Jesmed F Suma: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 30 May 2020:
The success of the proposed new social compact would be predicated on recognizing the intricate link between agriculture and economic development, driven by the application of the necessary technology in business and industry.
It is the recognition of this intricate link that dictated the industrialization strategy of the developed nations. Historically every developed industrialized country of the world from those in Europe and North America to those in Asia – particularly China, started by investing greatly in their agriculture sector, which stimulated growth in the non-agricultural sectors.
Therefore, part of what would dictate Sierra Leone’s National Development Plan should start from financing businesses in the agricultural sector, running the whole gamut from food and cash crop, to the processing, packaging, distribution and marketing industries.
Financing support should target the entire value chain, to facilitate access to needed materials for the production, processing, and distribution of these products and their by-products to the final consumer.
We need to be able to identify what the country imports in large quantities that can be produced and processed locally; and the cost of developing such industries, and the length of time it will take to scale production to replace the quantities imported. I will attempt to name a few:
COOKING OIL PRODUCTS
Sierra Leone imports a large quantity of cooking oil, which could be produced and manufactured locally.
From the Central Bank stimulus finance, loans should be offered – up to 50% of the capital investment, not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ( $250,000) per business for investing in the cultivation, manufacturing and processing of food products at a commercial scale – such as Palm oil, Peanut oil, Coconut oil and Avocado oil plantation and processing.
On attainment of production levels that can meet local demand, government can impose stiff tariffs on all foreign cooking oil imported into Sierra Leone.
Details of the type of support that could be provided for such businesses – including technical and financial support, can be defined in the country’s Agricultural Development Strategic Plan.
ANIMAL BASED PROTEIN PRODUCTS
These include beef, mutton, chevon (goat meat) and chicken. Government should have an aggressive goal to stop importing beef and chicken. Businesses should be financially supported to produce enough to meet local consumption levels and probably export the surplus to neighbouring countries.
FUNDING FOR LIVESTOCK FARMING
To reduce import levels of animal based protein, such as cows, goats, chicken, and sheep, government should fund and provide technical support as well as other related assistance for local livestock farmers across the country, ranging from subsistence level to commercial scale.
These businesses will also need guidance on how they can establish partnerships with other farmers in the industrial economies in areas such as largescale poultry to meet local demand for eggs and protein; cattle ranching and fish farming.
FUNDING FOR COMMERCIAL PLANTATIONS
This should include investing in organic nursery plantations to grow, nurture and/or produce seedlings for individuals and businesses wanting to go into commercial farming. A central location to produce and sell seedlings of fruits, grains, vegetable and herbs is absolutely needed.
Funding should go to Commercial Fruit Juice production – High Quality and affordable fruit juices, including Mango, Orange, Guava, etc.
Rice – Focussing on increasing and improving the quality of rice production, using methods like destoning to replace imported rice.
Distribution and supply chain infrastructure – Refrigerated trucks, and other tools and equipment to address distribution challenges.
Exploring options to increase the efficiency of the Sierra Leone Post Office, with a view to rehabilitating and bringing back into use its existing infrastructure.
Packaging – Provide additional funding for new and existing packaging companies that can produce different types of paper and plastic products for agriculture and process industries.
The financial support plan should have both short and long-term solutions to address the supply and demand shock triggered by the pandemic, thus requiring that the implementation be guided by these facts. In the short run the country may not be able to immediately grow enough food to meet national demand.
Therefore, in addition to the incentives provided for food importers to ensure sufficient supply of key basic food items, direct cash in the form of soft loans should also be given to the petty traders and local vegetable sellers to boost the supply of locally produced items.
Loans given for the short term could be to finance inventory, either of imports or locally produced goods while long- term financing could cover capital expenditure for both new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses.
Since the informal economy constitutes a larger percentage of the country’s economy, microfinance businesses could be instrumental in providing funding to these businesses, as well as bringing them to the formal economy. A commitment of at least three trillion (Le 3 Trillion) of the stimulus to microfinance businesses over the next five years will be a good start to provide loans ranging from $50 – $50,000 equivalent in Leones per business.
This is an opportunity for microfinance businesses to expand their operations and must come with additional responsibilities and conditions. Government could also use this as an opportunity to get informal businesses into the formal economy by getting them to register, as a condition to access funds. They should be required to pay taxes annually, to maintain access to additional funding.
The micro finance companies could be helpful in facilitating this process through an online registration process which would ensure each informal business is provided with a unique registration number for both tracking and transactional purposes.
The registration fee could be as low as $ 10 per business. All businesses will be required to register annually for a nominal amount.
Micro finance businesses should be required to provide continuous support services for these businesses in addition to funding. If done right, this could bring petty traders, farmers, plumbers, carpenters, welders, tailors, vegetable gardeners, retailers, motor vehicle operators and many others into the formal economy by getting them to register before accessing funds and get them to pay taxes annually based on their incomes. This could help boost the GDP and increase government’s revenue base.
The participating microfinance agencies must be required to sign a loan agreement that includes the following conditions:
1.They must ensure that individuals and small businesses they finance are registered. If not registered they should help them do so.
2.They should have a robust debt collection program to ensure these businesses meet their obligations. A quarterly report must be submitted to the monitoring unit setup by the Central Bank.
3.They must ensure that the businesses they finance pay taxes to the state.
4.They must ensure that all disbursements are made through the businesses’ bank accounts and should facilitate set-up for those without.
5.They must ensure that these loan recipients report on all new hires and their salaries.
The micro businesses should only qualify for additional loan if they meet the above stated requirements.
We could also identify and finance businesses that are already in and/or provide services to the agriculture industry such as suppliers of implements, chemicals, machinery and more.
Locally owned companies with significant potential to provide machinery for many areas of the agricultural industry should be identified and prioritized for such help.
The above proposals in no way purport to solve the fiscal crisis we face as a nation. It was written with the intent of starting a robust conversation on a way forward, as it pertains to the country’s overall financial health.
My hope is that it will not be viewed through partisan lenses but in the true spirit in which it was written. I look forward to engaging both government officials and private citizens, as we continue the arduous task of rebuilding our nation.
About the author
Jesmed F Suma is President and CEO of BRIMCO Consulting LLC a US based Investment Management Consulting firm in Princeton, NJ. Tel: +1908-759-4332, Email: BrimcoConsultingLLC@outlook.com
Many thanks, Mr Suma, for your well-written article. The problem I have with any stimulus package for our farmers at this time is a waste of funds. I won’t call it a stimulus package, but would rather say funding for our farmers and small scale industry entrepreneurs. You talk about stimulus package where people have infrastructures in place, doing business, paying their taxes fairly and consistently for a very long time. In times of crisis, like the one we have at the moment, will help them escape bankruptcy. We should not be talking about stimulus package to our farmers who have a few hoes, shovels, cutlasses and wheelbarrows.
Instead, we should be considering funding and helping our farmers develop their skills, provide them with the necessary farming chemicals and machinery on loan. One of the main areas the government should look into is small scale industries. Most of our farmers are just on “hand to mouth” farming and are very poor. Moreover, the Bio SLPP should be paying considerable attention to the country’s taxonomy for economic and development planning proposed by Dr Francis Kai Kai, an SLPP party champion some time ago.
The learned Dr Francis Kai Kai’s financial, economic and development taxonomy, both for the short and long term are apparent and explains “how and where should the money be spent?” They include “Addressing the imbalance of the country’s finance and economy, full employment for all, economic equality and social justice for everyone, achieving economic self-reliance, the modernisation of every sector of our economy, economic growth, etc.”
They are economically designed and well-drafted, which makes them brilliant. But, will the Bio SLPP adhere to the learned doctor’s economic taxonomy? Bottom line, The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economic development should be under one umbrella – Ministry of Finance, Economic and Development Planning. Finally, will those who need any stimulus package get it? God help any stimulus package from falling in the hands of any corrupt political DEN from “who knows you.”
They should give priority to businesses that are in the provinces. This is one more opportunity to start decentralization. There are young and energetic people living in the city doing nothing but hawk chewing gum, razor blades and matches, and everything they have is not valued up to 20 thousand Leones. Government has to give them a reason to go back home and do some type of farming. Give them incentives, educate them, and then make it difficult for them to hawk on the streets. There is money to be made in the provinces but no workers. Jesmed and I talked about this years ago before the last election. In my view that is the only way to make agriculture viable.
Thanks so much dear brother for your contribution. This would indeed add to the numerous voices we have in our pursuit for Sustainable Development. I congratulate the Government of the day, but especially the brains that came up with the Stimulus Package. We must contend that we are in the midst of a broken system from which we have to put together a lot of pieces of information, strategies and structures to get this working. In light of the above therefore, broad-based panel discussions must be held from one district to another. Who will participate? How will participation take place? What do we do with information obtained? Many more questions can be sincerely answered as we genuinely seek Sustainable Development solutions.
At the center of ALL of these, I see the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance, Directorate of Science, Technology and Information. I see them as the Lead ministries that can better carve the way out so as to meet stated objectives. Of course we can plot in many more actors such as NaCSA and all their different branches such as the “Social Action for Poverty Alleviation” which we commonly call SAPA. Former NCDDR officers can be very instrumental. And lot lot more. The Ministry of Agriculture already has a robust strategy in place, if I am not mistaking. They have been struggling with the implementation phases over the past two years. A lot and lot can be learned from them. Well they can even be seen as the lead actor, especially for implementation.
We can learn from their best practices over the years and the lessons learned. This spans for as little as sixty years back. This latter is extremely important. Almost most of the subjects that would be discussed have been discussed or implemented before. But what worked well? What made it work well? Can we continue with it in the same manner or with some innovative ideas meeting 21st century world best practiced Standards? What were the lessons learned? What were the challenges? We can even say what were the mistakes? What do we do to learn from these mistakes, challenges so that our current plan can be effective, efficient and Sustainable?
Of course, it would not be a surprise to note that most of the key information needed are either inexistent or they are very old hard copies thus distorting the flow of information. This makes our DSTI very, very important. Though at the onset all activities would be expensive but with time, they become extremely profitable. Hence, every step must be in an electronic format. Even meetings, field activities, let alone to talk about project documents and reports.
I humbly stop here so far. Should there be need to have virtual discussions on subject matter, that would be great.
Emmanuel SANNOH (Advanced Masters in Business Administration (AMBA).
Good news for Sierra Leone. Unfortunately these funds are just going to service ghost companies with bogus and non existent businesses. Actual businesses operating in the country to build and empower the masses will not be engaged.
We are watching and we know you know we are watching.
I am a Farmer but now I want to be an agriculturist. I would like to apply. How can I apply for financial support in farming that the bank is talking about? Please guide me.
Recently, the Nigerian president Buhari, warned Nigerians that with failing oil prices, the federal government can no longer afford to import rice and other home grown commodities that can be grown in the country. In his statement to Parliament, President Maada Bio, alluded to the same problems besetting our country. Unlike countries bordering the Sahara desert, our countries are blessed with tropical rainforest. Our soil is so fertile and arable during the rainy season you can dispose of a mango seed, or any seedling and give it a week to germinate. These days it is hard to believe Sierra Leone used to export rice. It all started to unravel in the mid 70s. The 1977 students riots, and the 1980 hosting of the OAU, exacerbated the problem.
We started to rely more on Chinese food imports. Instead of being a net exporter, we became a net importer. In order to boost our agricultural sector, government needs to engage with small scale farmers, by building the basic infrastructure like roads, so our farmers can take their product to the markets on time. And government can even appoint distributing agents to buy this product from the small scale famers at a good market rate. Instead of being locked up 23 hours a day, take prisoners serving long prison term to the Bolilands in the Lunsar area or Mile 91 and put them to work with the help of special agricultural police unit for that purpose only. Import agricultural machinery like tractors, and combined harvesters to make a farming less laborious. Ask for international assistance like the Japanese and Chinese government for experts to come in, and offer training for our farmers. Educating our farmers is a vital component to that endeavour.
Create a collective banking union under the umbrella of the ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Set up micro-finance system that target small scales farmers in the rural areas. There should be a branch of this collective bank in every district and every chiefdom for it to reach the real people it was intended to help. These farmers can take out a loan initially with no collateral attached to it. Because at the moment, it is the biggest obstacle for taking out a loan. And cap the interest rates at affordable rates. Goverment appointed agricultural agents should run the enterprise with the elders in the villages and towns. Encourage our small scale farmers to form a union that caters for their needs and build storage facilities to keep agricultural products until they are ready for market. TEACH A MAN HOW TO FISH INSTEAD OF GIVING HIM FISH EVERYDAY.
Good day bro. One of the most brilliant ideas I have read on this platform. Thanks bro and I hope those in authority will read your comment and act accordingly. Kudos
Thanks Mr Tucker for your compliment. I suppose all of us that make contributions on this platform, want to see our country develop for the good of all our countrymen and women. I do not care if we have a flower pot as the president of the Republic of Sierra Leone, as long as it has the country at heart, and aims to develop it by enacting good policies, we will support that Mr Flower Pot. And regardless of your tribe or the party you support, North, South, East or West, after all when push comes to shove, we are all Sierra Leoneans and we have families in the country.
We don’t want a repeat of the civil war becsuse some fruitcakes in both parties are hell bent on just doing that. Those people that are wedded to tribal and regional differences shoud be ignored. They are yesterday’s people that have nothing to offer in the way of development. We need people who can help build our country by contributing ideas that can lift our people out of poverty, create jobs for the youths and future generations. Not people who want to shatter our peace. Silence is not an option, for there is only one Sierra Leone.