Why is Sierra Leone hungry? Op ed

Rev. Alfred Munda Sam Foray, BA, BSAgE, MSc: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 April 2022:

A few weeks ago, I read where His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio, returned from an overseas trip with an agreement to purchase three million tons of rice over the next three years from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This seems to have been a well-calculated transaction.

Sierra Leoneans consume about two million (2,000,000) tons of rice a year. We grow about 1 million tons domestically per year. So, the one million tons per year we are buying from Vietnam should close the gap between what we eat and what we grow.

But the question is, why are we buying rice from Vietnam, in the first place? Why are we spending about US$250 million of our scarce national reserve on importing rice at all?

About five years ago I was invited as a guest speaker and panellist on food and hunger held by the Department of Agriculture at my Alma Mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the de facto parent institution of Njala University. During the Question-and-Answer session at the end of my presentation, a gentleman in the audience asked me a pointed question: why are you (Sierra Leone) hungry?

Recognizing him as one of the visiting professors providing academic and financial support to Njala University, I was lost for an answer. A rather juvenile answer would have been because we don’t have enough food. This, of course, would beg the question, why don’t you have enough food? The answer would be because we don’t grow enough food. The logical follow-up question then would be, why don’t you grow enough food?

Sierra Leone is blessed with about 13 million acres of farmland. That is approximately two acres for every man, woman, or child in the country. We are located on the Atlantic west coast of Africa about 10 degrees north of the equator with almost 200 miles of tropical coastline stretching from the northeast border with Guinea to the southwest border with Liberia.

We have seven large rivers from the Great Scarcies separating us from Guinea to the Mano River separating us from Liberia. In between are the Little Scarcies, the Rokel, the Jong, the Sewa, and the Moa Rivers. These are interwoven with smaller rivers like the Tabe, the Taia, the Waje and others. Half of our population is between 15 and 50 years of age. We are not in the Sahel Region of Africa.

We have no real experience with natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, monsoons, or tornados prevalent in other parts of the world. But we do have gold, diamonds, bauxite, titanium, iron ore, and 80 inches of tropical rainfall a year. In short, we are God’s Favourite Country (GFC-SL).

Yet according to the Global Hunger Index, Sierra Leone ranks as the tenth hungriest nation in the world. So why is Sierra Leone hungry? Reasons range from the eleven-year civil war that ended 20 years ago, to the two-year Ebola Virus Disease that ended six years ago, to the three-year-old COVID-19, and now the war in Ukraine. There is, or should be a popular song called, “Oh Salone.”

Who said that it was easy being God’s Favourite Country?

If it appears to some partisans as a swipe at President Bio’s effort to reduce hunger in the country, I plead guilty by reason of complicity. I am a bonafide agricultural engineer trained in agricultural mechanization. I live in RoKupr, Kambia, home of the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) on the Great and Little Scarcies River axis.

President Bio is not a farmer, although he does seem to have a marginal interest in farming. So perhaps, I, more than he, should answer the question of why Sierra Leone is hungry. The answer is that there is no reason.

The sixteenth American President, Abraham Lincoln from my former home state of Illinois, once said that he or she who has the willingness to help has the right to criticize. Since my retirement from building tractors, cars, and car parts in the United States seven years ago, I have been a commercial farmer, from Bo District to Tonkolili District and now in Kambia District.

So let me borrow from another great American president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, “Let the word go forth from this time and place” to His Excellency, Retd. Brigadier Dr. Julius Maada Wonie Bio, that the people of the Scarcies River Basin alone, that is, Kambia, Karene, and Port Loko Districts, can provide Sierra Leone with two million tons of rice a year without prejudice to our friends in Vietnam.

The one-time cost for this proposal is one hundred million dollars (the US $100,000,000). This will be used as follows: fifty thousand (50,000) tons of seed rice; one thousand (1,000) tractors not less than 70 horsepower each, with attachments, one hundred (100) combine harvesters, fertilizer, and other inputs.

We will need a team of researchers and staff from SLARI and some men and women from the Eleventh Infantry Battalion in Kambia backed by law enforcement officers to secure state property.

With those, and our Paramount Chief Representatives in the Region as moral guarantors, we can employ at least one thousand (1,000) youths to make Sierra Leone self-sufficient in food in less than three years, without depleting our foreign currency reserves. Sir, yes, Sir!

2 Comments

  1. I personally believe that our country needs “Devine Intervention” for the mindset of our citizens, especially our youths who have their health and strength to be active in agriculture. Most of them are now perambulating in Freetown as petty traders and bike riders. Some are lawless and are now paid as professional criers, and the video clips are circulated on some social media channels that the people are not happy and blaming the government.
    During slavery, our ancestors unfortunately were forced to work on rice plantations in South Carolina, and even during colonial days till the late seventies, we were rice exporters.
    Finally, I hope and pray that President Bio and the opposition parties will help transform the mind of our youths by 2028 when his 2nd term mandate will end.

  2. In this article ,there are a lot of questions: like why are Sierra leonean hungry?why do we need to spend more $250 million dollars to import our national staple food” RICE “to feed our population?Yes that amount of money if spent correctly will reverse that trend of dependency on foreign food imports.Is not rocket science, the answer is hidden in plain sight :.UNCHECKED CORRUPTION BY OUR ELECTED POLITICAL LEADERS IN PUBLIC LIFE “. And this unforgivable cancer of corruption have spread in every part of our society .That in itself is a damming indictment of the Bio government that promised us he will fight corruption which he sees as the major hindrance to our national development.

    Today four years on under his watch ,our country owe it existence on foreign direct assistance by friendly governments , and most importantly the remittance sent by the Sierra Leoenan Diaspora that is helping keep our sluggish economy afloat .But you will never hear Bio make public pronouncements giving praise where praise is needed or even making a passing remarks on the importance of what Sierra Leoenans in foreign lands are doing to assist our country. But families are grateful for the help .For those that don’t have families abroad which is the vast majority, life under Bio is hell on earth .Admitting that inevitably as a matter of fact , is an admission of failure on his part .Bio is now weaponising rice as a political weapon to gain support .The theory is simple .If you can feed me , I will vote for you. scrub my back , I will scrub your back .That is why the government will never invest in our agriculture industry .They have created a dependency culture where by the Sierra Leoen population have to depend on them for everything .So what do they get for their efforts ?Bio is re-elected as the President come 2023 .Everything Bio does is calculated for his own benefit, not the benefit of ordinary working and struggling families in Sierra leone .More money more power .We used to feed ourselves.

    Sierra leone used to export rice .That might sound bit out of touch with the realities of today .Lives have being shattered since Hurricane Bio made a land fall in Sierra leone .We can grow rice because we have the climate.Vietnam have similar annual rain fall like ours .So what is stopping us?Use the $ 250 million dollars to invest in our agricultural industry by supporting and training our small scale farmers .Giving more government hands to people willing to undertake farming .There is a lot of money to make in farming .No one understands that better than the former chief minister a professor that suddenly woke up and decided to be a famer in his patch of Kenema district their by putting the last nail on the coffin for small scale farmers in that district .Now Dr David Francis will be competing with local farmers which is a complete mismatch .

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