SOUTHERN PROVINCE ON DRIVE TO DOUBLE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
MAFFS Communications Unit
Amidst a welcome of dancing and songs, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Prof. Patrick Monty Jones was received in Bo City as he embarked on a tour to drive up agricultural production in the South and East of the country. The Minister visited Bo, the District Headquarter town of the Southern Province to rev up support for his aspiration to double production this planting season.
After the formal ceremonies to open the meeting at the Bo District Agricultural Office, the deputy Mayor of Bo welcomed the Minister and his entourage to Bo and commented that after listening to the profile of the Minister, the people of the South are assured that things will start to move in agriculture. He explained that agriculture is supposed to be the backbone of the economy but there are still some reservations about the priority that agriculture has been given in the past. He observed that Prof. Monty Jones is not the type of Minister who was satisfied with sitting in plush offices in Freetown but has shown himself to be outgoing and proactive in meeting farmers at their fields of operations. He commended the Minister for demonstrating such empathy with the farming community by coming out to the field to engage on the practical aspects of agriculture, energizing farmers to be more upbeat about their vocation.
Chairman for the event, Mr S. T. Kamara, Assistant Professional Head and Director of Engineering informed the mass of people gathered at the meeting that the staff at the Ministry are excited that the Minister has shown commitment and determination to lead by example. This is a Minister who has a head for doing great things, and the Minister has now embarked on this drive to ensure that agricultural production must be doubled this year in order for the Ministry to meet its targets under the Presidential initiative on post Ebola recovery for the ensuing 10-24 months period.
Agriculture chair at the Bo District Council expressed her satisfaction at the large number of women who had attended the meeting. She joined the Mayor in emphasizing that the District of Bo has fertile land for farming and especially with respect to inland valley swamps but asked for some consideration to be taken of women who are active in over 80% of the duties involved in farming at their levels. She declared that 2016 had been earmarked as a year of agricultural productivity and assured the Minister that that aspiration dovetails very well with the Minister’s current drive to double production for this planting season.
The Bo District Council Chair, Mr Bindi started of by extending a word of congratulations to the Minister for his appointment, extending a message of foresight to His Excellency the President for what he referred to as the “best choice for Sierra Leone,2 when he appointed Prof Monty Jones to take over the mantle of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security. He continued by saying that after a long wait, Prof. Monty Jones has now come in as someone who has such a lot to offer Sierra Leone by way of regional and international experience and accolades, someone with such a proven track record and a determination to succeed.
An accomplished agriculturist, Chairman Bindi deplored the depletion of the upland areas in terms of yield and asked for support from the Ministry so that they can turn attention to the Inland Valley Swamps (IVS) and the Boli lands which are more promising and with the potential to drive up production. He also lamented on some of the residual issues they are facing with the devolution process with some functions not being totally devolved but he was hopeful that with the involvement of large private sector agriculture companies such as Lion Mountain in Bo who are processing local rice and gaining up to 100% de-stoning, the rice grown in the District would be more valuable in the market and more appreciated by the people.
John Gericke, Managing Director of Lion Mountain rice producing company stated that It is a huge extra for the Government to appoint Monty Jones to Agriculture Ministry. He admitted that he had heard of Prof. Monty Jones even before coming to Sierra Leone. He assured the meeting that the current mill is to service local farmers. It will not be used for the rice harvested by the company and whatever happens in the future, that mill will stay on for the people of the District. Expressing hope however that their expansive farming would succeed, Mr Gericke confirmed that the weather, soil and other conditions, especially the energetic women in farming are perfect for growing rice and that he sees Sierra Leone occupying its former status as a rice exporting country in the not too distant future.
NAFFSL representative in the Southern Province reminded the Minister of his earlier promise that things would start to happen for the better very soon to the Bo District farmers on his last visit to the District during his nationwide familiarization tour. He thanked the Minister for his attention to building Farmers’ networks and for raising the profile of women in agriculture. He informed the Minister of increasing support by the District Agriculture Officers (DAOs) working alongside the farmers groups to support farmers at their areas of need. He calculated that as women’s capacity is improved as they take on over 70% of farming activities, it would be beneficial to consider mechanization of tasks to lighten the burden on them. He however congratulated the Minister for ensuring that employment of women in agriculture is being enhanced along the value chain with youths and women being integrated into road building and maintenance of feeder roads. He raised the issue of access to finance and how adversely that constraint hits women and young people the most due to lack of assets to provide collateral security for loans.
In his vote of thanks, the Paramount Chief expressed his concerns about the women’s claim to 80% of farm work, stating that in his opinion, farming is the best environment to see the concept of 50/50 at work. He stated that while agriculture is the only sector where you can get massive self-employment, communities need to provide an avenue for getting young people turned away from drugs, gambling and other social ills. Agriculture, he stated, offers that opportunity to provide a living wage for young people and make them better citizens. He encouraged the Minister to offer support to local farming communities so that they can take advantage of the high yield potential of the IVS. He called for support in animal husbandry and poultry so that the nutrient intake of the country can be enhanced. Stating that as a farmer, he eats what he plants and is now enjoying profit through sales of his surplus. He expressed his desire that with the raft of measures that the Minister is proposing to drive up production, he is assured that very soon, Sierra Leonean farmers will start to feed this nation with some surplus for export.