Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 September 2020:
Sierra Leone’s chief minister in the Bio-led government has turned his hands to rice farming, combining his newfound vocation with national politics, responsible for coordinating and overseeing the performance of all government ministries.
After making a bumpy transition from a classroom professor at Bradford university in the UK to become one of the most powerful figures and trusted allies of the president, Dr. David Francis is now running a lucrative rice farm. He names his brand of rice – ‘ECO Rice’.
Professor David John Francis says that his 444 acres of farmland which is about the size of 220 football pitches in his hometown – Kenema, is his response to president Bio’s call for public officials to embark on agriculture to help the government meets its national food self-sufficiency agenda.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite the abundance of natural resources and fertile land for farming.
According to latest data, over 70% of people in Sierra Leone go hungry as the economy contracts due to the coronavirus pandemic and rising costs of imported foods.
Over $200 million is spent on importing rice which is the country’s staple food. But this could change, if politicians across the country and government officials – many of whom are regarded as corrupt, decide to invest in farming and food production.
Chief Minister Dr David Francis has become a trailblazer and an exemplar for politicians in sierra Leone, whose dependency on corrupt party politics and abuse of power for amassing personal wealth is costing the nation over Five Hundred Million Dollars every year.
A green revolution could take millions of Sierra Leoneans out of poverty in just three years, and Sierra Leone could earn at least $250 million on farming exports every year.
So how profitable is rice farming for Chief minister David Francis?
According to reports, Dr David Francis visited his Eco rice farm recently to start his first harvesting of what is referred to as a ‘three-months rapid yield hybrid nutritious rice variety’ that is now selling in markets at Le 200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Leones) for a 50kg bag, which is slightly below the average market price.
ECO Rice is said to be the cheapest, high-quality and nutritious rice in the country, and professor Francis is set to make millions of dollars in annual profits.
Speaking at his farm, Professor David Francis is reported to call on farmers to take agriculture production seriously, and appealed to his fellow politicians to join him in making farming a successful vocation that could feed the nation.
He told farmers that his government is ready to support them in making sure rice is affordable in the country, and help reduce the $200 million spent on importing rice to Sera Leone annually – which is a big factor affecting the value of the national currency – the Leone.
Cultivating and harvesting a rice farm about the size of 220 football pitches does not come easy, without the use of modern technology.
Although many would argue that lack of mechanisation is an opportunity for millions of unskilled youths to be employed in farming, the impact on productivity and production yield is huge and chief minister Francis knows that.
He said that because of the size of his farm, harvesting which is done manually by hundreds of local people – especially women, will continue until February 2021.
Professor Francis’ ambition is to establish ECO Rice retail outlets across all districts of Sierra Leone, starting with his hometown Kenema, which will be the national headquarters of his ECO Rice Production Company.
Will other government ministers and politicians follow the chief minister’s entrepreneural example?