Jones said on Tuesday the biggest challenge of the Agriculture ministry in 2017 was getting local produce available in the local market, and believes a major reason for that was the unavailability of transport infrastructure.
According to the minister, this has led to businesspeople from neighbouring countries taking advantage of the vacuum by exporting the country’s produce, with the consequence of persistent food shortage and increase in prices of locally-grown foodstuff.
“It is a big concern for the ministry,” the minister said in an interview.
“We are tracing our products all the way to Mali, all the way to Gambia. We should keep our goods at home so that our prices go down, so that domestic produce, which are more nutritious, get to the local people,” he added.
Jones said under this situation, farmers can get paid at point of production and that the prices of commodities can go down.
He announced that the Agriculture ministry has ordered about four customized vehicles, to serve about five districts in providing transportation services for farmers from the farm.
He hoped this can be complemented by private sector players who can invest in similar vehicles and use their cold storage facilities to enhance the lifespan of perishable goods.
According to the minister, Sierra Leone is on course to attaining food self-sufficiency, having increased its rice production from 0.78 metric tonnes per hectare to almost 2 metric tonnes per hectare in the last 10 years.
“It is a big stride because that translates to 14 percent overall increase in productivity, so much so that we were able to reduce the deficit to self-sufficiency which can make Sierra Leone become food secure,” he continued.
Prof. Jones, is a renowned plant breeder with the record of pioneering the New Rice For Africa [known better as Nerica] project, and was appointed to the cabinet in February, 2016. He vowed at the time to increase the country’s productive capacity with the goal of attaining food self-sufficiency.
Since then he has implemented commendable innovations, notably introducing a direct cash transfer system which allows farmers to access funding electronically as government support.
According to Jones, this has stimulated the youths’ involvement in farming and helped improve on livelihood of women farmers.
The ministry also engaged local industries like hotels, restaurants and supermarkets to consider sourcing their raw materials from local producers, instead of importing them, as had been the case previously.