As Ebola ravages economy…


Agric-IFAD Banks prove resilient, boosting rural finance

NOVEMBER 18, 2014

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) has revealed that Agriculture-IFAD supported community banks and Financial Services Association (FSAs), known as Village Banks, have taken over banking and financial affairs in many parts of the country where commercial banks have pulled out for fear of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay, speaking during a three-day agricultural assessment mission in three districts – Bombali, Tonkolili and Bo – said only Agricultural Banks now have presence in remote communities, as most commercial banks have pulled out these places, thus making the IFAD supported banks sole providers of banking and financial services in Ebola affected areas in the country.

The community banks and FSAs now exclusively render major banking needs in rural Sierra Leone, making their establishment, just a year ago, very timely and useful to the government and people of Sierra Leone.

In Bo district, at the Jerehun Community Bank – among the most successful Agriculture Banks in the country – it was apparent that community banks and FSAs now serve as the hub of major financial transactions in the wake of the Ebola epidemic.

The banks, it was also noted, have significantly increased their customer-base, after IFAD and MAFFS ensured that they extend membership and support to the Agricultural Value-Chain, which means community members trading in or doing business with agricultural related commodities, whether in production or in processing and marketing, are now included in membership of the banks.

Part of the brief of the assessment mission by the minister and his team was to assess progress made in the construction of ward offices built countrywide by the IFAD supported RCPRP, as part of the decentralization drive of the ministry to ensure its presence in remote areas of the country.

Ward offices built nationwide are part of the structure used by MAFFS to empower rural-base agencies implement and effectively monitor various development projects meant to impact remote rural farmers in the country.

In Magburaka, Tonkolili district, Ya Marie Kamara, a representative of National Farmers Federation in Sierra Leone (NAFSL), said it was refreshing that the minister himself went round the country to ensure that good initiatives in agricultural packages for the country came to fruition. She acknowledged that devolved functions of the ministry to local councils were working quite well, and brings agriculture closer to the people.

Speaking on the impact of Ebola on agricultural projects in the country,Dr. Sam Sesay saidthaton 25th May 2014, at the height of the farming season, the first Ebola case was reported in the country. “We came to learn that the nature of the disease is against the farming system,” he noted and added that that marked the beginning of the battle between Ebola and farming, with the attendant restrictions on gang labour, which inevitably altered the normal farming mode in the country.

Majority of Sierra Leoneans, Dr. Sesay said, are farmers who have borne the brunt of the Ebola outbreak. Whole families, whole villages have been wiped out, leading to farms being abandoned, he stated.

Kailahun and Kenema districts, where more than 80% of agricultural produce come from, have been negatively impacted by the outbreak, thus seriously undercutting the produce market and export.

He revealed there was 5% increase in June, compared to a drop in percentage in May in the basket of basic food security, adding that there is almost 30% increase in price of rice – the staple food. Even though there is increase in the production of vegetables, vegetable growers suffer because of travel restrictions, he said.

The minister maintained that the agriculture sector has shown resilience in the midst of many challenges brought by the Ebola disease. Agriculture in rural communities, he added, is ever present in everyday life as 80% of residents in rural communities are farmers.

Despite all these, however, it was noted that farming is still going on and that there are expectations of better harvests in rice and other agricultural products in the country.

Meanwhile, alternative food items have helped stabilize prices. The impact of food diversification, which entails the production of sweet potato, cassava sorghum, has been very much instrumental in this respect, the team learnt.