Food security for the 80% and more of Sierra Leoneans living on less than $2 a day is far more important to them than even educating their children. Yes, this is true from what this writer has seen with his own eyes over the past 25 years when food prices have been going up because of mainly demand and supply factors and inflation.
Just after the APC government came to power and the price of rice jumped up over 300%, those who suffered most are the poor who were pushed further into poverty. Generally, for the billions of poor peoples in Africa, Asia and Latin America who spend 80, 90 percent of their income on food, if the food price goes up 10, 20 percent, that has an immediate impact on them and their families and dependants.
What we have to understand first and foremost in reaching for food self sufficiency and freedom from hunger is that the key to food security is to farm smarter, not to plow more land. Regrettably, in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent by this country on agriculture since the days of President Momoh’s so-called “Green Revolution” of the mid 1980s, agriculture has been neglected since then.
With the population expected to reach over 10 million in the next ten years, it is obvious that to reduce hunger, increase incomes, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, reduce drastically the imported food bill that averages $200 billion per annum, we have to produce an awful lot more food for a growing population. Certainly, you know that our traditional subsistent farmers do not have the know-how, land and capital for such an enterprise.
Revolutionizing agriculture in this country to make it a major income earner of both local and foreign exchange goes beyond planting more seeds on more land considering the environmental factors involved in putting more land under cultivation – especially if it involves shifting cultivation. The answer is more research on how to get greater crop output from existing agricultural land. Key research programs include improving varieties of corn, wheat, rice, potatoes and yams, as well as fish and animals.
A second goal of a true agricultural revolution is to get the latest research into the hands of smallholder farmers as quickly as possible. Information such as ways to better access markets and reduce post-harvest loses. Another is to address the issues of climate change, nutrition and gender, since women account for much if not most of the country’s agricultural production.
There are many comparative advantages for this government to prioritize agriculture in general above all other economic diversification enterprises but there is no quick fix solution to improving productivity. A third and the most important contribution to revolutionizing farming in this country is the setting up a national agricultural bank with very low borrowing interest and suitable grace period to start repayment. That way, people that are true farmers will be enabled to purchase the factors of production required for embarking on true commercial farming.