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Sierra Leone: Kabbah Speaks on Food Security

20 May 2007 at 11:15 | 434 views


Mr/Madam Chairman
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
Ministers of Government
Members of Parliament
Members of the Donor Community
Traditional Rulers
Civil Servants
Noble Farmers

Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to be with you all at this commemoration of the 5th Anniversary of my pledge to pursue a policy for the achievement of Food Security first declared on the floor of Parliament in July 2002.

Mr. Chairman ladies and gentlemen; for a brief reminder, food security is the state of having access to adequate amounts of food of nutritious quality for growth and healthy living. Food security by implication requires a healthy and stable macro-economic environment in which agricultural production can be sustained. Thus it is about rehabilitating and establishing new institutions to improve the level and quality of agricultural production. It entails hard work, the application of modern methods and above all, adequate support to the farming community.

Mr. Chairman, in order to achieve food self sufficiency within the specified time frame of five years, we needed to mobilize the whole population to participate actively in farming in one way or the other. Through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, we embarked on harnessing the needed know-how, supplying the necessary agricultural inputs to tap the resourcefulness and the energies of men, women and youth to cultivate and raise crops and livestock in a productive manner. We also called on the international community and NGOs to provide the badly needed support for our efforts, and of course the private sector to invest in commercial farming for job creation and export of agricultural products.

To lead these efforts, my government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, moved fast to establish the necessary structures on the ground in terms of policies, plans and activities. The local experts supported greatly the development of the Agricultural Policy for Sierra Leone mentioned earlier. They also independently and voluntarily developed the Food Security Master Plan called the Medium Term Strategic Agricultural Plan (MTSAP). This document served as the main reference material for the food security section of Pillar II of the PRSP programme i.e. Food Security and Job Creation.

Government also formulated attractive incentive packages to facilitate the food security programme such as:
(a) The procurement of locally produced rice for institutional feeding from farmers.
(b) The procurement of seed rice directly from farmers themselves to maximise returns on farming.
(c) The provision of duty waiver facilities on farm machinery and eventually on farm inputs.
(d) The provision of farm machinery free of cost to the farmers, for example, tractors, power tillers, threshers, combined harvesters, cassava graters and oil pressers have been given free of cost to deserving farmers,
(e) The opening of four Rural Banks to assist farmers in securing loans and plans for opening more banks in the immediate future to make this service available to more farmers.

Mr. Chairman, over the years my government has been increasing subventions to the Agriculture and Food Security sector from 2.6% of the GDP in 2002 to 5.8% in 2007. This figure goes to fulfil the obligation of this government to the commitment which the Heads of State of the African Union made in July 2003 in Maputo in Mozambique, that within five years, African governments will allocate 10% of their GDP to agriculture and rural development. These levels of funding have enabled the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to increase input supplies to farmers in order to increase production levels.

The research institutions in Sierra Leone and in the region continue to make available improved technological packages including planting materials and accompanying extension information. We continue to receive improved varieties of rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, maize and legumes from these places.

I am pleased to report that based on the high level of commitment by this government and the good results we are getting over the years, a number of countries and agencies have continued to provide assistance.

The National Association of Farmers of Sierra Leone (NAFSL), the NGO Community and Civil Society groups are also playing a vital role towards the food security programme. My government equally appreciates these efforts.

Mr. Chairman, I should also like to recognize the increasing support of the multilateral institutions which have provided my government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, substantial funding for the implementation of several projects. These projects include activities in agriculture, food security, rural development and poverty alleviation. They are well spread throughout the country.

At this juncture, the contributions of other sectors to this programme should also be recognised and appreciated. The entire Cabinet in one way or the other, are contributing officially or privatively to promote the process. Most members of my government right down to the Chiefdom Administration levels are practicing farmers and/or supporting farming somehow. The Paramount Chiefs and Community leaders, the local Councillors and members of Parliament and various categories of community leaders are all involved to ensure the success of this programme.

Of equal recognition is the growing interest and participation of the private sector from the singular farm family unit to the small to medium scale farmers who are increasing in numbers, sizes and variabilities of their operations.

Towards the end of the year 2004, the Government received a significant boost when the World Food Programme (WFP) established a country programme for Sierra Leone covering the period 2005-7. The country programme supports activities in national reconstruction, recovery of food and agricultural production, improvement of health and education and re-integration of unemployed youth. The estimated number of beneficiaries of the country programme is 302,000 people each year and sixty percent of these are women. Under the school feeding programme, 161,500 primary school pupils in 912 primary schools across the country, 33, 250 out-of-school and over-age children and youths in non-formal basic education programmes receive daily school meals. Food resources are also targeted to pregnant and lactating women and under-five mal-nourished children in nine districts and to 2,200 people affected by HIV/AIDS.

In the area of food security, WFP in collaboration with MAFS is supporting the rehabilitation of inland valley swamps and small holder plantations in the districts of Kailahun, Kenema, Kono, Pujehun, Bo, Tonkolili, Kambia, Port Loko and Koinadugu through programmes such as food for agriculture, food for assets, adult literacy and feeder roads rehabilitation.

As a result of these numerous and varied interventions by the government and its development partners there has been a highly significant impact on the food security drive. Agricultural production has increased considerably from 2002 to date. Going by surveys supported by the Ministry of Agriculture in consonance with major stakeholders such as UNDP, FAO, WFP, UNICEF etc., our country’s self-sufficiency in rice by end of 2005 harvest stood at 69% and projected at 85% in 2007, while that for cassava and sweet potato exceeded 100% and is projected to reach 160% by end 2007. This means that the production of these two crops has exceeded the national demand.

Mr. Chairman, with regard to livestock production, the sector has attained pre war-levels in population sizes. The challenge now is to sustain this gain and upscale it. These efforts will be complemented by the rehabilitation of Musaia, Teko and Newton Stations and the 17 Livestock Extension and Inspection Posts throughout the country. Staff will also be trained at all levels to improve their capacity. In this respect, I am pleased to announce that the Chinese Government has made available to us an 18-man team of agricultural experts to train personnel and assist in implementing programmes ranging from forestry, rice cultivation, fisheries, food processing as well as marketing. The Chinese Government has also offered training facilities for a number of Sierra Leoneans in China in various agricultural-related activities.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, fish is the most widely used protein in Sierra Leone. Its availability in sufficient amounts and accessibility are fundamental to the attainment of sustainable food security. The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has been assisting artisanal fisher folk with inputs to increase their catch. According to records, fish production in 2004 stood at 106,000Mt. Through some concrete measures adopted by the Ministry to increase production and processing, this figure should increase substantially before the end of this year.

Throughout the country there are more varieties of foodstuff and the only problem could be access to financial resources which could pose difficulties for non producers, hence the government’s programme for job creation for wider income generation. The Youth Employment Scheme has been put in place mainly for this purpose.

In fact this time around farming has now become a respectable occupation wherein people in all walks of life are proud to be farmers. This is success in itself for which we should commend ourselves! We are therefore pleased to see increasing levels of exports of cocoa, coffee, cashew nuts, groundnuts and sugar to various countries.

Rice is also being exported in large quantities through informal channels through our borders to Guinea and Liberia. Moreover, the Government of Liberia recently requested us to sell some quantities of improved seed rice varieties valued at about two million dollars to Liberia to support their food security programme. I gave my consent on the full assurance that there are adequate quantities of seed rice in Sierra Leone to satisfy local needs. Once our own internal needs have been met, we would like to be able to export food and other agricultural products to other countries on a regular basis as a way of increasing the income of farmers and bringing in much needed foreign exchange into the country as well as sustaining our food security policy. In this connection, I have already received a positive response from WFP to buy agricultural products from Sierra Leone for supply to other countries.

By the end of the fifth year of the food security drive, we as a nation should be proud of our record because much has been achieved so far. Some two months ago I was in Buedu, Kailahun District where I saw vividly the results of the food security pledge. I saw all school children well fed, highly nourished and all wearing shoes. According to their local leaders they achieved food self-sufficiency over two years ago!

Mr. Chairman, this is not to say there are no problems confronting the food security programme. Farming is still constrained by under developed infrastructure, shortage of input supplies and farm machinery. Credit facilities are negligible and banks charge prohibitive interest rates. The extension services are still weak and agro-processing and marketing facilities rudimentary. The HIV/AIDS scourge threatens to be a major limiting factor to agricultural productivity. The Avian Flu problem still hovers over the region.

There is also this over dependence on rain-fed agriculture which puts farmers at the mercy of the vagaries of nature. There is yet no irrigation system even though considerable progress has been made on the Rhombe/Rolako project in terms of final feasibility studies.

Although we are close to achieving our goal of food self-sufficiency by the end of 2007, one of the greatest concerns to my Government is how to sustain the levels of agricultural production that we have achieved so far and expect to achieve. We would like to call on all our partners to help us create the capacity to process and market our agricultural products which could add significant value to the products of the farmers and help keep the farmers on the field. In this connection, we have already secured commitment from the World Food Programme to help us by buying our surplus food for their projects in other countries in the Sub-region.

While these constraints abound, we are delighted about the windows of hope in the international community where the major players are developing programmes and projects to address these problems at country, regional and continental levels. For instance the African Fertilizer Summit and African Food Security Summit held in Abuja in June and December 2006 respectively, were intended to address many of these challenges under the umbrella of NEPAD of the Africa Union.

Recently at a workshop in Accra, Ghana the Forum for Agricultural Research in African (FARA) under the Sierra Leonean born Dr. Monty Jones the Executive Secretary, offered to engage professionals from around the world to help Sierra Leone develop the Sierra Leone Agricultural Productivity Plan (SLAPP) which is a programme of NEPAD aimed at addressing most of the above named concerns and to transform the agricultural sector into a vibrant, modern and internationally competitive engine of growth for our economy in the 21st Century and beyond.

Mr. Chairman, this success story belies the doubts that were expressed by our detractors when I first mentioned the possibility of achieving food security for our countrymen and that no Sierra Leonean will go to bed hungry by the year 2007. One man asked me, how can we achieve food security when we do not even have a single tractor? Others expected that by saying that no Sierra Leonean would go to bed hungry by 2007, I would have to provide the food myself. But I knew that we were on the right path when one day, I was invited by the leader of the Koya Women’s Organisation to witness the harvesting of a hundred acre rice farm. I was pleasantly surprised when she publicly declared that the success of her group had been inspired by my pledge and that earlier stories that had been circulated to the effect that I would be providing the food myself were all lies.

To me agricultural intensification could be the best opportunity to achieve sustainable food security and poverty reduction. Through this measure, we can reduce pressure on areas with high agricultural potentials; we can protect soil fertility and conserve the natural resources base. Obviously this will require higher investments in factors of production like good infrastructure, feeder roads and small to medium scale irrigation, reliable input supply and extension service, accessible and reliable marketing service and attractive financial rewards to farmers. We will need to modernise agriculture while at the same time strengthen the smallholder farmers who are relatively more efficient in using resources.

I believe strongly that in a life time, all these things are achievable if we could invest more in agriculture in terms of resources and efforts. Therefore, I will repeat my appeal to all of you to subscribe more to our collective goal of food security and national prosperity. The private sector should take the lead in this matter. Government will always endeavour to provide the necessary space and encouragement for this purpose.

Finally I wish to thank the entire nation, our development partners, the private sector and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security for their sustained support to the food security programme. Only two countries, Brazil and Sierra Leone have been brave enough to set a definite timetable for the achievement of Food Security. Based on our present performance and the fact that our people have now accepted the diversification of their diet, we can now safely say that we have achieved Food Security.

On this occasion, this is only a brief record about what we have been able to achieve in Food Security. The detailed strategy and the quantum of our achievements will be presented later in my valedictory statement to Parliament.

Food security is achievable and I am convinced that we are already achieving food security in Sierra Leone.

I thank you for your attention.