Sierra Leone agriculture – An engine for economic growth

John Baimba Sesay – China

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 October 2016
Sierra Leone Agriculture

The world over, especially in Asian nations like China and Vietnam, the agriculture sector remains an important economic activity.

Vietnam for instance has made huge achievements in her agriculture sector, contributing to food security and economic development, being one of the top exporters of rice. China has hundreds of millions of farmers and is a major producer of rice, tea and even wheat, with its agriculture sector being a major player in the country’s economy.

Recent global financial turbulence has led to huge economic challenges not only for developing nations, but for world powers too. This has led to countries shifting their development paths,  especially their traditional economic growth sectors.

Oluwadamilare Odu-Onikosi, on ‘Boosting Nigeria Economy through Agriculture’ called for a shift from his country’s concentration on the oil sector to the agriculture.

Such action, he said, would help “bring about a shift on a monoculture economy, diversifying from over-reliance on crude-oil…provision of food and raw materials through the development of agriculture to the teeming population and the development of the manufacturing sector, discourages heavy dependence on importation…”

The government of Sierra Leone recently introduced expenditure measures aimed at addressing the challenges left by the Ebola outbreak and of course, the drop in prices of commodities, such as iron ore.

Notwithstanding the denial in certain opposition quarters, it is evident that the Ebola outbreak and the drop in price of iron ore had adverse effects on the country.

JOHN-BAIMBA-SESAYThat said, we also should work towards making use of the agriculture sector, given its potential for economic growth. Our dependence on import could be reduced in the long term, if not now, by engaging in intensive agricultural activities. (Photo: John Baimba Sesay).

The country’s economy largely depends on agriculture and mining. Agriculture “accounts for almost half of GDP (46% in 2008) and provides employment for about 75% of the economically active labour force (15-64 years) in the country (with women predominant). (Source: Agricultural and Rural Development Statistics in Sierra Leone – Key Aspects of Institutional Arrangements & Performance).

Sierra Leone has 5.4 million hectares (74%) of potentially cultivatable land. It benefits from a number of enviable natural advantages; strategically located with one of the largest natural harbors in the world.

women farmers - investing-african-agricultureGovernment, after 2007, increased budgetary allocation to the sector to 7.7% in 2009 which it had met at a paltry 1.6%, thus making agricultural productivity very low.

In fact, President Koroma, in 2009, called for a move from subsistence to commercial agriculture and adding value so as to realize “maximum benefit from the richness of our soil.”

Improving productivity is key to effectively utilizing the potential of the sector. In a 2016 interview, Professor Monty Jones, Agriculture Minister told me that the country’s productivity level was low, compared to other countries in Africa.

Increase in production and productivity through the value chain, from research to extension, to adaption, to value addition to market is vital and strategic, given the potential long term impacts.

This is where the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) could play a role in identifying the key commodities; pathways for adoption; pathways to markets and eventually increasing yield of those commodities, a view also held by the minister.

SLARI, as the minister said, should “work in a much more collaborative, integrated fashion and in much more innovative ways and approaches that will ensure maximum impact on the ground“.

Making the sector an ‘engine’ for socio-economic growth and development, involves commercializing the sector and encouraging the promotion of private sector investment; it can help in motivating the required speeding up of agricultural productivity.

Odu-Onikosi, called for the development of Agricultural Business Entrepreneurship and farm-skills acquisition centres, and ensuring Agricultural Subsidy and tax holidays for investors in his country, Nigeria. We have indeed made progress in ensuring an enabling tax environment for investors.

With attention to the sector, it eventually would help in job creation and reduce our level of dependency on importation of rice, which is our staple food.  Agriculture can be an engine of growth. We should all come on board. This should not simply be a question of what government could do.

2 Comments

  1. I commend the president for the appointment of the current agriculture minister because he is testament to the fact that putting a square peg in square hole can be productive. I also disagree with Mr. Sesay’s lofty dream by referring to China and Vietnam as examples rather than Gambia, Senegal or Ivory Coast.

    The fact of the matter is the APC government should have asked the Chinese to build the railway rather than the airport, which can help with the transportation of most agricultural products to the main cities.

    The only reason why the president never succeeded was because he had no plans in the first place and with only few months left in his presidency he seems to be a genius in solving problems that should have been tackled since he came to office in 2007.

    And he should have been honest with the people when he promised that he will run the country like his personal business, which I believe is still thriving while the country’s economy is on life support in an intensive care unit.

  2. John Sesay you never made any comparative advantage by the APC led government’s 7.7% increase in commercialization of their spending in the agricultural sector, in comparison with the 1.6% expenditure the previous SLPP government spent on expenditure in agriculture.

    You should have read the speech Dr Kandeh Yumkella delivered in London in which he stated that the APC led government is spending over $160 million US Dollars every year just to import rice to feed the people, since they came into power in 2007. By your analysis and explanation we should by now be approaching food sufficiency.

    But you know that EB Koroma led government had sold the country to the Lebanese (whom he worked for at Reliance Insurance before becoming president of Sierra Leone) and they are the main importer of rice to Sierra Leone.

    There is not a single commercial and mechanized rice plantation headed by a Lebanese, but EB Koroma is using IB Kargbo’s liaison with Lebanon to have their (Lebanese) domestic waste transported to Sierra Leone for dumping, whilst the APC led government cannot even properly process our own domestic waste as a country.

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