The SLPP manifesto for this year’s election has said agriculture would be very important to the country’s economy. Agriculture is the dominant sector in the economy, accounting for about 30 percent of GDP. It employs about 75 percent of the country’s estimated population of five million people and 70 percent of the poor are in the agricultural sector.
The crop sub-sector, with rice dominating, contributes about 75 percent of agricultural GDP but only 10 percent of export earnings. Tree crops plantations, constitute the bulk of agricultural exports-coffee, cocoa, kola nut, oil palm, and cashew and more recently ginger. Overall, the sector accounts for half of the GDP.
The strategic priorities for agriculture are currently driven by the presidential pledge on food security, and are articulated in the Agriculture Strategic Plan covering 2003-2007. The plan proposed rapid revitalization of the sector based on investments in priority areas of high potential.
The last time this country was food self-sufficient was in 1966, during the SLPP rule. We have since become a net importer of rice, the local staple. In a bid to return Sierra Leone to its glory days, by ensuring food self-sufficiency, the SLPP government increased the tractor fleet from 20 by end of 2002 to 135 in 2006, increased access to seed rice, and to extension services. This has led to a reduction in rice importation, and even a modest export of rice. Rice production increased from 422,065 mt to 758,800 mt in 2005 and food self-sufficiency was estimated at 85% in 2006.
To energize crop diversification, the SLPP government introduced a new variety of ginger from China, as well as new high yielding oil palm varieties from Malaysia, with the objective of producing palm oil for industrial uses and for export. This export diversification will empower farmers, increase rural incomes and subsequently reduce rural poverty.
The next SLPP Government will intensify agricultural production and monetize the rural economy by increasing access to modern agricultural inputs and agricultural credit. This will be done through farmer access to seasonal credit for inputs, advisory service for adoption of improved technology, and increased access to development credit by private sector input and output market suppliers.
Complementary actions will provide support to the agricultural system by strengthening rural marketing infrastructure, private trader investment in marketing services and the availability of appropriate crop conservation and marketing technologies. The Government will continue its efforts to give prominence to the small farmer through increased provision of facilities such as the cost-recovery tractor scheme, with the major source of funding being the community banks.