In terms of agricultural development, Sierra Leone should not limit itself merely to products, but also think about agricultural services for which the country could develop a competitive advantage. The services sector makes a direct and significant contribution to GDP and job creation, and provides crucial inputs for the rest of the economy, thus having a significant effect on the overall investment climate in the country, which is an essential determinant of growth and development. The share of services in Sierra Leone’s GDP increased from 18.2% in 1995 to 25.1% in 2003.45 During the period 2005-2007, the services sector contributed a constant average of 40% of GDP.46 The sector accounts for 5-15% of total employment. Agricultural services such as research or extension services not only play a role in domestic production, but can be traded. In this way, export of agricultural services can help Sierra Leone to expand its productivity outputs in agriculture where it has a comparative advantage, thereby creating jobs, contributing more to GDP and generating foreign exchange. Agricultural services exports could thereby become an important part of the country’s growth strategy.
The labour force is an important productive resource for Sierra Leone, and a key challenge in the agricultural sector is to ensure that the labour force is more fully and productively employed. Most workers in agriculture have to earn their living using their raw labour with rudimentary tools and equipment, little education and training, and poor infrastructure. Labour productivity in agriculture is low and there is widespread under-employment. Creating productive employment opportunities for the expanding labour force is not only a major economic and social problem; it is also a major economic opportunity. If the latent energies and enterprise of under-utilised labour are harnessed, it should be possible not only to reduce poverty but to accelerate economic growth.
The role of technical colleges, universities and other higher learning institutions are critical in this respect. Their curricula should be aligned as closely as possible with the main promising commodities in agricultural production and agro-industry. There is also a role for private companies in the development of skill sets and knowledge networks; universities and research institutes should form partnerships with private companies to deliver the skills required in the work force. Moreover policy initiatives are required in order to translate individual capabilities into organisational capabilities so that human resources available in the agricultural sector can be harnessed appropriately.
In the absence of large-scale private enterprise, or groups of small holders, rural agriculture has attracted a number of interventions from a variety of players, including the GoSL, local and international NGOs working with local farmers and small holders, mainly on subsistence levels. However, in the commercialisation of agriculture there is no substitute for private companies and it is imperative to explore the role of other players in this respect.
The former Sierra Leone Export Development and Investment Corporation (SLEDIC) has been restructured and formed into a new institution called the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA). The functions of SLIEPA are (a) to encourage and promote the development of agricultural production and other activities oriented towards export; (b) to encourage the diversification of export goods; (c) to encourage and promote investment opportunities in all sectors of Sierra Leone’s economy; and (d) to facilitate the export oriented operations of small scale producers and manufacturers. SLIEPA is also responsible for implementing the provisions of the Investment Promotion Act 2004; therefore it has a crucial role to play in the efforts to place agriculture in Sierra Leone on a more commercial footing.
For instance, in export development, SLIEPA could assist agricultural companies with market entry and penetration where there is already market access, e.g. EBA (EU) and AGOA (US); identification of new markets for existing products, e.g. China, South Africa, Brazil; and the development of new products for both traditional and new export markets. SLIEPA’s list of priority sectors for investment in Sierra Leone include agriculture – both cultivation and agro-processing which includes food and beverages, cocoa and coffee, fruit canning, commercial cotton, fertiliser production and processing of edible oils, such as palm oil.47 In this regard, SLIEPA should work closely with MAFFS and the MTI to develop investment and export development packages in agriculture that would be attractive to domestic and foreign investors in the short and medium term.
Farmer based organisations
The need for farmer groups, as business units, co-operatives, or similar structures, as the only way to consolidate volume and work to improve quality of products is now acknowledged. Usually, farmers or other individuals who share common interests organise themselves into organisations; they are known as Community or Farmer Based Organisations (CBOs/FBOs). They represent the interests of their members and are usually accountable to them. Most of their activities are rural-based and they cooperate with the GoSL or MAFFS to stimulate rural employment, raise incomes and improve living standards. To date, these groupings have taken two forms – informal and formal.