Why Minister of Agriculture Closes Door on Investors?

This is a big question that hangs over the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dennis Vandi who is closing a door on agricultural investment in Sierra Leone by delaying a project set to transform the country’s agricultural sector.

Integrated Solutions Africa (ISA) and Agrotop are the developers and implementers of the worthwhile project.

The Minster is obliged to convey a supposedly signed paper to cabinet for the actualisation of an Agricultural Poultry Farm of US$60M that would benefit thousands of Sierra Leoneans.

The paper to be conveyed to cabinet was prepared since September, 19, 2018.

A document seen by Nightwatch indicates that the Minister is unwilling to present the paper to cabinet for approval without which the project cannot go ahead as planned.

If the delay in the paper work persists, the financial institute in Israel, Bank-Leum le-Israel will withdraw the loan and Sierra Leone remains in her present state.

Raphael Israel is the Chief Executive Officer of ISA, and has been in Sierra Leone for years to ensure that the project is realised.

ISA CEO is being frustrated over the implementation of the project in spite of his frantic effort.

Mr Israel told Nightwatch that he had been at the Ministry of Agriculture on countless occasions to see the Minister in respect of the project, but could not see and discuss with him.

“Since 14th January, 2020, I have been unable to speak to or meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. I have been frequently told he is too busy to meet with me,” ISA CEO told Nightwatch.

The ISA CEO also told Nightwatch that he had been receiving frustrating messages from the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture in respect of the implementation of the project.

“I have attended a number of meetings with the Deputy Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry and during conversations, they repeatedly told me they had not been given authorisation by the Minister to finalise and sign the paper for cabinet,” He said.

The Agricultural Poultry Farm known as the People’s Farm Sierra Leone initially set to be implemented within months has been dragged for years.

The said sum will be provided by a Bank in Israel called Bank Leum le-Israel in the form of loan by Israel to the Sierra Leone government to be repaid in a five-year period.

The loan according to documents seen by Nightwatch will be repaid by money generated from the poultry farm.

The farm is set to be erected in Njala and Taiama in the Moyamba district, Southern Sierra Leone with a high prospect of creating 2,000 jobs for Sierra Leoneans.

Signs of the project realisation are not clear despite exchanges of correspondence between the Ministry Of Agriculture and Forestry and the Israeli investors.

The Minister of Agriculture is supposed to flex his muscles in championing the processes of documentation at the cabinet level so that the project could become a reality in Sierra Leone.

But, by all indications, he is dragging his feet over the activities he must involve himself to make sure the project commences.

Repeated attempts to reach the Minister of Agriculture have proved futile. Mr Vandi could not be reached for comments.

The attitude of the Minister of Agriculture towards the implementation of the project has greatly frustrated the Israeli investors.

Therefore, ISA, in a correspondence of 24th March, 2020 made a strong case to President Julius Maada Bio with regards the realisation of the project.

The letter informed the President about the details of the project and its great potential to benefit the people of Sierra Leone.

The letter reminded the President about the statement he made at the inaugural state opening of parliament on 10th May, 2018 where he mentioned Agriculture as key priority of government intervention to attain food self-sufficiency and to diversify the economy.

Similarly, President Julius Maada Bio is also reminded in the ISA letter that the global pandemic, COVID-19 would affect the future of Sierra Leone once it breaks out here.

Since every country is affected by COVID-19, the letter states, each country is fighting for its own survival making any hope for international aid very doubtful.

In a similar vein, the letter also captured the attitude of the Minister towards the implementation of the Agricultural Poultry Farm Project.

According to the letter, Mr Vandi is stifling the implementation of the Agricultural Poultry Farm Project through ‘delay tactics’ for reason known only to him.

By implication, the minister appears to be a disappointment to the President.

Despite the painstaking effort, the ISA CEO is yet to see headway.

Gauging the snail pace at which government officials carry out the paper work of the project, one can say without fear of contradiction that the Project is almost dead in the waters.

Moreover, this is not the first time projects are aborted at the Ministry of Agriculture.

The results of a Word Bank US$55M Small Holder Commercialisation Project in the Ministry of Agriculture were hardly seen.

Former World Bank Country Representative, Parmindar Brar and the Minister of Agriculture, Prof. Monty Jones were poised to see an empowered crop of farmers that can feed the nation.

But, their fine dream was not realised probably owing to the attitude of the officials in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The small-holder commercialisation project, at that time, is just one of the many projects in the Ministry of Agriculture aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency in the country.

However, Sierra Leone still remains one of the biggest importers of food in the world although agricultural improvement featured prominently in President Bio’s campaign manifesto of 2018.

The slow move towards the paper work for the implementation of the project indicates that the Minister of Agriculture and his officials are not au fait with current global trends on trade.

Currently, contemporary societies are migrating away from aid to trade so that they can become self-reliant in terms of everything they do.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabba of blessed memories warned succeeding governments in his last address to the nation about over-reliance on foreign aid.

In his warning, the late President made it clear that reliance on aid raised questions of a nation’s sovereignty.

This means a nation which cannot feed its people will never be sovereign in the community of nations.

A mere cursory inspection of the intended project, People’s Farm Sierra Leone, one can feel convinced that the project is here to stay with and feed Sierra Leoneans.

The project would have cut down reliance on foreign countries to donate food to Sierra Leone especially in a time like this when the government has pronounced feeding programme for all schools in Sierra Leone.

The beauty of People’s Farm Sierra Leone lies in the features the farm possesses.

The project sets to establish an industrial egg farm for the production and selling of approximately 200 million eggs, sorted and packed per year. It also seeks to create revenue from sales of the farm products projected as much as US$26,200,000 per year with a net profit of US$12,700,000.

Moreover, the project would also ensure a market for export of produce to neighbouring countries resulting in a revenue stream, ensures stable production and high profits for agro-industrial investment projects.

Gaining leading position in the market of hens owing to high quality and large-scale production, creating a ‘brand,’ a recognisable name of the Sierra Leone agro industrial poultry project with the implementation of the novel agro-industrial technologies that supplies safe agriculture production are also part of the project.

Above all, the project seeks to support and assist government in contributing to the solution of social problems through the creation of 2,000 full time employment positions as well as an increase in food productivity.

 

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