Sierra Leone: President Bio has launched the Sierra Leone Regional Rice Value Chain Project in Torma Bum, at the Bum Chiefdom, Bonthe District,
The President said food security is probably the most critical pillar among the human capital development priorities of the country.
Noting that a well-nourished child or adult could stay healthy, live well, learn, fend for himself or herself and live a reasonably good quality of life.
“This project directly benefits 7,000 women and youth farmers, along with 35,000 farming families who are growing rice on 35,000 hectares of farmlands in the project locations. I am informed that the beneficiary identification and selection process was above board and merit-based,” President Bio averred.
Adding, “We came into governance to low levels of food security, even though we have vast stretches of arable land in this country, consistent rainfall and rivers, and fairly even weather conditions. The price of our staple food, rice, has not been stable and consistent on the world market. There had been no well-thought-out and sustainable investments in the agriculture sector. Food insecurity therefore persisted.
“Instead of taking short-term populist actions and granting massive import subsidies at the detriment of the economy or pronouncing an overnight reduction in the price of a bag of rice for political propaganda purposes, we decided to think very closely about a permanent fix…In order to strengthen the participation of the private sector, Government, through the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank, has ring-fenced $50million to support private sector investments in agriculture,” he said.
He told the gathering of locals, development partners and members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, the Islamic Development Bank and BADEA that because the country did not produce sufficient food for its population, the government had increasingly spent hundreds of millions of dollars every year to procure food from the world market. He added that a huge chunk of the country’s foreign reserves that could have been spent on education and healthcare among other urgent priorities for a developing nation, ended up being spent on importing increasingly expensive food items.
“In our governance assessment for our 2018 Manifesto and in our Medium-Term National Development Plan, we committed to working toward increasing the domestic production of food to significantly take care of our domestic needs and to ensure that the food produced domestically was available, affordable, and nutritious.
“We, therefore, decided on a well-thought-out, well-designed, well-implemented, and sustainable solution. We can transform our vast arable lands into massive food production centres and thus make our nation rice/food self-sufficient and also food and nutrition secure,” he said.
President Bio thanked the Islamic Development Bank and BADEA for examining his government’s plan, identifying with the objectives of their commitments, and sharing their aspiration to work towards domestic food self-sufficiency.
“As with everything we do as a Government, we have been very intentional in our planning so that when once we deliver this solution, it will be sustainable and long-lasting. Traditional subsistence farming of low-yield seeds in small plots will not lead to domestic food sufficiency. The answer is in increased mechanisation and larger acreage yields, more access to input, more advanced farming techniques, and more agriculture financing that expands private sector investments in agriculture,” he concluded.
Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, said the project was not only a dream come true for the President and his New Direction government but it was also a huge milestone for the country.
The VP added at its full operational capacity the project would minimise the large scale of importation of rice into the country and reduce cost on government, adding that the President made no mistake when he decided to invest in rice production and other food produce and made agriculture his top priority.
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Abu Bakarr Karim, reiterated that the project would provide job opportunities for the people and said he looked forward to exporting and easing the burden on government’s importation.
The minister also crowned President Bio as farmer-in-chief because of his tremendous support to the agricultural sector and declared the First Lady as agriculture champion.
Paramount Chief Alex Maada J.J. Kainpumu II said this is the first time any President and his wife the First Lady, the Vice President were visiting the chiefdom together and in one day.
He also assured commitment to the project and promised to ensure its sustainability