By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Brussels Airlines has organised a trade mission to Sierra Leone to support and develop the exports of fresh fruits and vegetables from the small West African country to European markets.
This comes at a time when farmers in Sierra Leone face increasing difficulties to find markets for their products. For now, Cassava and Potato leaves are the only fresh products exported by air by Sierra Leone and in small volumes.
The mission coming from Europe is composed of three importers specialised in tropical products: Capexo, from Rungis market in France (Rungis is the biggest market for agricultural products in the world); Bergamini – Tropical Taste, Belgium and Europe; and Khadie Afro Foods, which is currently the main importer of fresh vegetables by air from Sierra Leone to London (mainly Cassava and Potato leaves).
The mission also comprises of the Regional Coordinator of COLEACP, famous for their development program across the globe, in particular their ‘Fit For Market’ program whereby the organisation supports farmers in reaching the level of quality required for their products to reach European markets. COLEACP (Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liaison Committee) is a civil society organisation established in 1973 whose main purpose is to support the development of a sustainable and competitive agriculture and agribusiness in member countries.
On the morning of Wednesday 9th May, 2018 the trade mission met at The Hub Hotel, Wilberforce, Freetown with local partners, including representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), Sierra Leone Chamber of Agri-business Development (SLECAD) and in presence of the Belgian Honorary Consul.
The session discussed the Sierra Leone context: what’s going to work and what will not; the local and international legal frameworks for exporting fresh products; barriers to entry into European markets; quality control standards; and challenges and opportunities. Moreover, the mission looked at the possibilities to connect the stakeholders of the exportation chain, from the producers to the European buyers; to enable the production of ‘Fit for Market’ products and involving the whole value chain stakeholders: producers – processing, packaging, consolidating, clearing, transporting – buyers.
“We believe Sierra Leone has more to export than cassava and potato leaves,” said Noellen Barber, MD of Nianda and representative of Sierra Leonean farmers. “The bottom line is, if we grow are you ready to buy? We need to help the farmers know what to grow that the European markets need. We have the right conditions here: the soil, the climate and water.”
The World Bank and the European Union are supporting capacity building of quality control institutions like the Standards Bureau to create the enabling environment for compliance.
From Freetown, the trade mission will be visiting farms in the Provinces (Port Loko and Kabala) to meet with farmers and look at their farming conditions and the products they wish to sell on European markets.
“We hope this trade mission will contribute to the promotion of Sierra Leone products abroad, while developing the agri-business and improving the conditions of Sierra Leonean farmers,” said the General Manager of Brussels Airlines in Sierra Leone, Estelle Van Eeckhout.