Makeni, Northern Province, 13th April 2013; His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has reiterated his commitment to continue to prioritize agriculture in the Agenda for Prosperity. He made this statement on the occasion of the handing over ceremony of over Le32 billion worth of Agricultural Development Assets to Koinadugu, Kambia and Bombali Districts in Makeni City, Bombali District.
Delivering his keynote address, President Koroma gave pretty much the same assurances he gave to the people of the Southern and Eastern Provinces to the people of the Northern Province that government will work hard to increase the production of our staple food beyond self-sufficiency, with emphasis on sustainable land and water management to improve yields, promote export crops, promote commercial agriculture along the value chain, link farmers to markets, as well as provide effective rural and agribusiness financing systems that will increase the access of smallholder farmers to finance.
Giving a brief background on the state of the agricultural sector in Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma disclosed that when he took over government as President in 2007, agriculture was on top of his list of priorities in the Agenda for Change, saying “We clearly articulated our vision for the sector as the engine for socio-economic growth and development through commercialization and the promotion of the private sector, including the farmers and farmer-based organizations”.
The Chief Executive noted that it was on the basis of the foregoing that government significantly augmented the budgetary allocation to the sector from the 1.6% inherited from the previous government to the current 10% being allocated by the national budget.
Commenting further on how far Sierra Leone has come in improving the agricultural sector, President Ernest Bai Koroma revealed that the country, under his leadership, embarked on the process of developing a comprehensive roadmap for the long-term development of the sector within the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme commonly known as the CAADP process. This process, he said, “led to the formulation of the National Sustainable Agricultural Development Programme or NSADP, which serves as the country’s 20-year roadmap for the agricultural sector.”
According to His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma, government and development partners decided to particularly focus attention on the smallholder farmers for the first five years (2010 – 2014), which led to the meticulous and painstaking conceptualization and formulation of the Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP), popularly known as “Farm for Business”.
“Since the launching of the Programme in July, 2010, we have been able to organize the smallholder farmers into farmer-based organizations, built their capacity through farmer field schools and supported them with Agricultural Business Centres, hire purchase tractors, rice mills, rice cutters, rice reapers, cassava graters, rice de-stoners, rice threshers, generators, power tillers and other equipment and inputs,” he said, adding that government has rehabilitated inland valley swamps, constructed and rehabilitated over 326Km of feeder roads and established financial services associations all over the country.
President Koroma paid glowing tribute to the World Bank, the European Union as well as the Government of Sierra Leone for the support in making WAAPP a reality today.
President Koroma encouraged farmers to increase the yield rather than the size of their rice farms. “Let’s concentrate on how much we can produce, which is still under three tons per hectare, rather than the size of our farms”, he urged. This, he said, is what the West African Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) is all about; to improve on the technology , seedlings etc.
Finally, the president called on all Sierra Leoneans, especially the youth to seize the opportunity thrown up by the agricultural sector and help develop the country. He urged all to eschew violence and lawlessness as the time for idle and political talk is over. “Prosperity”, he said, “can only come with discipline and hard work”.