By S. U. Thoronka……………………..
The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Professor Monty Jones has said that over the next thirteen months, his Ministry would employ 10,000 youth nationwide.
He made this revelation and/or undertaking at an interactive meeting between him and senior members of the Ministry on the one hand and members of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Agriculture on the other chaired by the Acting Chairman Honourable Aeron Harun Koroma of Constituency 62 in the Tonkolili District.
In his submission, Professor Jones reiterated that hawking one or two items for a whole day in the streets of Freetown does not in any way constitute real employment.
He said his main priority as a Minister is to increase the agricultural productivity in the value chain, adding that agriculture is not all about extension but creating empires.
The Minister also noted that agriculture nationwide is very small simply because successive governments have kept the farmers at subsistence level to cultivate the land at one ton per hectare of the staple food rice.
Professor Jones maintained that before now there were several projects but all disjointed, adding that in his tenure, nine projects have been lined up for implementation in strategic locations in parts of the provinces.
He said out of the nine projects, three have already been identified and these include Integrated Solution African Group. This project, according to the Minister would establish poultry in the North specifically at Rolakor and Royanka estimated to produce about 500,000 eggs per day. Under the same project there is provision for onion production, cattle raring at Musaia and Teko meat production.
The Minister affirmed that the Sewa Farm Project would cover 30 hectares of land and would produce 65-70 thousand tons of rice per year and that the total cost of the said project is estimated at $40m.
The third project is the Sierra Tropical which would be looking at fruit and vegetable production and that when the project is implemented and fully operational, it would generate income between $30-$40m annually.
Responding to questions posed by members of the Committee, the Minister agreed that over the years before his assumption of office, agriculture received a huge chunk of both subvention and donor funds and he was of the view that the output should have been probably more encouraging. He noted that only 10% of arable land in the country was cultivated.
Professor Jones said as a nation, Sierra Leone should not be importing rice by now when the country has not experienced draught and there is adequate rainfall. He lamented over the disappearance of over 4,000 bags of fertilizers from the Ministry of Agriculture a couple of years ago and assured MPs that failure was not an option as far he was concerned.
The Minister mentioned the Socfin saga as very unfortunate, while sympathizing with the investors who he said have constructed one of the largest if not the largest oil mill in West Africa. He said one only has to take an aerial view of the oil plantation then one would realize the huge investment. According to the Minister the problem at Sahn Malen is orchestrated by some misguided International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGO) although he did not exonerate disgruntled local factions within the chiefdom. Professor Monty Jones opined that as a Government they would not allow the Socfin saga to degenerate to something else.
He affirmed that 95% of all the farmers that have registered received rice seed and promised that Kobia, Mange and Newton Agriculture Stations would be rehabilitated. The Minister urged all to go in for the locally produced rice which he said is highly nutritional and that the imported rice contains more sugar hence the prevalence of diabetes in the country. He said Chinese companies have shown interest to invest in agriculture in the country.