I have spent the last 26 years working on promoting the Agri-Food sector and mobilizing resources to support regional and national programs in Africa. It is my conviction that Africa can and should feed itself. After all Africa has half the population of India which is food self-sufficient on ½ of the land area of Africa. The real concern is why is Africa not food self-sufficient despite its abundant resources. This concern is simple but the answer is complex.
Through my experience and convictions that we must strengthen key sectors and highlights issues across the continent, such as:
- Economic reforms that broaden the scope and incentives for private sector participation such as land registration, leasing facilities and the establishment of credit bureaus;
- Exploitation of opportunities and addressing emerging challenges for agricultural growth, like large scale land leasing arrangements to local and foreign groups in SSA;
- Increased regional cooperation through organisations like the African Union, NEPAD and CAADP, FARA, EMRC, the CGIAR’s regional collaborative action plans, Regional Economic Communities, Sub Regional Agricultural Research Organisations (SROs);
- A new professed willingness on the part of African governments and development partners to support agricultural development as a pillar of a broader economic development and poverty-alleviation strategy;
The above opportunities and emerging challenges embody important elements that strategies aimed at accelerating growth should consider. Return on investment is an important indicator for attracting private investment, therefore returns from investment in productivity should be pursued both to maximize the benefits from the available resources and to secure further investment.
On a more local level, if you take the case of Sierra Leone, the country has a remarkable combination of advantages and challenges. It has a reasonable deposit of minerals and a great potential for agriculture. With a total land area of 71,740 sq. km of which a large amount is arable and a favorable climate for agricultural production, plenty of rainfall, and water resources, Sierra Leone should be a good candidate for agriculturally propelled economic development. Indeed, agriculture is the most dominant sector of the economy accounting for 45% of GDP and engaging 60% of the labor force. In spite of this combination of advantages agriculture contributes only about 20% to total exports which are solely based on coffee and cocoa; with other commodities like fisheries, livestock, and forest products rarely featuring. Besides, markets have to be developed and organized with appropriate value addition opportunities projected and utilized coupled with adequate capacity strengthening for job creation and industrial development.
The outcome of this is a complex of mutually reinforcing challenges which include food insecurity, malnutrition, hunger and poverty. Another challenge is the bulging youth population with a high level of unemployment and poverty. In spite of all these challenges,
Sierra Leone could become a country of the dream of HE, the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma if the total system could be transformed. Transformation in Sierra Leone should translate into wealth and job creation for all sectors of the economy, more food and higher incomes for greater prosperity and reduction of poverty.
In my opinion, to make rapid progress on the transformation of Sierra Leone, emphasis would be needed in a few areas as listed below:
Agriculture: Buoying up agricultural productivity and markets through Provision of adequate support to the private sector: seed, fertilizers, agricultural lending for optimal use of resources available. Sierra Leone could work through Regional integration to become the food basket for the region. The major strategy here will be the attraction of appropriate private sector to work in an environment which also provides opportunities for the small holders; attracting the youths into farming and agriculture by making agriculture both lucrative and less laborious; support to SMEs and promote job creation by attracting various donors to help mushroom the development of SMEs in Sierra Leone. The enterprises could go beyond agriculture to touch on other areas of the economy including those for show manufacture, garment making, bags, belt, ICT and mining.
- Other related issues to agricultural development that I will like to accomplish are as follows:
- ICT: Put in place policies and enabling environment including appropriate partnerships to encourage a boom in ICT industry in Sierra Leone.
- Foresighting: In the light of climate change and globalization, position Sierra Leone to be an African/Global leader within the shortest possible time. This will include determining where the country should be and how to get there.
- Infrastructure: This requires improving the business environment to remove barriers for entities that want to invest in agricultural development and retain those who are already investing in Sierra Leone; improve physical infrastructure (e.g. roads, marine transport, water, markets, communication (ICT) and energy to reduce cost of doing business in Sierra Leone and the costs of our product to make them more competitive in regional and global markets; improve knowledge infrastructure through harnessing Science, Technology and Innovation to improve competitiveness of our agricultural products; improve the skill-base of Sierra Leonean labour force by creating balanced capacity in under-graduate, post-graduate, vocational and artisan with focus not just on numbers but also on the quality of skill development.
The most underlying necessity for the entire region is for our experts to encourage the youths to go back to farming and agriculture by making agriculture an attractive enterprise through provision of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers etc. and adequate simple equipment to reduce the drudgery in agriculture and incentives to improve profitability through innovative funding and tax break.
- The experts should endeavor to break the walls that separate various entities involved in agricultural research for development and develop integrated and holistic programs that would involve research, extension, education and the private sector under the umbrella of the CAADP. The youths need to be equipped with the right skills for engagement in the transformation process. Therefore collectively all actors need to determine:
- How science and technology can be pursued to address the needs of farmers, the private sector and other operators along the value chain.
- The type of science and technology and associated innovative processes needed to support the transformation of agriculture.
The strategic direction and guidelines that can improve sustained agricultural productivity, competitiveness and markets for economic growth.