22 January 2015, Sierra Leone – Farmers and managers of Agri-Business Centres (ABCs) in Sierra Leone identify quarantine measures, bans on group activities and the closure of periodic markets as major causes of disruption of farming activities and loss of income.
These concerns were expressed to the Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Dr. Gabriel Rugalem, during his tour in mid-January 2015 to three communities in Bo District. The tour was organized in order to assess the state of agriculture in the wake of the Ebola outbreak and locate critical areas for recovery interventions in rural communities affected by Ebola virus disease.
During the tour, Dr. Rugalema held discussions with individual farmers and various grassroot stakeholder groups in Brima Town, Gerihun and Fengehun communities, whose main source of income and livelihood depend on agriculture.
Alieu Borbordeen, the manager of the Ngoyila ABC in Gerihun Town, estimates that the centre’s milling activity has decreased by more than 90 percent compared with the same period last year. “We previously had customers from over ten villages who came here with colossal bushels of rice to mill, but they no longer come because of the strict by-laws on the movement of people from one community to another,” he explained. The centre processed more than 62 000 kg of paddy rice during the last harvest period (November–January), but this year, only 3 700 kg were processed.
Another ABC known as Holima in Fengehun is among the best-functioning and better-managed centres in the country. Before the outbreak, the centre was a profitable business; its membership supplied rice to the World Food Programme (WFP) for its school feeding programme. More recently, the business has suffered due to the Ebola outbreak.
Some ABCs are unable to service the loans they received from community banks due to the closure of markets and movement restrictions within communities. The chairlady of Holima ABC, Ms Mariama Koroma, and her team are currently struggling to repay a loan of SLL 60 million, which was borrowed from a nearby bank. “We are calling on the Government and other development partners to persuade the management of the community banks to grant us a grace period because we are not sure we can meet the payment deadline,” she stated.
Similar challenges are faced by ABCs in Fallu, Mafunday and Brima Town.
The replacement of machinery in ABCs, provision of agricultural starter kits (seeds and fertilizers), rehabilitation of market infrastructure and reopening of periodic markets were recognized as priority areas for recovery interventions during discussions with farmers and managers of ABCs. These interventions will assist in enabling farmers to return to pre-Ebola production levels and restoring market activity.
The FAO Representative will embark on similar visits to farming communities in other parts of the country in the coming weeks.
Winnie Kamau for African Voices
President Association of Freelance Journalists
Media Relations Consultant