MAFFS Communications Unit
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Prof. Patrick Monty Jones on Saturday 28th May 2016 set out what has been widely acclaimed as a clear path progress in agriculture, forestry and food security in Sierra Leone. A full text of his speech follows;
I would like to think that in the last few days, we have been able to put the frameworks in place to change agriculture for the better. In the last few days, we have been able to meet the objectives of this retreat. This retreat has been very productive and allowed us to come up with open and frank discussions, the participation has been great and I don’t have any regrets that we came here for two and a half days to share our thoughts and ideas on issues that we want to address over the next two years. I would like to have seen more interventions from some groups of officers but I believe that when you have three Ministers looking at you, it would be difficult for some. Overall, this has been a highly successful time together. What we have done the past few days is to strongly commit ourselves to the Presidential Initiative for which the Key Result Area 1 is to create 10,000 jobs along the agricultural value chain and for which the two sub themes are to increase production / productivity and to enhance commercialization of agriculture in this country.
Quite a few things have come up in the last few days as we have committed to strengthening relationships with Local Government, the PCs and the Councillors in the Districts, Chiefdoms Towns and Villages across the 14 Districts of Sierra Leone. We will increase the interaction with the Local Government, Paramount Chiefs and Councillors. We recognize that they bring value when we work at District level. The District Agricultural Officers is a structure that we have inherited but we need to make them more effective. Henceforth, we must use the Local Government here to work and liaise with these entities and discuss their programmes so that they can achieve a more efficient interaction at the local level. The natural representative in the MAFFS will be the DAOs. Where there are key issues to be discussed, I would hope that one of the Deputy Ministers would participate.
We are going to engage so that we can improve the livelihoods of our rural areas. Excess of 70% of our people earn their livelihood in agriculture and that means significant numbers of people are engaged in this sector and we need to give them all the support. I am hoping that we can have increased funding to support this category of people to live a better life. The context of out-grower schemes would be secured to benefit the farmers and enhance their livelihoods. Farmers who are engaged in out-grower schemes should have a share in profitability of the companies that engage them in addition to enhanced rates for their farm leases.
Our farmers should be assisted to flood our markets with domestic goods. The private sector is a key ally and in talking about a paradigm shift, the way we work with the private sector should be one point at which such a shift is possible. While we look at production and engaging the private sector to take us to the next level, we should be mindful of the externalities that can be gained by engaging the private sector along the value chain. Agro-industry, logistics, added value from the farm gate to the market are all ways of increasing interest from the private sector to agriculture. Having said that, the calibre of people we now have in the ABCs would not be able to give us what we want. We may need to get the right groups to come together to run the newly transformed ABCs and explore ways of better working to secure the benefits of a better managed and better equipped ABCs.
We can support plantations and their development but the Ministry should not be involved in a long term basis in running or managing enterprise entities. This is the time to be realistic of things that will make us o progress in agricultural development. I am very passionate in propelling agriculture as the key sector to move his county forwards. The status quo would no longer old or be sustainable, especially in the light of climate change, We want to work with the private sector to make these change happen. Agriculture can feed all of us in this country, and now we are struggling. This is the programme that we need to put in place to secure the change and increase revenue and foreign exchange earnings for the country. I believe that we can do it with the private sector talking the lead where they have comparative advantage over us. There has to be new ways of collaboration with various groups. Some of these institutions should be playing key roles, creating jobs for our youths and building SNEs with them. Whatever seed money we have within the SCADEP that we could use to engage the youths and getting them to engage emphatically should be explored. We all should work together to make sure agriculture makes progress
I believe that civil society and the NGOs have a role to play. As long as I have encouraged our people to work with Paramount chiefs, I expect the NGOs to recognize this group as leaders in their communities. I want to know the background about NGOs working on agriculture in this country. I encourage the DAOs to see this group as your own EMC and refrain from taking unilateral decisions. We will award prizes to the Districts that have made the best progress and increased production and productivity. The youths and the women in agriculture are groups we will aim to work with to build their capacity to engage. I have promised the people in this country that I am the friend of the farmers and I believe that without farmers, there will be no agriculture. We want to support you and promote your capacity to increase productivity. I am inviting the youths to some back into farming. We will give them seed money to start small businesses in agriculture. NPAA should lead the way in employing youths and women in agriculture so that they can be engaged along the value chain.
We need to look at how we create marketing channels for our youths; networking and access to finance. Strengthening M & E, data collection, management and processing to enable us to get our statistics right. ICT. The face of the Ministry is our website. We want the information there to be accurate. Another key thing we want to talk about is SLARI. They should move to the value chain approach and adopt an outreach and dissemination framework in their work.
I cannot end without talking about reducing importation on key commodities we can produce in our country; rice, onions, wheat flour. We can save 50% of the foreign exchange we spend in the importation of onions, meat, poultry etc. Our forests should be managed so that it can produce bio-fuels and other products. As you conserve our forests, create plantation with fast growing trees so that we can replenish the depleting forests and arrest the spread of deforestation.
We agreed that MOFED, MAFF, BSL.MFMR,WFP SLeCAD and others should come together to discuss how we can reduce importation of commodities that we can produce here. We cannot work in isolation. We need to collaborate and work with other MDAs to build string partnerships to enable us to succeed. In that light, we need to build confidence with the donor so that in time, they will fund us directly for the work that we do. Let me thank the AfDB, EU, Irish Aid, World Bank and others for the support they continue to give us. Let also me thank you all for putting together a successful and well organized meeting. I will single out the DAO here and his team for extending to us such wonderful hospitality.