From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sierra Leone: Feeding Other Countries

By  | 11 November 2013 at 16:38 | 1473 views

His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma has just spoken at a conference on Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown today.

At that conference he laid out his government’s vision for those very important sectors; what you might call another plank or pillar in the Agenda for Prosperity.

Indeed, one of those sectors, Agriculture, is sine qua non for the progress of any nation because a hungry population is an unproductive and sickly population. No true development will take place in a country where the people cannot feed themselves. Where will they get the energy, strength and motivation to do any work? Where will the children get the energy to go to school and study?

It is true that a lot of food and cash crops like cocoa and coffee are produced in Sierra Leone every year; lots of rice, lots of palm oil, lots of fish. Several types of fruits and vegetables. Lots of meat.

But what many people do not know or would rather ignore to their detriment is that most of the food and cash crops are smuggled to neighbouring countries like Guinea and Liberia EVERY SINGLE DAY. Most of the food produced in Sierra Leone ends up in the markets of Conakry and Monrovia in huge quantities fetching higher prices for Sierra Leonean farmers.

Fully loaded trucks containing various food items cross the border points in Pujehun, Kailahun,Kono, Koinadugu and Kambia districts into Liberia and Guinea in full view of Sierra Leonean government officials EVERY SINGLE DAY. Other routes are also used by smugglers but these are also known to our security personnel majority of whom do not hesitate to take bribes. Great quantities of food are also transported from Sierra Leone to neighbouring countries by sea, day and night. Chinese, Korean and other foreign fishing vessels plunder our marine resources unhindered, day and night.

Let’s return to our farmers. Although Sierra Leonean farmers who take their food items to neighbouring countries for sale can be described as unpatriotic or even criminal, we should also consider market forces, the economics of the whole thing. If a farmer can make more money selling his or her products elsewhere just as the Sierra Leonean medical doctor can make more money selling his knowledge and skills elsewhere, why blame only the farmer?

Government has to look into the prices of locally produced food items or else we would continue to lose food products to Guinea and Liberia, thus "promoting" hunger in our country. The prices for food items in Freetown and other cities have to be decent or realistic to attract and retain our farmers’ food products; that’s just common sense. The Trade Ministry has a role to play here.

Finally, Government should tighten our borders and make sure our border guards and other security personnel do their jobs properly by paying them well and instilling discipline in them. Random checks should be made at the borders between Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries, every week. Corrupt border guards should be fired on the spot, without benefits. Also, parliament, should legislate on the amount and kinds of food items that are taken to other countries by farmers and traders. Guinea has been doing that for decades.

Sierra Leone should never be a hungry nation. We have been blessed with everything necessary to produce and enjoy abundant food but most of this food is feeding other countries while our people go hungry. This must stop.