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Thursday, 24 March 2011 13:15

Business Forum Ends Agribusiness Development Seminar

By Rachel Horner

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, March 24, 2011 (Concord Times) — With more than half of the country's active population engaged in agriculture, government and its development partners are making frantic efforts to promote the sector. As a major stakeholder in private sector development, the Agribusiness Working Group of the Sierra Leone Business Forum (SLBF) Ltd has concluded a one-day seminar on the "Role of Agribusiness in Private Sector Development".


The session, which took place at the Atlantic Hall of the national stadium, provided participants the forum to discuss opportunities and constraints for the growth of the business sector and how agribusiness can contribute meaningfully to its growth.


Chaired by the president of National Federation of Farmers in Sierra Leone, Jesse Olu-John, the seminar attracted participants from the private and public sectors, civil society, media and other stakeholders.


Welcoming the participants, Franklyn Williams - deputy director of the SLBF - said the participants present had illustrated the importance of agriculture, which he said was a solution to poverty reduction and food sufficiency.


He said the forum was established in 2007 by government to fill an institutional gap for public and private sector dialogue, adding that since then the forum has facilitated dialogue on various issues relating to the development of a favourable environment for business.


He cited past dialogue sessions like improving business climate, ASYCUDA, Banking Act 2009 and One-stop Shop for business registration, adding that recommendations from round-table discussions on these issues were now being addressed by the concerned authorities.


"The Agribusiness Working Group is made up of stakeholders in the business sector to address the problems of bottlenecks in the sub-sector by creating a forum for participation and dialogue," said Mr. Williams.


In his keynote address on behalf of the minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), Michael Kalainkay - marketing advisor/private sector coordinator, said the search for a progressive and sustainable African agriculture system led to the establishment of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), of which President Ernest Bai Korma was Champion.


The programme, he noted, was meant to work with governments to increase their agricultural budget, realizing it is the backbone of the country's economic development.


"In this regard, government has increased its budgetary support to the sector from 0.6% to 9.9%," he said, adding that it involved a lot of policy transformations including the establishment of the NAACP, which has four pillars and a 25-year span.


"The four pillars are commodity commercialization, private sector promotion and coordination, infrastructural development, and managing and coordinating the first three pillars," he stated. Kalainkay said with a five-year span of operation, the government set up the Small Holder Commercialization (SHC) programme, otherwise known as 'farm for business,' while working to transform the mentality of the people.


Government, he said, was also building agricultural business centres for processing and marketing, small scale irrigation to intensify production, market access, rural finance promotion and access to capital, and creating safety nets for the unforeseen.


"Government has done a lot to ensure agricultural development in the country," he maintained.

The Trade and Industry minister was represented by the director of Domestic Commerce and Industry, Charles Mereweather-Thompson, who described agribusiness as adding value to agricultural products, and spoke of the benefits of export and import markets to national economies.


He also spoke of the benefits of agribusiness and advised farmers to diversify and not to concentrate only on traditional crops.


Mereweather-Thompson disclosed that the ministry was working on price facilitation through standardization for value-addition, especially for international markets.


"We have established a Standards Bureau and we are working on trade policies for export promotion," he said, adding that they were also working on addressing the problem of irregular electricity supply for businesses.


FAO representative, Joseph Sapuka Turay acknowledged that agriculture was the most important employer in the country, noting that poverty seemed endemic despite considerable efforts. He spoke of collaboration between the organization and the government to promote agricultural development in the country, among which are the production of honey in Makeni and the Kono Diamond Rice.


Mr. Turay also spoke of training facilities for business consultants, partnering with government for the establishment of business centres, and addressing policy related challenges.


Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Chamber for Agribusiness, Ahmed Nanoh, gave an overview of the Sierra Leone Center for Agribusiness Development (SLeCAD), noting that the initiative was promoted by the MAFFS, incorporated into a company in 2009, and now partners with government to promote private sector development.


He called on the participants to collaborate with his office for greater productivity. Contributions from the public included one from Mrs. Daisy Scott-Boyle, who lamented the lack of an agricultural bank for the promotion of agricultural investment.


Michael M. Kamara, FINIC managing director called for the breaking of the traditional cocoon, with everyone doing the same thing. He called for diversification and the establishment of a center for agricultural promotion, value addition, energy and technical inputs to facilitate the work of farmers.


M. Andrew Turay of the Sierra Leone Agricultural Society called for agriculturists to be involved in agriculture, noting that despite 50 years of existence by the Njala University the country can still not boast of a single successful agriculturist.


He said agricultural organizations must desist from dependence on government subventions. The session concluded with the disclosure that a committee has been set up by government to look into the possibility of establishing a bank for agriculture. (END/2011)




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