January 19, 2016 By Moses A. Kargbo
A team of Sierra Leonean journalists from the print and electronic media has concluded a two-day (December 10 – 11, 2015) monitoring visit to Tombo in the Western Rural and Kambia in the North of the country to assess the impact of implementation of projects supported by the World Bank under the Rural and Private Sector Development Programme (RPSDP) implemented by the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS).
The RPSDP was a government owned project operated under the Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, and Trade and Industry, with support from the World Bank. The project came to an end in June this year, and the team went to gauge the impact it has had in the lives of beneficiaries and people in the respective areas.
The media team was led by officials from the World Bank and RPSDP and started their assessment tour at Tombo, a sprawling fishing community in the Western Rural where they were briefed and taken on a conducted tour of the facilities constructed under the project by the RPSDP Grant Manager for the Western Area Rural District Council, Mohamed Kanu, village Headman Mohamed D. Mansaray and Chairlady Mrs. Isatu Bankole Sesay.
The Tombo project comprised the construction of a 0.2km road and a bridge, a market, fish processing centers, and a store.
Grant Manager Mohamed Kanu told the team that the road and bridge construction work started in 2013, while the market project commenced a year later in 2014. The first fish processing center was constructed in 2010 and the second in 2013 following calls by fish sellers for the facility to be expanded to cater for more business women.
Headman Mohamed D. Mansaray said before the construction of the market, market women used to sell in makeshift stalls (baffas) covered with tarpaulin, which did not provide them and their goods protection during the raining season. He said the market women were particularly grateful to RPSDP and the Work Bank for providing them with the facility.
“This facility now provides our market women with a decent trading environment, for which we are grateful to the RPSDP and the World Bank,” said Mr. Mansaray. “Business people travel all the way from Guinea and Liberia to come and do business here during the weekly periodic markets (known locally as lumas). So this serves as an international market attracting business people from our neighbouring countries.”
The headman said he was happy for such a project being implemented in his community though he appealed to RPSDP and the Bank to provide them with public toilets to cater for the growing business population.
He also informed the team that they were faced with the challenge of ensuring that the contractor of the project was paid his balance money so that the market could be handed over to the local authorities and commissioned, so that traders would occupy it and stop displaying their wares in the street.
Chairlady of the market (known as Pepper Wharf Market), Isatu Bankole Sesay, reiterated the point made by the headman that the facility could not be commissioned at the moment because of outstanding payment to the contractor, which was yet to be effected.
Notwithstanding that, she commended RPSDP and the Bank for constructing the road and the bridge, which she said has made the community accessible to neighbouring communities thus promoting business in the area as hundreds of traders now visit to buy and sell their goods.
She said business people come from countries within the sub-region during the periodic markets to buy their fish and palm oil. She said all fishing villages across the Western Area come to Tombo to either buy or sell their fish.
She further informed the team that some foreign investors are currently setting up a project in the community to start buying fish from the Tombo traders, store them in their cold room, and then export them to international markets.
Madam Sesay led the team to the fish processing centers, where they were briefed by the head of the centers, who doubles as Chairman of the Tombo Fish Traders Association, Alie Japan Bangura, on the operations of the facilities. He said though a second processing center had been provided for them, the facilities struggle to cope with the high number of fish brought in by traders to be processed.
Bangura said they use proceeds from the centers to pay the young people under their employ and to give out soft loans to traders that are members of their association. He thanked RPSDP and the World Bank for providing them the two facilities, and appealed for more pallets and ‘banders’ so that they could increase the number of fish they process per day.
The team also inspected a store managed by the Tombo Fish Traders Association, which stores fish brought in by some 250 fishing boats operating in the community and from other areas.
Chairlady of the store, Mamah Kamara, said fish stored in the facility are to be sold in Guinea and Liberia.
“We charge a fee for using the store and we use the money to pay our staff and to give soft loans to our members,” she said. “Before the construction of this store, we used to keep our fish in the open, and it was a field for thieves. With this facility, our business is now safe. We thank RPSDP and the World Bank for the support they have been rendering to business people in the Tombo community.”
Madam Bangura pleaded for a cold room to be constructed for the community so that fishermen could preserve their products and miminise the risk of them being spoilt as a result of the limited capacity to process huge quantity of fish at a given time.
The team visited the Tombo Wharf before leaving for Kathakera village in the Magbema Chiefdom, Kambia District in the north, where they also inspected projects undertaken under the RPSDP with support from the World Bank. Projects implemented by RPSDP in the village include hand-pump water well, VIP latrine, store/shed, drying floor, and the installation of rice processing equipment.
Kathakera is a rice cultivating community, and all the projects are under the supervision of the Davis Agricultural Development Association. Chairman of the association, Mohamed Dumbuya, said they do rice, cassava and vegetable cultivation, and that the facilities provided them by the project contributed significantly to bring together rice farmers in the village and surrounding communities.
He said they have formed 52 groups of farmers, each comprising 25 members in the form of cooperative societies, so that they could support each other in their farm work. He said they have cultivated vast acres of land but that they were confronted with the challenges of bad roads, which impede farmers’ efforts to transport their produce to the big towns, and lack of machinery, which limits their production capacity.
“If you do the roads for us, big vehicles will be able to come in and transport our produce to the big towns,” appealed Mr. Dumbuya. “For now, we use boats to transport our rice, and this could be very risky because last year we lost 35 bags of rice as the boat that was transporting it capsized. Sometimes, farmers carry the rice on their head.”
The team wrapped-up their assessment tour with a visit to the villages of Gbonkomaria and Ro-Themne, where a bridge linking the two communities has been completed by RPSDP. The bridge runs across the No.4 River, which is a branch of the Great Scarcies River.
The project also rehabilitated the road linking the two rice cultivating communities and others in the Magbema Chiefdom.
Senior Communications Specialist responsible for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Kafu Kofi Tsikata, said he was more impressed with the Gbonkomaria project, noting that Kambia District “looks like the real rice basket of Sierra Leone”. He said he was also impressed with the people in that community, whom he referred to as “very hard working”.
He revealed that the World Bank will be introducing a new project that will deal with the commercialisation aspect of the businesses being engaged in by the people.
“The project needs to consider Kambia District because I see a lot of manual labour here,” he observed. “We need to provide equipment [for them] so that they can do more and benefit from what they are doing. We need to focus more on the woman because they are more economically productive than the men.”
He added: “I’m very pleased because I see a community that is happy and willing to do more. We need to help them minimise the post-harvest losses so that they can achieve the fruits of their labour.”
At Tombo, Mr. Tsikata said he was equally overwhelmed by the impact the project has made in the vast fishing community.
Overall, he said the project has done well and shown great success as it has impacted the lives of people in those communities.