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FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE

SLeCAD boss narrates challenges in agribusiness development in Sierra Leone

March 13, 2015 With Alusine Sesay & Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh

In our last edition, we detailed the need for government to support agribusiness development in Sierra Leone through the encouragement of private sector involvement in commercialised and mechanised farming. There has been series of programmes, including the already phased-out Smallholder Commercialisation Programme, geared towards the encouragement of small, medium and large scale farmers to embark on sufficient food production to fight hunger in the country. The scheme was further geared towards encouraging farmers to embark on large scale farming for business, with 392 Agricultural Business Centres established countrywide, together with 17 village banks, supposedly to provide soft loans to farmers.

Since the country is yet to fully engage in commercialised and mechanised farming for business, Concord Times ‘FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE’ caught up with the Executive Secretary of Sierra Leone Chamber of Agribusiness Development (SLeCAD), Ahmed Nanoh, to dilate on government’s failings in fully ensuring food sufficiency in the country.

“Commercialised and mechanised farming in Sierra Leone is far from being achieved because the structures are not there. It is just a mere talk-shop and not materialistic. There are no private dealers in agricultural equipment, no effective land preparation, and food production is purely based on seasonal basis,” said Nanoh.

SLeCAD was established as a limited liability company to organise small, medium and large scale farmers, so as to enable them practice mechanised and commercialised farming for business.

Speaking on the challenges that face in agriculture in Sierra Leone, Nanoh said farmers have no access to finance that would enable them embark on large scale farming, hence they still engage in subsistence farming.

“Farmers are still poor because they do not have access to finance. Money that can be accessed without collateral by farmers is not available. Investment financing is not available in the farming sector and farmers are heavily constrained,” he said.

According to information from the Ministry of Agriculture, 17 village banks were established under the Smallholder Commercialisation Programme to make loan available to farmers, but Secretary General of the Federation of Farmers, Mohamed Kabiru, contended that the banks serve petty traders instead of farmers for whom the banks were established. He said the banks failed to understand constraints face by farmers due to climate change and denied them long-term loan. His claim was corroborated by SLeCAD’s Nanoh.

Mr. Nanoh pointed out that for agribusiness to better strive in the country there is need for an organised and assured market structure that should be accompanied by demand, but which structure is not available in Sierra Leone.

He further reiterated that the agriculture sector lacks market information system that would provide information on people who buy agricultural produce, calling for the need to establish such structures to achieve full scale commercialised farming in the country.

The SLeCAD Executive Secretary emphasised that the agricultural sector lacks effective extension and research on produce that can be viable for production and attract market both locally and internationally.

“The agriculture sector will only develop when government graduate from their crude way of doing things,” he noted. “We need to embark on research and invent agriculture products that would be locally branded and be of benefit to Sierra Leone.”

Narrating the challenges facing agriculture and agribusiness development in Sierra Leone, Nanoh charged that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security is rather embarking on business instead of supporting farmers to cultivate food, adding that they buy and sell inputs and seeds to farmers instead of allowing the private sector to handle such area.

“The private sector is not being allowed or given the capacity to fully operate in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture is not helping the situation and the sector would be stagnated with such attitude,” he said. “They want to do everything and we are not getting the needed support.”

On the issue of agricultural equipment to enable farmers engage in mechanised farming, Nanoh said SLeCAD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Agriculture for duty free concession to importers of agricultural equipment, but the memorandum is yet to be honoured.

He said the higher purchase scheme that was imposed by the government for the implementation of the tractorisation programme was absolutely unsuccessful, adding that farmers are still using crude implements to practice agriculture, hence they still live in poverty.

He noted that the Agricultural Business Centres that were established under the Smallholder Commercialisation Programme are facing serious challenges due to their location and strategies put in place by the ministry to run them.

He said they are pushing to establish investment banking system that would boost agribusiness development in Sierra Leone, and that they have approached several development partners to provide them with the necessary funding.

Because the Ebola outbreak has seriously impeded farming, with restriction on public gathering, he said government should think of bringing in more machinery that would enable farmers to fully engage in farming. He warned that the country could face serious hunger because people have not been able to farm effectively.

Meanwhile, the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP-SL) has availed support to the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) to conduct a research and invent five improved agricultural technologies.

According to the Coordinator of WAAPP, Sulaiman Sesay, the research is yet to be conducted and the technologies yet invented, adding that they are on capacity building for Sierra Leonean scientists that would undertake the research.

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