October 19, 2016 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector is regarded as the mainstay of the country’s economy, and it is expected to continue to play a key role in the country’s socio-economic development because it employs majority of the population.
Agriculture accounts for 65 percent of employment and 35 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but poverty remains a big problem, especially in rural areas where most of the population depends on agriculture to make a living.
Agriculture can be a transformative tool for poverty reduction by raising farmers’ income, generating employment and reducing food prices.
Several international donors, including the World Bank, have over the years been providing support to the sector to ensure that it has what is required to end poverty in the country.
The Bank is a key partner in accelerating economic growth and development not only in Sierra Leone but other developing economies across the world.
They see farming and agriculture as an effective means to eradicating poverty, which is why they have been spending billions of dollars over the years in the form of loans and grants to boost economic growth through projects and programmes.
The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP), which is being funded by World Bank, is aimed at achieving 6 percent agricultural growth and increased food production and availability in West Africa.
WAAPP is a multi-year effort to transform agriculture in West Africa by boosting productivity and sustainability, reducing hunger and improving nutrition, creating jobs and supporting collaboration across borders.
Sierra Leone is one of the 13 participating countries of WAAPP, working with scientists, researchers, extension workers and farmers to innovate, generate, disseminate and adopt improved technologies; create enabling conditions for regional cooperation; build human and institutional capacity across the sub-region; create youth employment, engage women and adapt to climate change.
With funding from the Bank, the WAAPP programme has contributed in boosting the capacity of the research system and in facilitating research on core challenges in the agricultural sector.
For instance, the Rokupr Agricultural Research Centre is being transformed into a centre for excellence on mangrove rice cultivation in the West Africa sub-region.
When journalists visited the centre to see how World Bank supported Projects have contributed to poverty alleviation in the country, the centre’s Assistant Administrative Officer, Ayo Ben-Davies, said the WAAPP programme has been a success for the past five years.
According to him, as a result of the programme, they have received a 35 seater bus, two Renault Trucks, three vans, eight motorbikes to facilitate their fieldwork as Research Officers.
“We do research on various rice varieties for farmers in Sierra Leone. The World Bank has helped us to construct a laboratory for research activities. This will help us to become a centre of excellence on rice research,” said Ben-Davies.
Dr. Dennis Taylor, a Senior Research Officer at the centre, said they were working on staple rice, maize and sorghum.
He revealed that they have completed the first phase of the WAAPP programme and that the World Bank was currently doing evaluation to see whether the project has yielded the required dividend for possible expansion, as the wrap-up mission was in the country recently.
“We see this project as one of the most successful projects. Farmers have received fertilisers, seeds and technical support to boost production. I am sure that the project has helped transformed the lives of our farmers,” he said and added that the Rokupr project implemented the required technology to boost farmers.
Dr. Taylor said the focus of the programme was to capacitate farmers with the required technology to boost productivity, disclosing that they have provided training, logistics, and other supports to beneficiaries.
He noted that the five years programme supported over 100,000 farmers with improved technologies to ensure quality in production.
He also revealed that the programme has constructed four residential quarters and rehabilitated another four for staff members, provided a new cool room for seeds and rehabilitated another, provided a biological services lab, boats, rehabilitated jetty, supported eight students to pursue their master’s degree and two Ph.D. candidates.
“The WAAPP is mainly to enhance high yield, quality production, attract the right market, earn farmers more income and make more savings with the aim of reducing poverty,” says John Brima from the Ministry of Agriculture.
At the Njala Agricultural Research Centre, which focuses mainly on legumes and tuber crops, the Bank also supported WAAPP to come up with new or improved varieties of high yielding cassava that is of marketable value through transformation into different types of quality cassava products.
Senior Farm Manager, Michael Benya, revealed that with help from the World Bank, through the WAAPP programme, they were able to release eight (8) more cassava varieties, using slicers 4 and 5 and also identified fifteen (15) new varieties.
He continued that a total of 125.3 hectres were cultivated across thirteen (13) districts of the country and that they have succeeded in creating opportunities for farmers to earn income, as well as recommending their produce to processing centres.
“The project has been a great success for us. I can safely say that the farmers targeted are doing well. We have also generated lots of technologies during the first phase,” he said and revealed that in the area of capacity building, 11 staff members were sponsored to pursue masters and doctorate degrees in different fields.
Team Leader for Jermplasm and Seed Development, Ernest Gibril Kamara, opined that before the commencement of the World Bank supported project, they had only one cassava breeder, but could now boast of four breeders.
According to him, they used to have challenges with mobility, but the first phase of the project had helped ameliorate that by providing them with seven motorbikes, three pick-up vans, a 38-seater bus and two trucks to facilitate their work.