The Export Development Department at the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) has on 25th August, 2020, ended an Export development engagement with selected agribusinesses in the South and Eastern provinces of Sierra Leone.
When explaining the mandate of SLIEPA, the Acting Director of Export Development Department, Mr. Bobson Margai, said, the purpose of SLIEPA as a Trade Promotion Organization is to encourage, promote and facilitate trade within and outside the Country.
He said that, export development and promotion is a priority for SLIEPA under the leadership of the substantive CEO, Mr. Sheku Lexmond Koroma and the New Direction Government, as it is not only necessary for economic growth and employment, but also to improve social services in both rural and urban communities. This, he said, serves the reason for reaching out to agribusinesses to understand their status looking at production, marketing and the impact of COVID-19 on their activities; in order to see how SLIEPA will intervene where possible but through technical supports.
According to him, the President Bio led Government is keen on promoting local content to make sure that we grow what we eat and eat what we grow so as to reducing the importation of goods and services. In this regard, he advised agribusinesses to look at value addition, branding and packaging, standardization, certification and increasing production volumes as a prerequisite to increase domestic sales, have their products placed on the shelves of local supermarkets and also penetrate the international market.
In addition, Mr. Jackson Kamara, Export Development Officer at SLIEPA, reiterated that SLIEPA does not provide direct financial support to businesses, but it does not only make recommendations for financial and technical support from line Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), but also create business-to-business linkages to expand their market. He advised them to obtain the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) Certificate to let them export in the West African Sub-Region on duty free.
In a discussion, Mr. Mohamed Banya, proprietor of Clean Africa for Agricultural Development Program in Kailahuh, Luawa Chiefdom, said they provide value chain to palm Kernel which he called the long forgotten cash crop of Sierra Leone. He said that, he started production in 2010 in Guinea where he studied mechanical engineering through a United Nation Scholarship; saying that, they get five products from the palm kernel: palm kernel edible oil, palm kernel saponification, animal feed, organic fertilizer, and body and hair lotions with the intention to produce bio oil. `
He confirmed that the Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project (SCADeP) is constructing a modern building with improved machines for their operations and went on to crave on working with SLIEPA as a team being that he has the idea and expertise to improve on the production that will attract bigger markets.
On another note, the Manager of industrial Growth Centre in Bo City, Mrs. Kadiatu Phebie, said that the Centre was established by UNIDO in 1989 but reopened in 1998 to capacitate young people in basic skills. She noted that they empower rural people in skills ranging from entrepreneurship to trades such as computer training, catering, hairdressing, carving, weaving, business management, masonry, carpentry, metalwork and tailoring. She said they want to target the international market with their products as they have the skills from trainings along the export value chain done by SLIEPA, but they do not have the financial support to do the needful that will expand on production. Apart from the finical support, she mentioned COVID-19, electricity and mobility as serious challenges slowing their progress.
In addition, SLIEPA also met Agro Fish Farm that started in 2007 with 1,500 fish of about 1.2 gram above water. They presently have three ponds containing Nile Tilapia and Cate Fish at Towama in Bo City. The Farm Supervisor, Mr. Jonathan Evans, said that, they have an expansion plan targeting twenty fishponds in five years. Having explained about their last harvest, which amounted to over 3,000 fish, he said that, marketing is a big challenge because people are used to buying from the conventional markets instead of from fish farms. He expressed a sad experience where they buried over 4,000 fish from their first harvest because they could not get market; though he said the, maggots were dried and used as feeds for the fish.