Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Improving Economic Growth Through Agriculture

A few crops today constitute a large portion of global agriculture. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, four crops alone account for around 50% of the world’s arable land: maize, wheat, rice and soya. The other four, including barley, sorghum, canola and cotton constitute an additional 15% of the total cultivated crop acreage of the planet. Major countries in the world export most of the key crops that are commercially traded around the world.

In Sierra Leone rice happens to be our main staple food, followed by cassava, yam and cocoa, all being substitutes. Major farming activities over the years have contributed to the growth of the economy. Though the country is yet to produce for export purposes, which is attributed to limited resources, there are prospects that the country will in the near future reach that goal depending on the commitment of government and other donor partners.

Agriculture under PRSP

A main focus of poverty reduction strategy is that of increase in food production through agriculture. Support to agriculture, fisheries and the allied sectors, is critical to government’s food security strategy in the short to medium term. Agriculture is dominated by small-scale subsistence farmers with low productivity. The short term objectives of government intervention are diversification of the mix crop in the uplands, and intensification of production from the small hectares cultivated on the low lands. This will be achieved through the introduction of new technology, input provision through credible farmers’ associations at the local level, and targeted extension support, especially to the unemployed youth and the small-scale farmers. This will contribute to an increase in food production, which will tackle hunger at household level in the rural communities in the short term. This will enable government to encourage private sector investment in agriculture, especially for the production of food for the market in the short term. Also, government is expected to work through local authorities to facilitate the acquisition of land by the private sector operators for commercial cultivation and markets and storage facilities.

Our local market

Our community markets are dominated by the sale of imported rice from countries such as Pakistan, China etc. These products are cheaper than our own locally grown rice. The long grain white rice cost Le 350/ Le400, while the short grain product known as ‘fen-fen’ cost Le 500 per cup. Our locally produced rice called ‘wala’ rice and rough rice cost Le 600 and Le 800 respectively.

The latter prices are sustained because of the difficulties often encountered in accessing the locally produced rice. Incidentally this should be a challenge to the country as we try to increase agriculture production for economic growth and food self sufficiency. There are reports of the government achieving 60% of food production in the country. Increase in production of food will contribute immensely to the growth of the economy, as it will bring in income to both producers and the government. Evidence has shown in the past that there are great prospects in export of agricultural products such as cocoa, coffee, oil palm etc.

At local level we have realized how the price of some of these commodities such as palm oil is on the increase. A pint of palm oil now cost Le 1,500 and this product is very important for the consumer as we move to attain food self sufficiency.

Cassava, potato, yam, cocoa are also important substitutes to the main staple food, rice. Cassava is now piled at Le 500 and Le 1000. Yam is sold at a negotiable price ranging from Le 2000 – Le 10,000 depending on the size and quantum available in the market. We must try to improve production of these basic essential commodities so as to increase growth in food production and accelerate economic growth.

Link to STANDARD TIMES PRESS SIERRA LEONE Improving Economic Growth Through Agriculture PAGE