Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 March 2019:
Sierra Leone’s minister of agriculture forestry and food security – Dr. Jonathan Joseph Ndanema has announced that each district in the country has been charged with the responsibility of cultivating 1,000 hectares of rice in order to attain Sierra Leone’s food self sufficiency.
He made this announcement in Kambia district, after conducting a nation wide feasibility study and needs assessment of all agricultural facilities and sites across the country, and ordered the District Agricultural Officer, (DAO) Mr. Saidu Bamayange to start the process.
He said that the government will provide all necessary facilities and resources to improve the productivity and yield of farmers that will help achieve food sufficiency in the country.
“This country is blessed with enough fertile land and it is very much absurd that we have to use every year the staggering amount of two hundred million dollars ($200,000,000) just to import our staple food – rice, from other countries. This is very much unacceptable and this government under President Bio will stop this importation of rice and cultivate more than enough to export to other countries” the minister.
Speaking in Kambia, the minister said there are people in Sierra Leone who do not want to see the dream of food self-sufficiency comes to fruition, because of the huge profits they are enjoying from the importation of rice.
The DAO spoke about some of the challenges his institution is facing, especially poor electricity supply, insufficient vehicles to undertake administrative operations, large number of volunteers working without stipends for months.
Speaking on behalf of the farmers, the chairlady for ‘Allah Tanto Farmers Association’ – Ramatu Bangura said that, they have made several achievements, but that the challenges outweigh the achievements.
She mentioned the lack of agricultural equipment – tractors, harvesters, and planters. She also complained about difficulties in accessing credit finance, lack of fertilizers, and polluted farm seedlings.
In another development, the Rokupr Agricultural Research Center which was established to help find innovative ways to improve production of rice and other agricultural products in order to achieve food self sufficiency is presently in an abysmal state of disrepair.
This was the conclusion of the feasibility studies and needs assessment conducted by the Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security, Dr. Jonathan Joseph Ndanema.
The Rokupr Agricultural Research Center is short of electricity, internet access and water supply needed by staff to carry out research.
Some of the staff accommodation destroyed during the war have still not been rehabilitated. Worse still, many of the infrastructure which should have been built during the WAAPP Programme were not constructed, whilst others were left incompleted, such as the biotechnology laboratory complex, greenhouses and cool rooms.
The Center is losing staff rapidly, through retirement without replacement. In the next five years, nearly all the technicians and senior supporting staff will be retired. Retirees have not been replaced in the past ten years. The few recruitment done were for the SLARI head office. For this reason, the center is currently short of technicians and work service staff.
As a result of the continual loss of staff, the number of security Personnel have reduced from thirty to eleven over the years, resulting to continuous loss of Center properties on campus as well as posing threat to staff safety.
The center is also facing challenges in terms of funding research activities for the past five years. This has affected the core functions of the center.
They have however initiated dry season cropping to minimize the shortage, although they are expecting some seeds from AfricaRice for onward multiplication. Appropriate support intervention is highly needed for effective seed production.
According to interviews conducted, for the past five years there have been no SLARI funded research activity at the centre. This has greatly affected work at the Center and in the Out-stations.
The centre is required to produce foundation seeds for the country by end of 2019 cropping season and achieve income generation, including one hundred acres of Boli land at Gbomsamba, fifty acres in Tormabum; and fifty acres each in the IVS and Mangrove swamp as contract farming scheme in Rokupr.
Responding to the harrowing account of staff working at the centre, the Minister assured them of the revamping and rejuvenation of the institution which is key, if the government is to achieve food self sufficiency and sustainability.
His main task he said is to ensure that the research institution can contribute meaningfully towards the development of agriculture in the country. He called on all staff to come together and put all hands on deck to restore the dignity of the centre.
“This institution is a good tool for the Ministry, and the SLPP government which is a talk and do government is here to make sure what happened in the past that affected the common man is removed. Everyone is equally important, therefore entitled to the state resources” he said.