By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)
Sierra Leone’s Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Ndanema, has acknowledged with optimism the role Solidaridad is playing through its contribution towards realizing the vision of President Julius Maada Bio to make agriculture the engine to drive the country’s socio-economic growth and development through commercialization and promotion of private investment in the sector.
“Indeed, the work Solidaridad is doing in Sierra Leone falls well within our agricultural transformation plan, which is the integration of food crops in cocoa and oil palm intensification to ensure smallholder farmers diversify their income sources,” said Ndanema while delivering a statement at the formal launch of the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP) and the Sustainable West Africa Oil Palm Programme (SWAPP) in Freetown on 18th June 2019.
He said the Government of Sierra Leone will work with partners to develop, expand, promote and support the objectives for the sub-sector.
Sierra Leone’s agricultural sector has huge opportunities to promote economic growth in rural communities and create employment for most young people, who the Minister described as wasting their time looking for non-existing office jobs. The new drive is to move away from subsistence to commercial agriculture, agro processing, value addition and realizing maximum benefit from the richness of the country’s soil and perfect climate.
The focus is to encourage more local production in order to increase cash crops, according to the minister. The Government’s agriculture sector plan continues to address issues and challenges affecting production, productivity, especially improvement of quality but there is need to continue more awareness on market orientation or market farming.
Farmers, the minister said, should hope for more market for their produce. The government is focusing on connecting more agricultural production and the market to establish the need in the market that will guide such production.
“In this vein, I will encourage my colleague minister of Trade to embark on a special mission, identifying markets both within and outside the country for our cash crops. We are struggling at the moment because of the flight of resources from sales of our produce and, in such sales, the income is not coming directly into the country. I believe with time, we will look into this to boost our foreign exchange earnings and to support much more robustly our agricultural production activities. Our immediate priority actions are focused on attracting increased investment in four areas of great interest to the ministry including development of the rice value chain, livestock, crops diversification and forestry management and biodiversity conservation,” said Ndanema.
The ministry of Agriculture acknowledges that cash crops constitute a major source of foreign exchange earnings and job creation, and efforts are being made to providing support for rehabilitating existing plantations and establishment of new ones, adopting the use of improved varieties of cocoa, coffee, cashew and oil palm.
“This we hope will facilitate the establishment of cash crops cooperatives and provide training that will build capacity of those involved in the industry. The aim is to become competitive with other farmers in the sub region and beyond,” said Ndanema.
Solidaridad’s goal is to create entrepreneurial famers; farmers who are business oriented. They also want to work with those in the private sector towards building sustainable institutions around which they will develop these famers.
According to the Country Representative of Solidaridad Sierra Leone, Nicholas Jengre, agricultural sector service provision, which is driven by the private sector in partnership with NGOs and Government, is a critical driver for changing the agricultural landscape in Sierra Leone. Hence, Solidaridad is currently working with six private sector partners for both cocoa (4 partners) and Oil palm (2 partners) in which 15 Farmer Support Centers (FSCs) have been established to provide services such as improved planting materials, extension advice, training, as well as assist farmers to cultivate a savings culture for subsequent linkage to the rural banks to access credit facilities.
“We recognized that for various reasons things have been tough for Sierra Leone and therefore part of our solution is to work with famers with the view to making them long term business people, not to create a dependency syndrome, which many development non-governmental organizations have done over the years,” said Isaac Gyamfi, Regional Director of Solidaridad West Africa, also speaking at the launching.
The CORIP and SWAPP programme is funded by the Dutch government through the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Accra- Ghana, Cote DÍvoire, Liberia and now Sierra Leone. Amsterdam is the biggest importer of cocoa in the world. A lot of cocoa comes from West Africa and other parts of the continent to Amsterdam to be manufactured into consumer goods. The Netherlands have also signed together with other countries the Amsterdam Declaration which aims at ensuring that by 2025 all cocoa imported in Amsterdam and Europe at large should be sustainable and traceable. It should be produced without child labour and destruction of the environment. Hence the support to promote policy, investment and trade in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone.
On the eve of the launching, the Dutch Ambassador Ron Strikker, covering the West Africa sub-region, visited farming sites in Kenema and Kailahun Districts in the Eastern region of Sierra Leone. Solidaridad has supported local farmers to plant oil palm in the regions. The team visited Vaahun village, Gbaama, Benduma and the Gold Tree oil palm nursery site in Daru.
The famers are intercropping the farms with groundnuts, potatoes, corn and cassava to enable them earn money to sustain themselves and their families while waiting for the oil palm to start production from the fourth year of planting. The famers confessed that they never knew about this intercropping model before but Solidaridad introduce them to it and they are so happy for the innovative solutions of Solidairdad.
In all, a total of 966 hectares have been planted by 3, 661 farmers (37% females) across 13 chiefdoms in Kenema and Kailahun.
His Excellency Ron Strkker said it is important for sustainable oil palm and cocoa plantation in West Africa because a prosperous West Africa is of importance not only for those living there but for Europe and the Netherlands as well.