The frog did not know that there were two types of water until it jumped into hot water. When you compare the performance of our government ministries, one can hardly skip the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS). This Ministry to a very large extent over the years has made tremendous strides towards making sure that every Sierra Leonean goes to bed with full stomach. Just about ten days ago we were informed that 350 tractors have been secured to boost the agricultural sector. This is more than welcome news given the fact that 75% of our country’s population depend on agriculture and also live at the countryside. Whether we like it or not our poor people will have to remain tied to the land if not for anything but for the fact that survival instincts compel them to till the land. It really does not matter which government is in power or what type of democracy or demon crazy we practice people will always plant their rice and other crops in order to address God’s major assignmenthunger! This is why some of us closely keep following the MAFFS efforts towards Agricultural securityforgive me if I avoid the term Food security as that one is too much of an uphill task for Uncle Sesay just now…nar diyeh, diyeh!
When guys go around and brag that they are strong I ask them just two simple questions. Do you sleep? Do you eat when you get hungry? If the answer to these is yes, then indeed no one is strong. This is because a sleeping giant is very vulnerable…just as the hungry one. Without hunger and sleep man could go close to conquering the world. They say old men live on remembrance and the young on hope. It is very frequent to hear Sierra Leoneans who have past the age of say 50 to keep referring to the days Sierra Leone used to feed itself and even export rice. After hosting the OAU summit in 1980 we started hearing about things like the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). Like its name it actually sapped our country dry and the fuel and rice shortages were scary enough for any government. Very soon we started hearing of rice dealing hajas whose main identity and business qualification then were a string of Gold Teeth forming a flamboyant dental line-up onomatopoeic by a bland sycophantic broad smile that hardly meant anything. Hey Salone has suffered times without number.
When our neighbor Liberia had big trouble with rice shortages we out here caught something worse than the now feared swine flu. Cross border trade was rife until a journalist Fode Kande who at the time was Editor and Proprietor of the Progress Newspaper published in his paper that Samuel K. Doe, the Military strong man of Liberia had allegedly shot his wife! Samuel Doe felt so hurt that he closed the border with Sierra Leone. Pa Shaki, true to his fun, laughed it off saying that If Doe Lock Doe, Nar Doe go open doe. That was a tough presidential stand-off. Our President refused to open the borders with Liberia. In any case our rice could not be smuggled to that country.
Food security has always been a political issue in the Mano River Basin. Can you blame any government for making food security a priority in Sierra Leone? Now 350 tractors are out for agriculture. Hey hold it…one may ask how about Power Tillers. Some agriculturally viable areas do not need tractors but power tillers. You can recall this appeared a burning issue about a year ago when it was alleged that some parts of the country returned tractors that were distributed in a particular district. The simple reason was that in those areas it was power tillers that were needed, because of the swamps they have. This is indeed an angle to consider.
What really got me concerned is that on Wednesday June 17 2009, I heard over the BBC that Sierra Leone was among countries whose Food Security sectors are poorly provided for budget wise. At first I felt angry but then I realized much of our efforts as a nation have been rather limited to food production that falls short of other aspects of food security. You see food security is so all embracing that one can hardly expect much if we stop at increasing rice, cassava and potato production. But wait…do we really have the hard cash to source food Security? Sure we know we cannot pretend any longer… So you see how we as a nation are caught with our pants down?
Food security in a country where electricity is still to brighten even the city for three days running might remain a mere dream. A country with the countryside cut off by terrible terrains cannot talk about food security. This is why the present attempts at improving the country’s road networks are a very laudable move. Indeed good roads are as critical to security as votes are critical to a politician. How about the economy which is donor driven? Look this is no partisan issue. Every government in Sierra Leone has been doing its best to boost agriculture. I even think the present government is doing so much to improve on at least our agricultural sector. It is perhaps the closest we have gone in manifesting the political will since Pa Shaki. But yet we are told that our food security drives are under-resourced. Well interesting enough we are placed together with Ghana, Ethiopia, and the DR Congo etc.
No matter how hurt we might be as Sierra Leoneans the fact is that we do a lot of lip servicing as a nation. We do far less than what we actually do. Levity…impunity…sycophancy…fanaticism…laybelleism…you Bobor daism…depaism….you name them. Where are all our agriculturists? What is wrong with us? How many of us patronize our own rice, yes we prefer the white rice produced by countries whose soil fertility is no better than us! Where have we gone wrong? I think it was the erudite Dr Ramadan Dumbuya who once said at Fourah Bay College that the stomach has no ideologies…when you are hungry, it is food you need and nothing else. Of course we have a lot of lizards of the homestead behaving like those of the farmyard. Can you remember the bragging of a lot of Freetown youth of their party’s assurances of winning elections? Well any way we do not learn from History. As Sierra Leoneans we always wait until the shit hits the fan, then we move into action…much much too late.
You see my guys the odds are all staked against us. While other countries are coming up with bail-out plans to go round the economic down turn we are busy fighting over where to place our priorities. And you know what …food security is not like going to Mambolo or Moimandu Kotaya and plucking mangoes and eating them in the most ravenous manner. No, it involves things like access to markets, good roads, food preservation, industries, investment, electricity, good governance, rights-based approaches. All these are yet a very far cry in Sierra Leone. We may change governments like pants but for now the situation might not change. You see the bottom line for us is that we need food on the table…it is a rights issue. Any family that cannot provide food for its children is open to ridicule by its very kids.
Some one once said that sex is like money, if you don’t have it you think of nothing else…when you have it you think of other things. I will say that food is like money…when you don’t have it you think of nothing else, when you have it then you think of other things. What do we do? I think giving support to the so much talked about return of the produce Board should be stepped up.
To borrow from Bob Marley and Emperor Haile Selassie, in my own words…Until the philosopher which holds foreign rice superior to our own, until rural people are empowered and recognized as human beings, until Literocracy is of no more significance like the color of the eye every where will be hunger and hunger means anger…and anger begets violence, never mind the Public Order Act of 1965. Until then we will remain caught with our pants right down!
By S. Beny SAM