Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 June 2021:

On Friday, 11th June 2021, President Dr Julius Maada Bio launched the Sierra Leone Regional Rice Value Chain Project in Torma Bum, in the Bonthe District of southern Sierra Leone, where he emphasised that food security is probably the most critical pillar in achieving the government’s human capital development priorities for the country.

He told locals, development partners and members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, the Islamic Development Bank and BADEA present at the event 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.”

The President also noted 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.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who chaired the event, said that the project is not only a dream come true for the President and his New Direction government but also a huge milestone for the country.

He said at its full operational capacity the project would minimise the large scale 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.

Paramount Chief Alex Maada J.J. Kainpumu II thanked President Bio for the opportunity he gave his community to host the launch of such a huge project, adding its the first time any President and his wife the First Lady, the Vice President have visited the chiefdom together and in one day.

He also assured of his people’s commitment to the project and promised that they will take it very seriously for the good of the country.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Abu Bakarr Karim, reiterated that the project will provide job opportunities for the people and said he looks forward to exporting and easing the burden on government’s spending on food import.

The minister also proclaimed President Bio as ‘farmer-in-chief’ because of his tremendous support for the agricultural sector and declared the First Lady – an ‘agriculture champion’.

The minister also recognised and presented certificates to farmers for their outstanding achievements in the agriculture sector and encouraged them to continue the good work.

This is the full statement delivered by president Bio:

“Let me first welcome and thank our development partners, the Islamic Development Bank, and BADEA. You have been consistent partners on this journey; you have shared our views; planned with us, and today is the day for implementing those ideas we have developed together. Thank you for your presence; thank you for your support.

Food security is a central pillar among our human capital development priorities as a nation, if not the most critical. A well-nourished child or adult can stay healthy, live well, learn, fend for himself or herself, and live a reasonably good quality of life.

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.

Because we do not produce sufficient food for our population, we have increasingly spent hundreds of millions of dollars every year to procure food from the world market. Clearly, we are left at the detriment of the world food market as a result. Besides, a huge chunk of our foreign reserves that could have been spent on education and healthcare, among other urgent priorities for a developing nation, end up being spent on importing increasingly expensive food items.

The situation is even more complicated when production capacity and supply chains are hit hard by shocks such as COVID-19, climate change disasters, and other economic shocks in food-exporting nations. The prices of food change shoot upward on the world market. These price shocks are not good for food security, not good for the quality of life of our citizens, not good for our communities, and not good for the economy of the nation as a whole.

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[1]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.

So let me once more thank the Islamic Development Bank and BADEA for examining our plan, identifying with the objectives of our commitments, and sharing our aspiration to work towards domestic food self-sufficiency. Essentially, we made a simple decision: to put whatever money we could garner where our mouths are.

So, I am, therefore, very delighted to be here to launch the Sierra Leone Regional Rice Value Chain Project (SL-RRVCP). 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. So, we have put a number of things in place.

We have made the ecosystem for farming more conducive: a. We have purchased 410 agricultural machinery and more than 2,000 items of relevant implements; b. We have set up agricultural service centres, called Machine Rings, in fourteen (14) agricultural districts in the country, and made the agricultural machinery and the implements available to the private sector and to provide machinery services to farmers at competitive rates. Our Machine Ring system is supporting poor farmers who cannot afford machinery and chiefdom youth rice farm projects. c. My Government has also revised the decades-old policy and practice of the public sector being responsible for procuring and distributing fertilizers and seeds to farmers. The private sector is now responsible for that. d. 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.

By increasing the domestic production of rice, we could free up foreign exchange that will support our human capital development priorities in education, health, and in other aspects of agriculture and agribusiness.

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.

We decided so because we want to make agriculture more attractive to young people and women. We have established youth farms across the country to get greater participation and buy-in from youth. Agriculture is a source of wealth-creation.

The Project’s operation sites are in Bum Chiefdom in Bonthe district in the South; and Mambolo and Samu Chiefdoms in Kambia District. There are prospects for expanding rice-value-chain development into other parts of this very fertile country. Other regions can therefore participate in this national food security project and reap the associated socio-economic benefits.

Already Bum Chiefdom is involved in mechanised farming. Our Government is not the Government that grew rice in reports or on the radio. We grow rice in the fields and harvest it.

Added to this project that we are unveiling today as described by previous speakers, my Government launched the Rhombe rice cultivation project by Elite Agro that will put 30,000 hectares under cultivation.

My Government is determined to stay fully involved with this project and its goals. We will work with partners to further expand operations, irrigate and drain larger areas for cultivation, bring in more investments, and expand domestic food production in Sierra Leone.

With those few words, I now formally launch the Sierra Leone Regional Rice Value Chain Project. I thank you for your kind attention.”

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