Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector accounts for 46.1% of the country’s GDP, provides employment for around two thirds of the population, and contributes around 25% of Sierra Leone’s exports, even though the sector is far from realising its full potential.
The government targets agriculture in its Agenda for Change and welcomes international investment in this key growth sector. As Joseph Sam. Sesay, Minister of Agriculture, points out, “Because agriculture employs the majority of Sierra Leone’s population and 77% of our country’s people are poor, if we want to address poverty, we have to focus on agriculture. We want to help rural smallholders produce more than what they need to feed themselves and to commercialise their products. We look at the value chain, and we are promoting mechanisation, processing and marketing.”
The Ministry of Agriculture has built 150 agriculture business centres and supplied processing machines, fertilisers and weed killers directly to farmers. The Ministry’s admirable track record is one reason Sierra Leone is one of the first countries chosen to benefit from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP).
Tremendous investment potential
Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector offers tremendous investment potential. More than 70% of the country’s surface is fertile arable land and only 12% of it is currently being cultivated. Sierra Leone also has a favourable climate for agriculture as well as ample rainfall and the potential for irrigation to boost food exports, particularly rice. To encourage private investment in agriculture, the government has devised a number of incentives which include tax holidays and duty free agriculture related imports.
The Minister cites irrigation schemes and processing equipment, expertise and technologies as the agriculture sector’s most urgent needs at present. He points out, “Production is medieval here. We need the private sector to invest in such areas as leasing machinery and getting involved in food processing. We have excellent and diverse products – including rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, fruits, organic cocoa and spices – but we do not have the technology or marketing expertise that we need. Much of our food production gets spoilt. Our loss of agricultural products is 40% to 60% because of inadequate processing facilities and insufficient marketing opportunities.”
Infrastructure upgrades for the agriculture sector are also urgently needed. Joseph Sesay concludes, “We need to change people’s minds about investing in agriculture in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone can become one of the world’s top sources of high quality agricultural products.”