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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

FOOD SECURITY: NOT ABOUT RICE BUT POVERTY
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Nov 6, 2013, 17:00
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"I encourage our people to change their eating habit and alternate rice with other crops grown in the country, such as yam, cassava and sweet potato, among others." This recent statement is attributed to  the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay. Detractors were quick on the draw to remind him about earlier statements attributed to him about the country having almost attained self-sufficiency in rice production. One report says he recently said that rice production has increased by about 30% and that in the not too distant future, Sierra Leone will start exporting rice.

 

We have seen a lot of frantic activities on the Agriculture front.  The government claims the introduction of the Small-Holder Commercialization projects has generally given support to rural farmers and helped them get their crops to the markets. The development of agricultural business centres (ABCs), which are owned and managed by farmer-based organisations to deliver services such as micro-credit, sale of inputs, rental of labour-saving equipment, storage of seeds and food to reduce post-harvest losses and  transportation of harvests to markets to smallholder farmers should ostensibly result in greater output and impact the food security situation positively. Coupled with the increase in the Agriculture budget, the mechanisation schemes and other programmes, these are all probably all good initiatives if well implemented.


Sierra Leone annually requires nearly 500 000 tonnes of milled rice, the main staple food, to feed its population and imports a fair percentage of that. The call by Dr Sesay to give consideration to alternating rice with other potential staple foods is not a new one and is in fact in line with the food diversification strategy which is enshrined in our food security strategy.

Many people however complain about the cost of some of these alternative foodstuffs. Though readily available for purchase in places like Moyamba junction, cassava, yams and some of these alternative foodstuffs may be affordable for fairly affluent urban dwellers to buy when travelling from rural areas or from urban markets, but may be beyond the reach of poor people. Many complain they may not be in fact be cheaper than rice. Besides, some of them may be seasonal. The logical question to ask then is "Is there enough food to go around?". The simple answer, according to the most recent World Food programme (WFP) report is "No!".

 

The WFP report essentially attributes our food insecurity problems to our poverty. Food prices have remained high, with a yearly food inflation of up to 13.3%. Households spend on average 63% of their total expenditure on food. Some 53% of Sierra Leoneans in fact borrow money to buy food. Three quarters of the population rely on markets as their main source of food. Petty traders, farmers and unskilled labourers suffer most from food insecurity with well over 50 % of each of these groups being food insecure.

 

Some 70% of the population live below the national poverty line of US$2 day- poverty is the most prevalent cause of food insecurity in the country. The Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis survey (CFSVA 2011) found out that nationally almost half (45%) of households or 2.5 million people are classified as food insecure during the lean season, reflecting seasonal food access issues. Of those about 374,000 people (6.5%) are severely food insecure.Hunger peaks in August with people's access to food starting to deteriorate in June and July. Hunger is indeed endemic.


Figures for District vulnerability (2008 figures but may not have not changed markedly) make for an interesting read. The districts most affected by food insecurity are Pujehun (80%), Moyamba (76%), and Tonkolili (74%). The least affected districts are Kailahun (21%), Western Rural (22%), Western Urban (23%) and Bonthe (23%). The Western Slum is 40% food insecure. Rural households are more food insecure than urban (54% versus 29%).


The Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey (SLDHS 2008) revealed that 36% of Sierra Leonean children are stunted. Almost one-fifth of them are underweight, with 7% classified as severely underweight. Insufficient access to food at the household level by large parts of the population could be attributed to: (1) lack of financial resources to purchase food on a continuous basis and 2) lack of physical access to the food due to inadequate infrastructure such as markets and roads to transport the food, lack of storage facilities and high post-harvest losses resulting in high food prices.

 

It is ironical that our very own food producers-the farmers are the most food insecure. The incidence of poverty is highest in the agricultural sector, with about 79% of those engaged in the sector being poor.

 

Ensuring that the current initiatives are well implemented and problems of infrastructure , storage facilities to prevent farmers from selling their surpluses in the immediate post-harvest season, provision of agriculture inputs and the other initiatives will obviously be of immense help. Our food insecurity problems should however not be laid at the doorstep of the Agriculture Ministry alone. It needs a holistic approach also to get most of our compatriots out of poverty. Food security is not just about rice substitution; rather it is about the efficacy of the production and marketing process and above all getting us over the poverty line.


TONTAK ALI   10  SIERRA QUEENS  0

 

Yes, I know you will say it is against their  Nigerian counterparts that our female U20 national team lost so woefully,  but be a little patient with our girls, as there may have been more opponents than Nigerian girls.

 

I am no stranger  to being walloped in the sporting arena. I  recall our sports Master at CKC, who after two failed attempts to play against the Bo School in Bo because of the riotous conduct of some students, was preparing the team to play in a neutral ground at Njala University. One sure way of breaking (yes, as in BREAK) "Possible Deen's" legs was to recruit the largest boy in the school into the football team. "Lewis can charge", he confidently bragged before the match.

 

The rest is history and I will not reveal the score. One thing I learnt though-Lewis did not get within a yard of "Possible Deen" for the whole of the first half, he was on field.


He however succeeded in creating a few craters with his boot from charging imaginary opponents. The object lesson for me was that you had to train well and have the necessary skills in any sport.

 

True to form, the SLFA has fired its main culprit , the coach, Hannah Williams for "failing to provide technical leadership". Just when I thought I had assimilated their rationale, there came another Press release which said "Coach Williams administered certain medication  to the entire squad which rendered them ineffective to match their Nigerian counterparts. The drug TONKAT ALI is primarily used to increase the flow of blood to and from the heart and also to excite her sexually. The purpose of administering the drug to the players was to enhance their performance,...... from technical reports submitted....the girls appeared unfocused, unusual and jaded as a result of unusual menstruation and diarrhoea due to the side effect of the drug." No comments on this as my head still spins!


Some of my cyber friends have been sympathetic. One made light of the situation: "But again, these are Sierra Leonean girls we are talking about. They are strong and are probably laughing and "provoking" each other.....We don't get depressed .....that's for the sissy kids of the West. ........It's just a game, these kids would say. Una lef dem. Den done forget sef.Salone pikin ba... ". Another feels so sorry for them "As a parent of a former girl soccer player, I am heartbroken for these girls. It is unconscionable to deny our youth preparation and send them into international competition to fly the flag. It hurts them and the flag. In countries that are serious about their image and their youth, heads would roll for such irresponsible cruel act."

 

Whatever one's position, the Sierra Queens can take heart from some famous international defeats. In 2001, the Australian and American Samoa national association football teams played in a qualifying match for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Australia set a world record for the largest victory in an international football match, winning the game 31-0. In the 1974 World Cup Yugoslavia beat Zaire 9-0.

 

Someone writing on the net on the same issue says Nigeria's women lost 7-1 to USA in the 1999 world cup, 5-0 in 2003, 1-0 in 2007 and in 2010 went on to beat USA. Take heart, girls!

 

Unlike boys, girls don't grow up playing soccer so they have to learn the game and then develop their reflexes. Boys already have the reflexes developed by the time they are 7. Whatever the case it is obvious these girls needed better training to play against Nigeria, one of the best female teams in the world.They should have probably been given enough time to prepare.


I hope this defeat will not dent the confidence of our girls. Again, one notable football cognoscenti opined "A domestic league from U 17 to senior female football would have helped; a selection of players camped and trained for a period and the best chosen for further opportunities say in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa...another option.

 

Investment in their education might have been a major priority at this time...and then plan a two year introduction into international football...". he is probably right.

 

Whatever the case, SLFA seems satisfied with ousting its bete noir, Hannah Williams and putting her TONKA ALI concoction in the bin. Time however to think this problem through some more!

 

Ponder my thoughts


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