Focus On Agriculture [opinion]

The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) is a five year programme aimed at improving agriculture by introducing new technology as well as improving on existing ones. WAAPP-Sierra Leone commenced in 2011 and is due to fold up in June 30, 2016.

The five year project in Sierra Leone targets the two staple foods – rice and cassava. By the end of the project in 2016, five improved agricultural technologies should have been adopted by an expected 120,000 beneficiaries. The improved technology should cover 150,000 hectares countrywide, with a total number of 200,000 beneficiaries.

Concord Times engaged the Project Coordinator, Sulaiman Sesay, on the progress made so far.

“So far the target goals are meant for the completion of the project. Since the adoption of improved technology is highly incumbent on research, we now providing support to research institutions with infrastructure and human capacity building,” said Sulaiman Sesay. “We support both long and short term training for scientist both locally and internationally. We are supporting 41 scientists who are pursuing masters and doctorate courses in universities abroad and we are providing short term training for local farmers and extension workers.”

In the area of human capacity building, he said the project is providing technical assistance to two big institutes, including the Africa Rice Research Centre in Benin and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, as well as provide support to the Rokupr Rice Research Centre in Sierra Leone.

In the area of infrastructure, he said the project has rehabilitated ten houses at Njala and two in Rokupr, as well as constructed four new ones at Rokupr for scientists.

He said they have constructed laboratories and as well provided resources to scientists, to enable them undertake research activities on rice and cassava.

Though the project is focused on adopting five improved technologies, he said they working with the existing technology, while 67,000farmers have been trained on how to use the technology.

“We make use of new and improved varieties of planting materials including fertilizers, hoes and cutlasses for rice and cassava. We provide them the input and train them on how to go about applying them. We train them on the system of rice intensification through the application of herbicides to get rid of weeds,” he said.

He continued that plans were underway to introduce new technologies referred to as seeder and weeder technologies, which he said would aid farmers in transplanting rice and getting rid of weeds, adding that the said technologies would be introduced on demonstration bases at various agricultural sites across the country.

“The process is on and it would be done on a demonstration at different blocks and local fabricators would be invited to get a look and improvise for ease of use by farmers,” he said.

The WAAPP coordinator further noted that they were working on the domestication of the ECOWAS Regulation on seed, adding that they had drafted a Seed Bill that was being looked at by the Law Officers Department.

Through the ECOWAS regulation, he said, they would set up an electronic regional seed platform that the West Africa region would feed from and access new agricultural technologies.

“It would be an opportunity to expand market and develop agricultural research policy,” he said.

Sesay noted that the Ebola outbreak has seriously affected their activities as training of farmers could not continue because expatriate scientists in the country were withdrawn.

“All technical support that would have been given to our scientists could not materialize,” he noted.

He concluded that since the outbreak heavily disrupted farming in the country, plans were underway for the project to provide seeds to 40,000 farmers across the country.

Backyard farmers narrate ordeals

Backyard farming is an important component of agriculture that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security is paying scant attention to. Our daily food ingredients, including onion, potato and cassava leaves, garden eggs, tomato, pepper, carrot, carbage, calling flower, salad leaves, among others, are produced by backyard farmers either in the Western Area Urban and Rural or in the provinces, mainly in Kabala, northern Sierra Leone.

Almost predominantly, backyard farmers are women and sadly most of them swim in abject poverty due to the fact that they lack the necessary support to expand their farm and produce on a large scale.

Concord Times’ Alusine Sesay and Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh caught up with some backyards farmers at Grafton Village in the Western Rural District who recounted their stories with no relish, if any.

“I have five children and I’ve been on this backyard farming for the past 17 years now,” says Salamatu Kamara. “It is from this garden I raise money to support my family and send my children to school.”

Salamatu, who is a war widow, reveals she has not received any support from neither the government, nor non-governmental organizations. Thus, she toils routinely to eke out a living for her children and her.

The Ebola outbreak has inevitably exacerbated her already miserable condition. While being quarantined for 42 days, thieves raided her garden and harvested all her crops.

“Where should I start after such an incident?,” she rhetorically asks. “I have no help from government and my children are going to suffer.”

She calls on the government to provide support to her to enable her expand the small garden.

Salamatu’s story is similar to over 87 war widows at the Grafton displaced persons camp, few miles outside Freetown.

Margaret Turker is chairlady of War Widows for Christ, an organization comprising 87 war widows at the Grafton camp.

She explains to Concord Times that, “I lost my husband during the rebel war. He was killed by the rebels in 1995 and I have been here for the past years.”

The widow of 20 years says although the organization has been registered with the Ministry of Agriculture, they are yet to receive any kind of support from the government.

Tucker informs out reporters that a major challenge they face is access to land to farm and lack of money to buy government tractors that were sold at Le65 million.

“I was afraid to go in for the government tractors due to the exorbitant cost,” she laments.

But unlike Salamatu, she disclosed they receive support from a non -governmental organization – Global Connection Partnership Network (GCPN).

Yet, she urges the government to assist them with seedlings and agricultural equipment to enable them undertake large scale farming.

Source : Concord Times

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