May 15, 2018 By Jariatu S. Bangura
President Brigadier Retired Julius Maada Bio has noted in his maiden address during the state opening of Parliament that effective 2019 investment in agriculture would be a pre-condition for political office and that he would largely encourage private investment in the sector.
“Investment in agriculture will largely be private sector driven. While my administration is committed to increasing budgetary allocation to the sector to a minimum of 10 percent in the next 2 years in line with the Maputo Accord, we shall rely on private investment in the sector. The political class and urban middle class must demonstrate interest in agriculture. Accordingly, effective 2019, investment in agriculture (including animal husbandry) will be a pre-condition for holding political office. The Office of the President and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will work out the details to implement and monitor this policy directive. Additionally, my administration will encourage local banks to lend to the private sector for agricultural purposes,” he said.
President Bio said that the overall goal of his government agricultural policy would be sustainable and diversified production of food on a scale large enough to feed the growing population as well as providing gainful employment.
“Our immediate priority actions will focus on attracting and increasing investment in agriculture, sustainable investment in mechanised commercial agriculture, increasing food crop production, increasing and diversifying cash crop production, increasing livestock production, improving irrigation water management, improving land management and improving governance and research,” he said.
He stated that recent past efforts in agriculture have not produced the desired results and that despite the large acreage of arable land, Sierra Leone continues to be a net importer of rice.
“The budget statement of 2018 estimated rice import at US$108 million for the first half of 2017. For 2018, this figure is projected to be at least US$200 million. According to the 2015 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis study conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 49.8 percent of households were food insecure in 2015 compared to 45 percent in 2010. That is, they consumed limited or insufficient food to maintain a healthy and active life. Global Hunger Index 2017 ranks Sierra Leone as the third hungriest country in the world with percentage of population that is undernourished estimated at 38.5 percent compared to 28.6 percent in Guinea and 16.2 percent in Ghana,” he said.
President Bio also noted that to increase food crop production, his administration would improve on the seed bank system to attract reliable private sector players, support the private sector for large scale agricultural production, processing and marketing , support local industries engaged in the fabrication of farm tools and supply for other farm inputs, put mechanisms in place for public and private partnership in tractor management and rehabilitate feeder roads linking farming communities to markets.
He observed that cash crop constitutes a major source of foreign exchange earnings and job creation and that his administration would focus on providing support for rehabilitation of existing plantations and establishment of new ones, adopting the use of improved varieties of cocoa, coffee, cashew, oil palm and non-traditional cash crops, facilitating the establishment of cash crop cooperatives and providing training in processing to ensure our cash crops become competitive for export.
In the area of youth empowerment, President Bio observed that Sierra Leone’s population is mostly youthful and that they account for about 33 percent of the country’s population and represent about 67 percent of the economically active population, of which 67 percent are unemployed.
“Overcoming youth unemployment will be at the centre of our fight against poverty and our efforts to consolidate peace. In the New Direction, the youth problem will not only receive our topmost priority, but will also be viewed as a human development and security challenge. It is our view that stimulating job creation requires a holistic approach. Our approach will be integrated and coherent. Specifically, in addition to scholarship scheme,” he said.
He added that “My Government will develop Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to provide technical skills to youth in areas relevant for the job market as earlier elaborated on Education and Training, review the current design of the National Youth Service and support its implementation, establish a special Youth Empowerment Fund to support youth engaged in small and medium scale entrepreneurial ventures, promote youth engagement in agriculture through the provision of direct support in the form of finance, market information, technology and technical advice to youth (including agricultural graduates) to engage in commercial agriculture and agro-processing activities.”