WAAP Deputy Project Coordinator, Sorie S. Sesay
Nearly thirty years ago I stopped reading about agriculture and its importance to both the county and the individual. The sad thing about our country is that if you decide to quit the science classes that might be the end of you trying to know or study this important subject called Agricultural Science. When I entered the field of journalism few years ago, one of the areas I decided to be writing and reporting about was agriculture as a means of contributing towards economic development although my knowledge in it was limited. The reason why I am concerned about agriculture is that vast majority of the population in Sierra Leone depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods and any improvement in this sector, could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people.
The sector faces manifold challenges that relate to production, post-harvest handling, marketing, policy frameworks and the information/knowledge exchange/flow between the stakeholders. There is need to boost efforts towards transforming agriculture with a view to reducing poverty, increasing food and nutrition security and reduce environmental degradation.
Some people might disagree with me but as a journalist who spent almost every weekend in the rural areas and in farms for that matter, I think Sierra Leone’s agriculture remains pathetic and uncompetitive mainly due to non-adoption of improved and enhanced technologies that are crucial to amplify, increase productivity and effectiveness of agricultural systems.
The stumpy and near to the ground uptake of improved and enhanced technologies is a consequence of a number of factors that characterize West Africa and particularly Sierra Leone’s agriculture. These consist of high cost of the technologies, low intrinsic and waning fertility, superior technologies that are not built on biophysical and socio-economic conditions within which smallholder farmer operates, pathetic linkages and communication between stakeholders such as extension agents, input and output markets, unfavorable and poorly implemented policies, poor infrastructure and inequitable competition from open market operation.
During my many weekends spent in the rural areas most people called villagers I saw and came across many Programmes, Projects and NGOs particularly in the areas of Agriculture and Trade, the three that moved me as a journalist were West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP), Rural and Private Sector Development Project and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
On my return to Freetown, I took it upon myself to find out more about these important projects which many rural people looked at as their only hope now to better their well beings particularly so after this Ebola problem.
In Freetown, in entering one office, I met one gentle man whom I have not seen for a long time, a man that this country should be proud of because of his contribution towards the formation of the Local Councils and who had proved that Sierra Leoneans are capable of implementing or managing important projects, is Mr. Peter Kaindaneh.
The sad thing is that this man who has done so much and so well for his country has no time to talk to me as I had wanted because I met him packing as if as he is to leave the office . However, Mr. Pet as he is commonly called decided to talk to me concerning WAAPP and this is what he has to say, ‘The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) is supporting the MAFFS Extension for the dissemination of improved technologies generated by SLARI (RARC & NARC) to farmers using the Innovation Platform (IP) approach. The programme pays special attention to farmers’ access to improve technologies through support to all relevant stakeholders along the value chains to bridge the gap between farmers’ yields and yields obtained by researchers. This component is aimed at accelerating the adoption of technologies that have already been released by SLARI or other research centers in the country particularly technologies for rice and cassava.’
Mr. Pet since he did not have enough time to talk to me, referred me to one young man whom I have seen in three most remote places of this country explaining to farmers about value chain addition, the first time I got to hear this word.
According to Mr. S.S Sesay, Deputy Project Coordinator , the disposable result of these constraints are continual performance of subsistence agriculture with low inputs and low productivity and the inability of farmers to convert the agricultural potential of the region into wealth creation. This has led to the vast majority of end-users encapsulated in poverty, food uncertainty, increased defenselessness to environmental shocks, and undernourishment often culminating to ill health and low life expectancy.
When asked why people in the rural areas seem to accept this project and they are looking at it as means of improving their output in teams of productivity, Mr., Sesay replied that with the help of staff of RPSDP and the Extension Officers of MAFFS, they are working as a family through a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach involving planning, action and reflection at all stages of implementation of the IP adopted to ensure that there is learning at all stages.
The IP members including RPSDP staff meet at regular intervals to discuss and implement opportunities and the desired changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the different aspects of the agricultural value chain or sector. Such changes were normally tested, evaluated and adapted as necessary and these are important ingredients for sustainable change. Initially these processes were driven by the leader but stakeholders’ involvements are increasing with time as the benefits of increased cooperation are being realized.
During implementation, Mr. Sesay who spoke with confidence continued that certain activities are necessary to enhance learning. These include field exchange visits, participation in field days and other events where members of the platform are exposed to different ways of doing things especially in areas where activities aimed at adding value to the IP value chain activities are conducted and building capacity of all the IP partners. This is crucial especially owing to the fact that IPs are a new way of conducting business and all IP members have something to learn from each other. I asked him, where do we fit in as journalists with special interest in agriculture? This young man turned to me and said with a smile, ‘I will talk to you later; I am going for a meeting.’
In an exclusive discussion with Mr. Alimamy Kargbo, Grant Manager Rural and Private Sector Development Project said the surfacing of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) presents a prospect to address any development predicament. It involves innovative principles and an incorporated research agenda while recognizing the need for greater organizational capacities among stakeholders in agricultural activities. Operationalization of WAAPP revolves around successful establishment and operation of an Agricultural Innovation Platform (AIP). Agricultural Innovation Platforms are being implemented in all the districts with widely differing social, political and environments backup with different actors to address agricultural development challenges. Any brand of workshop held by WAAPP is generally guidelines lessons and experiences pertaining to “good practices” for organizing and forming AIPs in / Sierra Leone. Development of action plans and Implementation of the action plans. Emerging lessons highlight AIPs as grounds and pillars for multi-level, multi-stakeholder interactions to identify, understand and address a complex challenge, affiliated emerging issues and learning towards achieving the agreed vision. Agricultural Innovation Platform formation is a dynamic, highly context specific process that incorporates all essential ingredients for successful innovation at once and provides an opportunity for local innovations to bear while at the same time nourishing on introduced innovations. In AIP formation, the recognition and value of indigenous knowledge and capitalization on prevailing policy, institutional setting and involvement of local leadership is vital. The form, nature and time taken by AIP formation process depends on both the conceptual and local context, quality of facilitation, socio-economic, culture, biophysical, political environment which is a common challenge and/or opportunity .
As a journalist who loves the farm, I am calling on the Government and the World Bank to put in resources for the sample fact an innovation platform (IP) is a forum comprising of stakeholders bound together by their individual interests in a shared issue aimed at improving livelihoods, enterprises and/or other interests. Innovation platforms smooth the progress of dialogue between the main local value chain stakeholders. They provide insight on technology and information challenges in production, marketing and policy environment. This process is spurred through discussions on the requirements of the different value chain segments. The platform will work better if the Donor (World Bank) and Government decide to work hand in hand for the good of the sub-region and Sierra Leone to be specific.
This cannot happen successfully without collaboration of multi-donor or/and multi-institutional stakeholders. Innovation occurs either through several small continuous improvements or as radical changes so therefore, this Project, WAAPP, is of great concern to me.
By Abdul R. Bedor Kamara