The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ms Zainab Bangura, on Thursday 14th August, 2008 received Ms Christa Räder as the new World Food Programme (WFP) Representative to Sierra Leone. She expressed her delight in receiving the Representative and noted that WFP had been very supportive of the Government and people of Sierra Leone especially during and after the war.Having looked at various Security Council resolutions on Sierra Leone, the interventions of various UN Country Teams, bilateral, multilateral and International agencies and organizations in Sierra Leone, the Minister said she realized that they were too many thereby putting strains on the government’s capacity to provide the required counterpart support and monitoring affecting Government’s ability to adequately respond. “There was the need,” the Minister went on, “for all interventions in Sierra Leone to be realigned to those of the Government’s in order to maximize resource output, as this would allow the Government to adequately work with its partners in a more effective manner “, she said.
Minister Bangura also noted President Koroma’s desire to place growth at the heart of his economic development agenda, emphasizing the strong partnership required with the private sector as a prerequisite to kick start the economy. “It is against this background that the Government has decided to embark on the commercialization of agriculture to ensure that Sierra Leone attains food sufficiency”, the Minister said, adding that the priorities of the Government remain energy, agriculture and infrastructure, among others.
She went on to highlight how the Government had managed the global food crisis with support from India, Japan and Egypt to ensure the sufficient availability of rice in Sierra Leone. The “Agricultural sector has not been given the attention it needed”, she highlighted, adding that agriculture is now a priority of the Government. She outlined Government’s plans to ensure Sierra Leone moves from being a net importer to a net exporter of rice (currently about 60% of consumption) within the next three years. She further stated that the Government had so far spent a lot of money this year on seeds, tools and fertilizers and therefore looks forward to an increase in rice production locally. The Minister encouraged WFP to invest more in agriculture not only to address the food crisis, but to increase rice production, supporting 70% of Sierra Leoneans in the agricultural sector, leading to poverty reduction. Minister Bangura assured Ms. Räder of Government’s support and cooperation at all times. On her part Ms Räder thanked the Minister for welcoming her. She expressed the hope that her experiences would contribute to the achievement of Government’s objectives and the Millennium Development Goals especially goal 1: to reduce poverty, hunger and under-nutrition. She explained that WFP’s priority of procuring food locally is very much in line with what the Minister had outlined and that WFP would work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in order to enhance and stimulate food production. She said that she looked forward to seeing the first bag of rice from Sierra Leone distributed by WFP in the country. She also advised that in 2008 WFP aims to distribute food worth about US$ 25 million to about half a million food insecure people in the country.
By Ophaniel Gooding