Since the 1980s our country has been food insecure with thousands of millions of US Dollars spent on importing starch overwhelmed white rice from up to 40 or so countries, some of which are no better than us in terms of land fertility. What is wrong with us? Every government dead or alive comes up with ambitiously grandiose plans for agriculture yet at the end of the day very little, if any, is realized! And you know what; our locally grown rice is of a far higher quality than the best imported one.
In the 1960s, up to the late 70s we never imported rice except the picketed Carolina rice that could be found in the supermarkets that hardly got sold. Rice importation into Sierra Leone actually started in the 1980s. I think the first country we started importing from was Burma and that is why many people still refer to rice as “Burma.”
Before then, our country grew what we ate and conversely we ate what we grew.
This was why when in 2009 our then Minister of Agriculture Dr Sam Sesay told this nation that by 2011 the country would have grown enough rice to feed ourselves and to export to neighboring countries, some of us jumped up with joy. Unfortunately that never happened never mind the huge financial and other resources pumped into agriculture: the Tractorization; Small and Medium Enterprises; the Agricultural Business Units and the Agricultural Business Centers and a host of other strategies. Interestingly by the time of Dr. Sesay, and that was during the President Koroma Administration.
Fast forward, When the President Bio Administration took office in 2018, his Agriculture Minister then, Mr Joseph Ndanema promised this nation enough rice in a couple of years and that the government had started the multi-million Dollar Mega Torma Bum- Gbondapi Rice Production Project.
The successes of the first Anniversary of President Bio’s Administration were challenged by the opposition’s cry of food on the table. The Creole has an adage which says: “Dry dog sweet, bot waetin for eat tae di dog dry?” Agricultural productivity is seasonal for the most part and you have the processing aspect after harvest. The Opposition APC keeps saying that one of the major campaign issues on which the SLPP won the elections was the prevalent poor economy, hunger and poverty before the elections. It is worth noting that the Koroma
Administration pronounced an austerity regime and was to present a report in May 2017, but never did. Nevertheless for them, it is imperative for the SLPP must put food on the table no matter what. The SLPP for their part are saying that the economic mess they inherited cannot be overturned overnight. Well it looks like the argument will continue for a long time while citizens massage their hunger and poverty.
What we are going through now as a nation is unfortunate because we have all it takes to have put this country ahead of other countries. Were we not leading in so many things during the colonial and immediate post-colonial period? Even in Education, as recent as the mid-80s we had students from all over the world coming to attend the great Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. I remember we had a Club at Fourah Bay College which had members from up to fifteen nationalities from at least four continents. Well it seems all this is history now.
When the rather radical National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) overthrew the All People’s Congress, they set up what they called the National Social Mobilization Secretariat (NASMOS). They had the slogan: “Grow what you eat, eat what you grow.” At that time, the country’s youth and adults were firmly united to push the country forward after the long spell of APC one party dictatorship. How we slumped back into the unpatriotic partisan backwardness is what I find hard to understand.
I think what really is fanning the flames of rancor between the SLPP and the APC at the moment is the Current unprecedented political will behind the ACC and the implementation of the White Paper on the Commissions of Inquiry. The SLPP will tell you that they have to draw a line on corruption and no stone will be left unturned. For the APC it is a calculated move to damage them as a party and make it difficult for them to return to power come 2023.
Sympathizers of the APC keep on relentlessly drumming it that the Former Koroma Administration did very well in office and that they should be praised rather than cried down. You see the argument may not end and it may be taken right up to the campaigns in 2023. The question is how long are our two main parties going to continue playing the dangerously bitter politics? Can we really promote food security amidst this hate?
Well it looks like the current government is trying hard to turn things round for agricultural productivity. Tractors and other agricultural equipment could be seen on display ready for this year’s planting season. We hope the Government succeeds.
There is a very interesting angle to the food security issues in Sierra Leone which is that there are many Sierra Leoneans who do not eat our locally produced rice despite the fact that it is better. Some will argue that it is not well processed and that it has stones. Well actually over the few years the processing of our rice had been upgraded to international standard. You remember the Agricultural Business Centers set up by government where farmers went to process their agricultural produce? I see the non-consumption of our local rice as actually an attitudinal issue.
We have to also remember that our compatriots upcountry continue to do farming mainly for subsistence, mere survival. Many remote and hard-to-reach areas in our country cannot even afford to buy and transport imported rice to their villages. If they use the commercial motor bike, the cost is astronomical. Many very fertile areas in our country produce rice but then cannot afford to transport it to their district headquarter town because of terrible terrains of poor roads. There are also communities where there are predominantly ageing populations as the youth have gone to bigger towns for education or better opportunities.
This is what happens when social amenities are concentrated and centralized in urban areas. The rural-urban migration is living a high toll on our agricultural productivity. The high populations in the urban areas are challenging the adequacies of social services. Like in Freetown, the teeming populations come along with untold challenges that are very difficult to surmount.
This is why if agriculture can create jobs in the countryside it could be one major way to entice people to go upcountry. Their stay can be sustained by improving social amenities. In this regard the further coverage of some of our radio and television stations to regional areas is good. Well are you going to sit and wait for the mega Torma Bum project to put food on your table? Mandela told us that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it; and that the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
By Beny SAM