The Eastern Region headquarter Town of Kenema was agog with activity past Saturday when President Ernest Bai Koroma was accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay and a host of other Cabinet Ministers to formally launch another flagship programme in the agric sector - the Smallholder Farmer Commercialization Programme (SCP).
The SCP dubbed, "Farm for Business" is a five-year multi million dollar project aimed at turning agriculture into a profitable and attractive enterprise in Sierra Leone. It invariably seeks to liberate our farmers from the traditional and rather non-profitable subsistence system of farming to a mechanized system where they would not only work to increase crop yield but also practice better soil management techniques.
|FAO Country Rep, Kevin Gallagher Exchnage Pleasantries with SCP Coordinator, Prince Kamara at the Launching
When fully implemented, the SCP is a sure way of increasing productivity along the agricultural value chain of input, supply, production, processing and marketing.
As a key pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CADDP), the SCP would among other things help build the capacity of Sierra Leonean farmers through the implementation of 6 key components that are regarded as major yardsticks in meeting the first Millennium Development Goal (MGD - 1) of reducing hunger and poverty by 2015.
|Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay closely marked by Wife, Josephine as they took their Seats for the Launch.
The five-year programme has a budgetary requirement of a staggering US$403M (Four Hundred and Three Million Dollars), and unlike in other development programmes where funds are normally sought after their formulation, the SCP, as an ongoing programme has already received a massive financial boost to the tune of US$50M while more money is expected from development partners who remain quite appreciative of President Ernest Bai Koromaís determination to revamp the countryís previously ailing agric sector.
At the impressive ceremony held at the Balayama Agricultural Training Centre in Kenema, the man of the moment, Sierra Leoneís Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay had this to say: "The majority of our poor people are farmers and the majority of Sierra Leoneans are poor. It is therefore, incumbent upon any responsible government to target farmers and this is a task weíve set ourselves for, as it is in line with the presidentís ĎAgenda for Changeí as we strive to achieve the MDG -1 by 2015."
|President Koroma Sandwiched by his Minister of Agriculture, Sam Sesay and Fisheries Minister Joe Koroma
According to Dr Joseph Sam Sesay, the six components highlighted for investment by the SCP will include; Commercialization through "increased production, value addition and marketing; small scale irrigation; enhancing access to the market through the provision of more feeder roads; farmersí access to financial services; social protection (in all its ramifications) and management of the entire programme. He said the programme has identified (through the CAADP initiative) some major agricultural produce like rice, cassava, fisheries, livestock, honey etc for a full scale promotion.
Announcing a $28.5 Million funding already made available by development partners, Dr. Sam Sesay reiterated amidst cheers from a vividly elated crowd of farmers and dignitaries present at the ceremony that "with the exemplary leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma, we will regain our past glory and even move to higher heights with the Smallholder Farmer Commercialization programme. This is our time and we must all do it together."
In his keynote address, President Ernest Bai Koroma shook the crowd when he averred, "being a government that does not only talk, we realized we have to take bold steps as the majority of our people rely on agriculture." He reminded the audience of his decision to increase budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture from a ridiculous 1.6% to 9.9%, in line with the 10% quota recommended by 52 African Heads of State at the Maputo Declaration in Mozambique in 1996.
President Koroma also reminded his audience about the recent provision (on hire purchase) of tractors brought in from India to aid farmers and farmer groups across the country, adding that the said tractors were only distributed on the basis of comparative advantage and not on political grounds to the respective regions in Sierra Leone.
He encouraged every Sierra Leonean to start investing in farming, maintaining; "farm bizness nar korpor bizness. E nor for be po man bizness again."
President Koroma hoped that young and able bodied men and women in Sierra Leone would take advantage of the opportunities provided in the Smallholder Commercialization Programme and underscored the need for Sierra Leoneans to shake off the dependency syndrome and become masters of their own destiny.
Earlier, several speakers including FAO representative in Sierra Leone assured of his organizationís readiness to continue supporting the programme and described the move as a great step forward. "Letís not ask what our government can do for us but what we can do for our own countryÖ lets make agriculture a business," FAO representative averred.
Hon. Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development, Dauda Kamara described the programme as one that would help change peoplesí perceptions about farming. "This will now show that farming is no longer a retirement option for our people," he posited, adding that with the transfer of functions to Local Councils, the SCP is essentially a programme for rural development.
Minister of Trade and Industry, David Carew pledged his ministryís commitment to continue partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture as he put it "My ministry has been working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, and as production increases we are ready to market the surplus to boost our foreign exchange earnings."
National Federation of Farmers (NAFSL) President, Jessy Olu John described the day as a great day for farmers in Sierra Leone and reaffirmed their commitment to the Presidentís clarion call for a change of attitude towards farming.
He was succinct when he noted that "farm for business now becomes a household name, and from all indications, I believe that very soon, weíll start exporting rice."
The ceremony was climaxed by a tour of facilities at the new Agricultural Training Centre and an Agricultural Business Unit in Kenema.