investment route-map for achieving the National Development Plan goals – identifying the key target economic growth sectors for the economy and outlining the critical flagship investment projects that are needed to kick-start their expansion. Vietnam provides key development model for SL – moving from food importing, post-war fragile state to Top 25 global economy and Top 15 agricultural exporter in 30 years.
- We aim to follow the development model that have you pioneered over the last three decades – and as you did so successfully to leverage our rich agricultural resources as the springboard for wider economic development. Positioning Sierra Leone as low-cost, high-quality production base and export hub for the global investors.
- Vision 2050’s central aim is to create a modern, value-added economy – delivering on our long-term objective of becoming Africa’s first carbon neutral middle-income country by 2050 through a 10-fold increase in our national GDP
- Sitting at the heart of the 400 million strong Ecowas consumer market we intend to build a ‘gateway economy’. Diversifying away from extractives, rebalancing growth to spread wealth & jobs beyond Freetown and taking advantage of opportunities from AfCTA to embrace the fast-growing African as well as global markets –
- Sierra Leone has rich natural resources – not just minerals but over 5 million ha of arable land – 85% of which is uncultivated. Modernizing the agricultural sector is critically important – it already provides 60% of our GDP – and employs at least half the population, but still 90% of production is through subsistence farming. As global food prices set to double in next 20-30 years Sierra Leone can be global agribusiness powerhouse for the 21st Century.
- We want to create a modern agri-business sector – starting with large-scale commercial rice farming and fisheries as well as key cash-crops, forestry & livestock. Our focus is on both attracting investment into large-scale commercial farming and in modernizing small-holder sector and transforming into commercial growers for both domestic and wider global markets
- The new Vision 2050 strategy sets out ambitious plans to open-up our resource-rich rural areas to global markets via a new nation-wide infrastructure network, such as
(a) A national railway system; establishment of Special Economic Zones – to serve as free-trade and economic gateways to global markets
- Sierra Leone is seeking partners with whom it can invest in creating a modern, diverse, value-added economy. And given Vietnam’s position as a leader of South-South cooperation we hope that Vietnamese companies will be at the forefront of its delivery – providing both their expertise and financing for the project.
- Another such area where we believe there is great potential is in the development of a new Agri-tech innovation hub aligned to our National Agricultural University – that aims to development the next generation of low-cost agricultural technology that will be key to boosting the productivity of Africa small-holder farmers and tackling food insecurity – raising yields and helping them transition into become commercial suppliers with reliable incomes rather than hand-to-mouth subsistence farmers
- Fisheries is yet another possible area – despite Sierra Leone sharing some of the richest fishing grounds in the world along the Guinea coast long-term overfishing by foreign industrial trawlers is reducing domestic supplies and endangering our fish stocks which are our biggest source of protein. As well as reforming the industrial trawler sector investing in both modernizing the domestic artisanal fleet and creating a new commercial inland fish-farming sector would help protect domestic fish supplies for the local population.
- That is why today I want to offer the Government and the private sector of Vietnam a new ‘win-win’ strategic partnership with Sierra Leone – which would drive the commercialization of Sierra Leone’s rice sector
- I hope that following this conference our two Governments will be able to engage in a more detailed dialogue around the strategic investment opportunities for Vietnamese agri-business that will be created by Vision 2050 process – which are not just restricted to the rice sector.
- For example, we believe that this year’s upcoming UN COP26 climate -change conference provides an opportunity for Sierra Leone and Vietnam to work together to map out a new sustainable approach to agri-business investment and growth that tackles food insecurity and boosts small-holder climate resilience.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
- We believe that the Asian Development Bank should partner with the African Development Bank alongside other South-South institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank and the BRICS countries’ New Development Bank to establish a new Green Investment Fund, that member states could benefit from.
- The new fund could then finance a Post-COVID green economic stimulus that focused on tackling LDC food security – by boosting small-holder productivity and diversifying domestic food supply lines.
- I hope that Vietnam will join Sierra Leone at the UN COP26 conference in November is championing the role of South-South cooperation in tackling climate change and in opening up the strategic opportunities that will flow from a clean growth strategy for commercializing Africa’s agricultural sector.
- Delivering on Africa’s agricultural potential will require vision – Sierra Leone is about to lay out its vision more clearly and strategically than it ever has before.
- However, a green revolution that ends food insecurity, creates an environmentally sustainable commercial sector, provides decent livelihoods for small-holder and remains commercially viable will require more than just vision.
- I very much hope that for Sierra Leone and Vietnam at the very least – that partnership begins today,