Agribusiness development in Sierra Leone needs more support

March 5, 2015 With Alusine Sesay & Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh

Agribusiness shares similarities with corporate farming and it involves a range of activities and methods used to involve in modern food production. It involves farming, seed supply, agrichemicals, farm machinery, wholesale and distribution of products, processing, marketing, and retail sales. Widely characterised with subsistence farming, the concept of agribusiness is rather new to Sierra Leone, hence the need for requisite support to gain momentum in the country.

With the introduction of the Agenda for Change by the ruling All Peoples Congress, agriculture was one of the key priorities with over 10% budgetary allocation.

In a bid to develop agriculture as a business, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced the tractorisation programme which saw the procurement of no fewer than 300 tractors. Meant to increase food production and ensure food security, the tractors served rather the opposite purpose. Instead of targeting rural farmers, the tractors were distributed on loan to some politicians while only few affluent farmers benefitted.

While before parliament to respond to issues raised in the 2013 audit report, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture disclosed that people refused to pay their loans in respect of the tractors loaned to them by the ministry. However, those who loaned the tractors have claimed that they were finding it difficult to fully operate the machines due to the lack of spare parts. Therefore, most of the tractors have developed mechanical faults and parked due to lack of maintenance, simply because their spare parts are hard to come by in Sierra Leone.

If the government is really serious in its quest to develop agribusiness, the issue of spare parts for tractors they sold to farmers should highly be considered. Private companies should be encouraged to import agricultural machinery and their spare parts into the country. In this light, government should give concession to companies who have the wherewithal to import agricultural machinery and their spare parts so as to arrest the situation in which tractors are not operational for want of spare parts.

When he assumed office as Minister of Agriculture in 2007, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay held several consultations with the private sector, donors and government ministries, departments and agencies to launch a programme that would enhance the development of agriculture in Sierra Leone.

The consultations were followed by the creation of the Integrated Programme for Private Investment in Agriculture in Sierra Leone (IPPIASL) which was later replaced by the Sierra Leone Chamber of Agribusiness Development (SLeCAD). SLeCAD is charged with the responsibility of encouraging private investment in agriculture and enhance the concept of agribusiness, but the institution is heavily crippled by low funding to carry out its activities.

Further, according to the Executive Secretary of SLeCAD, Ahmed Nanoh, activities that are to be undertaken by them are being hijacked by the Ministry of Agriculture, thus denying them the independence to fully function.

The same is true of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company; the company finds it difficult to compete with the private sector because they lack the required financial support to function effectively.

Though there has been some support provided by the United Nations Development Programme in the area of agribusiness, which specifically targets youth in the Western Rural Area, it is incumbent on the government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Agriculture, to take the lead and provide the necessary leadership in enhancing agribusiness in Sierra Leone.