By: Thaimu Bai Sesay

The Smallholder Commercialization Agric-Business Development Project (SCADEP), a project under the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday, 20 October 2022 updated the media on some of the achievements the Project has made as a result of the innovative measures implemented.

It could be recalled that the Smallholder Commercialization Agric-Business Development Project was established in 2017 to enhance agricultural productivity by creating market linkages and access to finance for farmers.

Ibrahim Karl Samura, Communication Officer of the Smallholder Commercialization Agric-Business Development Project, in a press briefing at the Ministry of Information and Communication disclosed that the innovative measures that have yielded so much impact came up as a result of challenges that were identified. He added that those innovative measures have made SCADEP outstanding among other projects. “ It is an innovation that is quite not so new but new for Sierra Leone,” he said.

 In a nutshell, Samura explained those innovative measures which he categorized in form of components, and also the progress the project has made and still making in agriculture nationwide.

According to Samura, the project is operating under five components. Components A is to give support to Agri-business Farmer’s linkages and SMS along agricultural value chains. The selected agricultural value chains he made mentioned were rice, cocoa, oil palm, poultry and recently onions have been added to the list.

Component B is market access improvement for easy transportation of farmers’ produce which he said they have rehabilitated about 300 km of feeder roads across the various districts in the county. He went on to say that they have recently engaged in sport improvement which is the identification of key areas that link villages and towns which could be bridges and culverts. He made mention of bridges and culverts that have been constructed and others that need to be constructed or rehabilitated.

Component C is capacity building support to state and non-state actors which he said SCADEP has been supporting non-state actors and also the capacity building of state institutions as they work in collaboration with the ministry of works for the rehabilitation of roads and the ministry of trade for commerce promotion. Under these same components, he added that they have also been supporting non-state actors like the training of personnel and also the construction of office structures for the Chambers of Agric-Business to support farmers in the aspect of Agricultural Commercialization.

Component D is project management, monitoring and evaluation. On this component, he said as it is important to follow up on whatever activities are undertaken, they have been doing this jointly with all ministries, departments and agencies that work with them and that has yielded dividends “…The lizard that jumps from the high Iroko Tree will congratulate itself if no one does,” he said this as a way of commending their tremendous effort.

He went further by saying that their good work in 2020 compelled the President to approach World Bank for additional support to enhance market linkages further. He said that the idea of constructing bridges, especially the one at Manual Ferry Cable Crossing Point was an idea brought by World Bank and SCADEP was the project that pioneered the construction of those bridges. He outlined that seven crossing points were identified including the Matru Jong, Ferry Crossing Point, Ghandema, Manorwa, Thumpara Sumbuya and Jendama, but for the moment they were able to secure funding for four bridges which he identified and said the signing for the construction of two bridges had already been done as the engineers are currently at the site doing what is necessary for the work to commence.

The last component is Contingency Emergency Response as he said it could be recalled that during the Outbreak of Corona when all the boundaries around the world were closed, many countries mistreated the exportation of key commodities like rice. During this period to salvage the issue, they went on overdrive to produce rice internally and it was under this component he said a $100,000 grant was utilized by the government for the production of rice and that was very successful.

He concluded by reiterating that those five components were their driving force and it was under component A, they have the innovative electronic system of Interactive Voice Response Messaging which he said the main talking point of that Thursday’s update would be revolved around. He gave an insight into the innovative system and how it has helped the farmers in getting key extension messages to enhance good production. “The system comprises of the call centre where farmers requiring certain information can dial numbers. “I think we have 899 so once they dial the 899 they get in touch with the call centre and somebody answers their calls…,” he explained.

For a better understanding of the electronic-based innovation, Abubakarr Tamu, Head of ICT at the Ministry of Agriculture who is also the pioneer of the system started by commending the ministry of Agriculture for creating the enabling environment and supporting the project, and also thanked the ICT Kid at the Ministry of Information for entrusting him with the leadership to lead.

Tamu said that the need for the initiative came up due to the high level of illiteracy amongst farmers in the country saying, 80 % of farmers in Sierra Leone are illiterate but we need food every day. He said the system played an exceptional role during COVID-19 when interdistrict restrictions were imposed. He clarified that the technological system is not to replace the effort of humans but to increase efficiency, especially during a crisis like Ebola and COVID-19.

Statistically, he measured that 3000 people had already accessed the system since it was launched on 16 October by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio at the Kabala Playing Field on the celebration of this year’s World Food Day.

He explained that the system works by dialling 899 using Orange as Africell is currently having some technical issues to amend. He further explained that after pressing 899, the system will instruct the caller to press a number that would make it easier to communicate with his or her dialect be it Limba, Mende, Temne or other languages and the system would also instruct the caller to select the type of crop he or she is farming and the type of information he or she wants to understand.

He noted that the system has created the opportunity for farmers to listen to certified and customized extension content that has been created alongside the best agricultural divisions and extension directorate of the ministry. He said they aim to match countries like Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda as they had conducted tours in those countries to see how the system works so that they too could provide the same opportunity for the country.

Tamu concluded by saying, “the system is a breaking tea, breaking the gap of communication, solving the problems of illiterate farmers and enabling food production.”

Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, Solomon Jamiru rubbed oil on the matter saying “we need food and we should not just be talking about food self-sufficiency for Sierra Leone but also talking about exports so that, that important sector contributes to the country’s gross domestic product.”

Deputy Minister said they believed as a government as much as every other citizen that it was quite intolerable that the government expanded more than 200 million U.S. dollars just for rice import and to cushion that effect and to make sure that, that critical commodity is the available and affordable government has primordial responsibility and have eliminated GST and import duty on rice importation.

Jamiru noted that technology has a great role to play in agriculture and that was why His Excellency the president had recently launched the IVR and believed that digital technology should be able to revolutionize food production in Sierra Leone. He added that farmers, agriculturists, and agricultural entrepreneurs that had employed technology including digital technology are way ahead in the agricultural value chain so they believe that they should be able to add tremendous value to how they do agriculture business in Sierra Leone to enhance our yield and help provide food service efficiency but also help in exporting so that it helps to generate foreign exchange for our country.

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