The question of food sufficiency in Sierra Leone – the rice problem

Murray Sandy: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 September 2019:

It seem far-fetched, but the British Agricultural Revolution, referring to the period of change from the traditional to modern farming systems in the UK that occurred between the mid-1600s and the late 1800s, could be a lynch pin for Sierra Leone’s very own agricultural revolution.

Notable innovations included the seed drill, which was invented by the British Jethro Tull, which enabled seeds to be planted deep into the soil mechanically.

Previously, seeds were planted on the top layer and were quickly washed away or lost by the slightest rainfall, particularly when heavy rainfall is the order of the climate that decimates sierra Leone for no less than six months each year.

This is ever compounded by the fact that, in Sierra Leone, most farming by necessity, is small scale, family oriented, subsistence cultivation, crude in nature, brush, cut and burn system.

However, if the country must feed itself, large-scale food production must be embarked upon, instituted by the government and it’s department of Agriculture. It must not be left in hands of the smallholder individual farmers, understandably, whose only criteria is exclusively and wholly for family consumption.

A case in point, early agricultural production in the UK was smallholder farming, as in Sierra Leone today, but which got them nowhere near what they needed for local consumption and for export – to generate foreign currency and increase national wealth.

To achieve large-scale agricultural production in the UK, larger areas of land were further reclaimed through the draining of wetlands, the clearing of woodlands, and the transforming of upland pastures.

The crop rotation system, championed by agriculturalists such as Charles Townsend, was widely adopted by farmers. Parliament played a pivotal role in designating and apportioning lands for large-scale agricultural food production.

As time went on, intelligent seed selection became even more crucial for British farmers. Before the revolution, the open-field system of cultivation was used which caused cattle overgrazing, uncontrolled breeding, and spread of animal diseases.

Later, mechanization and scientific methods and principles were adopted, which led to increased productivity and efficiency, as agricultural outputs became increasingly more efficient.

Better infrastructure that traversed the entire country was undertaken which meant that produce reached local and international markets through exports.

The foregone description is a deliberate attempt (on my part), to regurgitate the government’s collective memory towards the last presidential electioneering manifesto, as a way for the government to embark upon radical changes that will reposition Sierra Leone, so as to produce the only real food product that the country so desperately needs as a matter of national urgency.

The people have not forgotten those manifesto promises that must be kept. And in the words of the president himself, as he so often says, both in local settings as well as international settings, that he likes to ‘keep his promises’.

And also on other occasions, he has intimidated that he likes to translate his ‘words into action’, or at least advocate this for African leaders.

So therefore, in addition to free education and free healthcare, free food (rice) must be added to the mix, by at least making rice exceedingly affordable and readily available for the masses that they can afford, without keeping them in the doghouse for the rest of their lives in abject poverty.

The question that has hitherto been asked is this: Did the British Agricultural Revolution lead to the Industrial Revolution?

President Bio it seems, is creating all the necessary level playing field to achieve Sierra Leone’s very own mini industrial revolution, by putting in place all the pertinent structures for a successful society. Witness the Turkish SALA agricultural rice production agreement recently signed.

“When will Sierra Leone be able to feed itself?” This very pertinent question was asked back in June 26th, 2017, by no less a person than Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas – editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph, in an article he published in his newspaper on that date, in that year.

Mr Thomas may as well be an NGO for asking the hard questions of our politicians, highlighting and advocating relentlessly, the country’s need for development in his daily duties as a newspaper publisher.

“Over 80% of basic foodstuff consumed in Sierra Leone today is imported”, he indicated. And in today’s dollars and within the parameters of national budget and expenses, the country spends much needed foreign currency in the gargantuan amount of well over 200 million dollars, (mind you), not Leones, but the almighty dollar.

This figures translated into the hyper-inflated Leone, it will be 2 Trillion Leones. And here is the glitch; one Leone is equivalent to 1 cent (US dollar), in today’s prevailing exchange rates on the international market. This makes the country’s national currency (Leone), virtually worthless.

It’s been over two years hence when the above-mentioned question was literally posited at the feet of our political leaders. But nothing has changed in this direction. Successive governments have failed miserably to address this national emergency. There is a saying that “a hungry man is an angry man.”

Empirical evidence has shown how some countries’ citizens have raised grave concerns about the lack of food in their midst that have created headaches for their respective governments.

Nothing of the sort has happened in Sierra Leone, except a brief hysteria about the lack of bread at one time in the immediate past. But that was resolved rather quickly.

But recall what happened in Sudan. The eventual removal of the long term President, General Omar al-Bashir was predicated on the steep and vertical rise in the price of foodstuff.

I remember vividly, as a young boy when I was attending the rather renowned Methodist Boys High school (MBHS) in Kissy Mess Mess, whilst doing my sixth form. I was staying with my uncle who was the chief deputy accountant in the Rice Corporation on Siaka Steven Street in Freetown. We never went to bed hungry, ever. There was always affordable rice in the local market along Kissy Road in Kissy, around Independence Secondary School. See, I still remember.

Of course, this venerable institution (Rice Corporation) has long encountered it’s untimely demise in the hands of corruption, mismanagement, selfishness, hapless thievery and unpatriotic dispensation of the powers that be, who were less interested in the development of the country as a whole, much less, feeding its people with one food stuff Sierra Leoneans eat every single day.

Ask a Sierra Leonean at any time if he or she has eaten today. The inexplicable answer will ultimately be a resounding no, even if other types of food have been consumed. If those other food types have not included the all mighty rice, the answer will unarguably be no.

Just imagine, unlike some other countries that partake in several other food types on a regular basis, Sierra Leoneans only eat rice at most every sitting. And yet, no discernible effort has been made to revive Torma Bom Rice production until a week ago.

Indeed, Torma Bom was a proud institution of Sierra Leone. There was enough rice to feed the whole country then, until things went south. It’s been like that ever since.

Hopefully Mr. Thomas’ (editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph) question will be answered in the not too distant future, with the signing of the Turkish SALA Company to invest a historical amount of 275 million dollars to reactivate the legendary rice production in the country.

It might take a while before Sierra Leone gets back to feeding itself, but it’s never too late.

2 Comments

  1. Hello, I’ve read over three articles about the Sierra Leon rice agreement with SALA. In the meantime can I import my Nigerian JAMILA RICE to Sierra Leone?

  2. That is a very brilliant question to the government of Sierra Leone. It must be a piority for the government to emback on food production so that most families can be happy.

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