Farmers all over the country would no doubt have heard the good news about government’s very serious intention through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), to change the situation of farmers from mere subsistence farming to large scale cultivation of crops. This is the best development that could happen to our farmers in recent time!
A public notice published in a local newspaper recently stated that: "For a very long time, farmers in Sierra Leone have been depending on the hoe, cutlass and their hands to produce and feed the nation as well as to generate foreign income through produce export. This situation has basically kept our farmers in a vicious cycle of subsistence farming."
The public notice went on to state that: "The government, under its Agenda for Change, is determined to change the situation by empowering farmers to undertake commercial agriculture through intensification and diversification." In lieu of this, "the government has acquired large quantities of agricultural machinery and equipment, Agro-chemicals, fertilizers and weed killers and is currently in the process of constructing rice mills countrywide."
The notice goes further to explain how the government intends to use what it says it has acquired to empower the farmers and thus change their situation. "The government would dispose off the said agricultural machinery, equipment, fertilizers and infrastructure to the farmers and farmer-based organizations; and in this regard, government has engaged the services of some commercial banks, the National Federation of Farmers of Sierra Leone (NFFSL) and the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (SLCCIA) to facilitate the disposal of these assets for a service fee."
According to the public notice, individual farmers or farmer groups wishing to cash in on this opportunity, would first have to obtain application forms available at a few selected commercial banks, and if successful, the applicant would then be required to pay the full amount for the items wanted, or undertake a hire purchase scheme that allows up to seven years to complete payment.
The beauty of the whole scheme according to the public notice is that the government intends to sell the machinery and equipment at a subsidy rate of 40%, whilst Agro-chemicals such as fertilizers and weed killers will be sold to farmers at 50% subsidy rate.
"The above arrangements by government are meant to promote commercial agriculture along the agricultural value chain of input supply, production, processing and marketing including exportation," the public notice adds.
However, it is both unfortunate but true that our agricultural system in Sierra Leone for the past couple or more decades has been nothing worth writing home about. We have not only been unable to feed ourselves but we have unashamedly totally relied on imported rice; not considering the fact that we have other food crops like cassava, yam, potatoes, and a host of others food crops in abundance. But our penchant has been only for rice and more rice.
Indeed, the last SLPP government did what it could to boost agricultural activities in the country. We saw the arrival of dozens of tractors that were gifts from friendly countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran. We saw too the creation of Farmer Field Schools, the construction of rice mills, the expansion of rice paddies, and the distribution of seed rice to individual farmers and farmer groups. We also heard of a hire-purchase arrangement for farming machinery and equipment like tractors and harvesters, although how that arrangement was carried out and how it all ended, is still quite a mystery to many farmers and non-farmers. However, it was alleged at the time that it was a business full of tribal, political hegemony and stank to high heaven. As a result, it was nothing worth writing home about.
With this latest intervention by President Koroma’s APC government, it is the hope of millions of Sierra Leoneans that this time round, the business of equipping our farmers to enable them produce crops in commercial quantities, would be conducted in a manner as transparent as transparent can be. The machines, equipments, fertilizers and other items should be available for inspection by interested parties at all times. The process must be devoid of all political lineage if it is to be rated successful. Connection to high profile government officials as latitude to secure a purchase must be totally discouraged.
The above should be the prime responsibility of MAFFS with cooperation from international donors like IFAD, FAO and other agriculture-related bodies. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), must monitor all the applications to ensure that an even and equitable distribution of machinery, infrastructure, fertilizers and other components is done across the whole country, so that farmers in all areas that have agriculture potential can exploit this potential to the best of their advantage for their own good and for the good of the whole country.
The time is now come for the Minister of MAFFS, Dr. Sam Sesay to prove that he is a man of vision like his superior President Ernest Bai Koroma who said of the above: "This package has been given to the farmers of Sierra Leone as a Christmas and New Year Bonanza by the Government of Sierra Leone."
The time to revolutionize Sierra Leone’s agricultural industry is now here. Let us all embrace it!