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Agric minister shines in Congo

Agric minister shines in Congo

Sierra Leone’s agricultural transformation has continued to attract experts in the continent who have demonstrated a very strong desire to come and learn how the post–war nation has been able to put together impressive agricultural investment programmes that are now set to boost the lives of ordinary farmers and the country’s GDP.

This was evident at the 27th FAO Regional Conference for Africa held recently at the Congolese capital of Brazaville where a four man delegation headed by the Hon. Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay enthuse some 220 delegates drawn from 47 African countries and 7 non-African countries by showcasing Sierra Leone’s progress in implementing the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Process (CAADP). CAADP is a continental initiative spearheaded by the African Union/NEPAD to address and poverty and hunger in Africa through agriculture.

Rapt attention was given to Dr. Sam Sesay and team given the fact that Sierra Leone has recorded significant progress with the CAADP initiative especially with the development of a twenty year National Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan (NSADP). The delegation brilliantly showcased the use of national experts in the CAADP process, including the holding of regular stocktake meetings with the President, the preparation of a donor compact document that seeks commitments and alignment with donor partners’ activities to the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP), in this case the Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP).

The SCP has established 193 Agribusiness Centres (ABCs) with improved production inputs like labour saving machinery and agro chemicals to accord farmers the leverage to reduce post-harvest losses and add value to their produce. It has also constructed/rehabilitated hundreds of kilometers of feeder roads to link farmers and markets as well as hundreds of hectares of Inland Valley Swanps for small scale irrigation. Under a new funding arrangement, a total of 83 additional agribusiness Centers would be established to make the SCP truly national, serving all the chiefdoms of Sierra Leone. Community banks and Financial Services Associations (village banks) keeps springing up in very district to provide farmers ample access to much needed financial services.

The Minister and his team hammered home the need for political will as expressed by President Ernest Bai Koroma’s chairmanship of the Presidential Taskforce on Agriculture (PTFAG) – an apex body that approves policies and proposals forwarded by the Agriculture Ministry or a coordinating body, the Agriculture Advisory Group (AAG) with membership drawn from development partners, the private sector, farmers and line government ministries. The AAG is chaired by the Hon Minister of Agriculture.

Perhaps, what triggered the delegates’ interest especially those who expressed the desire to come to Sierra Leone was the experienced shared on the ABC model and its commercialization paradigm that revealed clearly how post harvest losses could be curtailed and value addition enhanced for farmers who have been practicing subsistence agriculture for decades. It took no time for the conference to believe that Sierra Leone is blessed with the human resources that would chart the country’s development agenda through agriculture. A round of applause almost defended the ears of the Agric Minister and his team. The delegation which returned home with pride also made a presentation titled “Mapping Actions for Food Security and Nutrition” (MAFSAN) through which the need to include nutrition in all food security interventions in the continent was clearly highlighted. And Sierra Leone being among the two pilot countries (the other being Mozambique) also attracted admiration for the steps it has taken to address the nutrition issue.

Apparently impressed with the Sierra Leone Agriculture Minister, no less a person than the President of Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou-N’Guesso who delivered the keynote address at the ceremony engaged Dr. Sam Sesay in a tet-a-tet immediately both men moved out of the conference hall for tea break.

The FAO Regional Conference for Africa is held every two years to enable African Agriculture Ministers, rural development experts and other stakeholders direct the UN Food and Agricultural Organization on Africa’s agricultural priorities. A roundtable discussion on commitment and response to address the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity in the horn of Africa and the Sahel was also held during the conference albeit with no Sierra Leonean representation.

By Samuel M Serry Jr.

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