By Ralph Sesay
It is increasingly clear that the Government of Sierra Leone is spending whooping sum of over 200 million dollars in importing rice to the country every year.
The amount is quite huge and it is very much disingenuous for a country that has a fantastic climate, fertile soil and heavy rain falls.
Several areas in the country including Tomabum in the south, Makali in the north and many others used to be bread baskets feeding the country’s population, as well as exporting rice to many countries.
This trend collapsed before the country’s eleven-year senseless war and since then Sierra Leone joined the bandwagon to import rice and many other foodstuffs including onions, chicken and pig meat etc.
Subsequent governments have not been able to get it right in the agricultural sector despite persistent promises that they would work towards food self-sufficiency.
The policies were designed in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals set globally by world leaders.
Despite the support, be it technical or otherwise from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and many others, the problem is still around.
The New Direction Government of President Bio has laid emphasis on diversifying the economy, and that the agricultural and marine sectors have been prioritized for transformation.
A blue print for the National Agricultural Transformation Plan has been developed and it is expected to concentrate on improved farming systems and production of improved seeds that will boost yields.
There are also attempts to improve on cash crops production and animal husbandry.
The issue of proving loans to farmers to support mechanized and small enterprise farming was also identified as part of the reforms.
President Bio has also pronounced that eligibility for people to hold public offices moving on will now be determined by ownership of farms.
How is this going to happen, we are still waiting to see?
The President, the First Lady and many members of Parliament have gone into farming, but many more are yet to do so even when the President has made such pronouncement.
Government is still spending billions of Leones to procure rice for the Police, Military and Correctional Services Personnel.
The rank and file of the forces are reportedly facing huge challenges in getting rice on time and even when they get it, the quality of such rice has also been an issue.
In some instances, we are even aware that the leadership of most of the primary security institutions are in breach of procurement regulations in the event of procuring this rice.
It is against this backdrop that government should encourage the primary security institutions to go into farming with the said resources used for procuring the rice for a start until they are able to reserve some seeds to stand on their own.
The Ministry of Agriculture should engage the leadership of these institutions with a view to provide the technical expertise to roll out these projects.
This move is also further expected to help in reducing wastages in government spending as the procurement of rice currently accounts for a portion of our annual budget.
It is time that we have a new direction in the management of the agricultural sector.
By Ralph Sesay