Salone News

’Low Mango’ in High Hopes for Salone

19 October 2010 at 01:25 | 415 views

Commentary

By Oswald Hanciles, Freetown.

“Sierra Leone hopes new low-tax industrial zones will boost local processing of its resources, raising the value of exports and creating jobs, the West African country’s Minister of Trade and Industry said on Thursday. Work has already begun on a 54-acre ‘Special Economic Zone’ at Newton outside the capital Freetown, with the $5 million first phase scheduled for completion at the end of March 2011, according to the company running the site…..The intention of the zone is to utilise our natural resources, to add value and to create employment,’Minister David Carew said in an interview…..’’It will brand the country. You will be ble to go a supermarket in Europe and see fruit juice made in Sierra Leone,’ he said. ….. Funding for the project comes from World Hope International, an American NGO, and other unspecified American investors. World Hope International established a for-profit venture, First Step Economic Opportunity Zone, to build and run the site….’It is to attract labour-intensive businesses that could add value to local produce, improve the balance of trade, and create jobs for Sierra Leoneans,’ said Patrick Beckley, the Special Economic Zone Director….’Everything we process here. There is no reason we should take it out (of the country) before we add value,’ he said. The government will exempt from duty and taxes any goods or capital equipment imported or exported by businesses in the special economic zone, and offer a three-year tax holiday…”

— By Simon Akam; Reuters, October 16, 2010

A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a geographical region that has economic laws that are more liberal than a country’s typical economic laws. ’SEZ’ cover a broad range of more specific zone types, including Free Trade Zones (FTZ), Export Processing Zones (EPZ), Free Zones (FZ), Industrial Estates (IE), Free Ports, Urban Enterprise Zones…. Usually the goal of a structure is to increase direct foreign investment by foreign investors. Establishing a SEZ should not be interpreted as an economic panacea for an African country though. Way back in the 1970s, during the boom years of Liberia (when for almost ten years, Liberia enjoyed a steady 6% annual economic growth rate; and the U.S. dollar was used across counters in the country) under the leadership of their charismatic Americo-Liberian president, Rev. William R. Tolbert, there was a SEZ in the Free Port area in Monrovia. It attracted hardly any significant foreign investment. The huge impressive glass structure and vast buildings constructed remained empty for decades. It would be necessary to study, and send on Study Tours critical minds who will not only look at economic statistics, but critically examine other marketing data and global trends for products that could be tapped in our SEZ; and interpret other socio-political factors as well in countries with SEZs already – like Brazil, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, Philippines, Cambodia. One product which we have learned will be harnessed in the SEZ in Newton is the common mango fruit.

During mango season, one sees mangoes aplenty all over our country. In rural areas, they are over eaten by children who get their stomachs grotesquely over-distended. The lack of processing for this common mango is one of the reasons why our country is the disgraceful paradox it has become renowned for – one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources with about the poorest people on earth.

The mango which we take for granted in our country is referred to in the richest countries of the world as the ‘King of Fruits’. It is grown mainly in tropical rainforest countries like Sierra Leone. The mango fruit has about 1,000 varieties. Though native to Southern and Southeast Asia, the fruit is now also grown in Central and South America, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Apart from being high in calories, mangoes are also rich in a large number of nutrients and hold great nutritional value.

One medium sized mango comprises of: Calories; Protein; Carbohydrate; Fat Vitamin A; Vitamin; Magnesium; Potassium; Calcium; Cholesterol; traces of manganese, selenium, iron, sodium and phosphorus

Mango, being high in calories and carbohydrates, is good for those who are trying to gain weight. The phenolic compound found in mangoes has been found to have powerful antioxidant and anticancer properties. Mango is high in iron, and said to be very good for pregnant women as well as for people suffering from anemia. Mango is believed to be effective in relieving clogged pores of the skin. The vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin E and selenium that is present in mangoes provide protection against heart disease. Mangoes have been found to be quite helpful in treating acidity and poor digestion. It is being said that the Vitamin E present in mango helps hormonal system function more efficiently and thus, boosts sex life. The anti-inflammatory properties of mango might help alleviate asthma symptoms.

Mango has been found to be beneficial for people suffering from the following ailments: Bacterial Infections; Constipation ; Diarrhea ; Dysentery Eye Disorders; Hair Loss; Heat Stroke; Liver Disorders ; Menstrual Disorders; Morning Sickness; Piles; Prickly Heat ; Scurvy ; Sinusitis; Spleen Enlargement Vaginitis

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Mangos are an important part of the diets in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, where they are eaten raw, and sometimes boiled, and made into soup. It is sometimes said that the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were made protracted because of the mango fruit, which nourished the warring factions as they ravaged the countryside.

We can peel, slice, chop, dice, and puree mangos, which we are able to preserve by dehydration, canning, bottling, freezing, and pickling. Mango slices in nectar, mango concentrate, mango aroma concentrate, low viscosity and low pump containing mango beverage base, mango pulp concentrate by evaporative technique by split process and by partial drying and cut back technique. You would recognize these mango products as dried fruits in trail mixes, or as canned fruit slices in syrup, or as nectars, juices or blends in tropical fruit punches, or as jams and jellies, or as mango chutney. Chutney is derived from salted green mango slices and constitutes the largest commercial volume of processed mango. Mango is becoming famous for dessert recipes in the richest countries in the world. Ice cream variations with mango fruit are receiving rave reviews in Europe and America. There is a market in the affluent nations for our common mango in Sierra Leone. U.S. President Obama’s wife is leading a campaign to minimize obesity among children in schools – and encouraging children to eat fruits like mangoes during their lunch breaks instead of sweets is one such tactic that is being employed.

Mango products such as canned or dehydrated chunks or slices require considerable amounts of manual labor to peel trim, and slice; hence most of these products are produced in developing in emerging countries where labor is inexpensive. In countries in Asia and South America where the mango industry is advanced, workers earn between $1 and $2 daily slicing and peeling mango fruit for canning and export - that would mean those who will be employed in the SEZ in Newton would be earning Le8,000 a day.

We can learn a lot from our West African neighbor, Ghana, where exports of mango to mainly the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Germany averages about a million dollars a year – that is some Le4 billion a year. That is about a fraction of the about $6billion market for mango fruit worldwide, where the leaders in mango exports are China (13%); Indonesia (3%); Thailand (6%); Nigeria (3%); Mexico (5%); Brazil (2%). Ghana is heavily promoting its exports of tropical fruits, and its foreign missions abroad have special desks for such purposes.

As Minister David Carew sat by President Ernest Bai Koroma about a week ago talking with the United States-originated World Hope International investors for our SEZ, we need to turn the spotlight on certain points there. When David Carew was ‘reshuffled’ from the finance ministry to the trade/industry ministry about a year ago, some media analyst wrote that this former CEO of about the leading accounting firm in the country, KPMG, had been “demoted”. As David Carew keeps on proving himself again and again, and now helping to attract desperately needed investments into the country, he is proving that high performance can be a constant variable among some individuals. The World Hope International, a Christian group, are also underlining a point found in the Bible: when people are poor, hungry, desperate, a true Christian should not go about holding big crusades about ‘apples in the sky’, but, should take practical steps to alleviate poverty. Including the U.N. Secretary General, there have been many warnings over the past year about the frightening high level of youth unemployment in the country. So, the SEZ initiative of David Carew is not only an economic blessing, it is also a political stabilizer in our still fragile post-war country. But, before we rush headlong into such projects, we must find a way to balance such ‘economic good’ to our own local economic/health needs.

I have pointed out here the numerous health benefits of the mango. We take such benefits for granted. But, what if we don’t have enough mangoes in the market; or, if the SEZ so increase demand for our mangoes which will be exported, and gets them to be too expensive in our local market? That could mean that all those diseases which eating mango have prevented us from being afflicted with will now be our woe. We could end up spending more money buying medicines for that which we are simply prevented by eating almost free mangoes. So, the ‘economic benefits’ of having our mango processed in the SEZ for export markets would be outweighed by the ill-health that could result by our people not eating enough mangoes – through significant planting of more mango trees for local consumption. Finally, my ‘mantra’: we must rebrand and do marketing of Sierra Leone as one of the most religiously tolerant nation in the world, operating within a peaceful democratic ambience, for us to continue to attract more such investors. This means burying ethnic hatchets; and embracing the diverse ethnic groups across our heavily ethnically polarized political space. With confidence increased that we would live in a land of Justice and those who work hard will get their just reward, we will all put our shoulders to the oars to row aggressively towards the Promise Land of peace, prosperity, and happiness in Sierra Leone which ‘Prophet Ernest Bai Koroma’ is promising us as early as 2012.

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