By Amadu Ibrahim Mansaray
Port Loko, Sierra Leone – In response to the recent surge in fuel prices, sand miners in Port Loko City have resorted to manual paddle-boat propulsion, eschewing their fuel-powered engines. This shift is due to the rising cost of fuel, which has made the traditional method more economical for carrying sand from the sea to their customers.
The official price of fuel has witnessed a steep climb from NLe 21.5 to NLe 25.0, and most recently, to NLe 30.0. As a consequence, the cost of sand transportation has soared, with customers now shelling out NLe 650.0 for a single lorry, a significant increase from the previous range of NLe 350 to NLe 400.6
Eshaka Sesay, a seasoned boat owner, reflected on the changes affecting the sand mining industry. “Luckily, we’re using paddle boats for our mining activities,” he shared. “The journey to the mining site is roughly 15 miles each way, totalling 30 miles. Some of my colleagues depart as early as 10 a.m., with the expectation of returning by 10 p.m. I’ve been in this line of work for 12 years now. I started when I was in Junior Secondary School, completed my West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), attended college, and now, I’m a married man with five children.”
Sesay further explained the challenges posed by the fuel price hike. “As you can see, only two vehicles have entered the site since this morning. The fuel price increase has slashed our sales rate by two-fold compared to normal. One of my boats is currently out of commission, and I need cork and fuel to repair it, which will require around 10 litres of fuel. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds for that right now. Both customers and drivers are feeling the pinch due to this surge,” Sesay disclosed.
Meanwhile, other boat owners at the mining site have also embraced paddle-boats for sand extraction. Typically, a crew of three or four members collaborates to transport sand to and from the site. This popular sand mining wharf serves as a lifeline for many residents in the community, including women.
Lamin B Sesay, a labourer at the site, shared his perspective on the current situation. “Sales are sluggish at the moment, with only two vehicles entering the site since this morning. We used to earn NLe 15 per lorry, and sometimes there are three or four of us working together. I’ve been in this line of work for over ten years now. I’m currently 21, and this site has helped me cover some school expenses and contribute to my mother’s ability to put food on the table. However, with the fuel price hike, it has become much tougher for me, given the physical strain and hard labour involved in this occupation,” Sesay concluded.
Alpha Sankoh, one of the drivers responsible for transporting sand from the site to customers, spoke about the challenges posed by the fuel price increase. “We are currently managing the situation,” he explained. “We had to purchase fuel at NLe 30. Consequently, the cost of transporting sand has risen. Customers are now paying NLe 600 to NLe 650 for one full dyna (8-14), which includes transportation costs, loading, and payment for the sand itself,” Sankoh reaffirmed. AIM/5/9/2023