At a recent conference that attracted sorghum farmers and other stakeholders, the Chairman of Sorghum Farmers and Marketers Association, Denis Jusu who doubles as Executive Director for Community Development, told a well-attended conference that they need to intensify production of sorghum because the demand for the product by Sierra Leone Brewery has grown, making sorghum no longer the insignificant crop it used to be.
He used the opportunity to impress on his colleague farmers not to relent in expanding and planting more sorghum because unlike growers of other products that have to look for a market to sell their products, “with sorghum, there is already a market waiting to grab it,” Mr. Jusu told participants.
On the issue of the recent taxation levied on imported alcoholic beverages, Mr. Jusu said they were not against it but that they would have preferred a gradual reduction instead of the sudden drop from $4 per liter to $1.5. He added that it would be prudent on the part of the government to seriously reconsider, taking into consideration the fact that it was because a boost in sorghum production was in clear sight is the reason why the SLBL recently spent billions of Leones installing state-of-the-art brewing machines to match the expected high demand for sorghum purchased by the Brewery thus improving the lives of the farmers and tens of thousands of their dependants. He added that the implication of the reduced tariff on alcoholic drinks puts local sorghum farmers and the Brewery at disadvantage and that it is demotivating to farmers.
“We are talking about a win-win situation where we too can have a fair share of the market, in a way we would be given more platforms for the local industries or the local content policy to be effective and beneficial,” he said.
A representative from the Sierra Leone Brewery Limited (SLBL) and project implementing institution, European Corporative for Rural Development (ECORD) said with support from Heineken in collaboration with the Danish government they initiated projects with sorghum farmers across in Sierra Leone that would enable them undertake bigger sorghum farms which is the primary raw material used in the production of beverages.
She added that this intervention has yielded fruit only that there is more room for improvement. She added that the objective of this project is to improve the value chain of sorghum and improve the income of farmers.
She lamented however that there is still room for improvement because the current yield of sorghum in the country is far below the amount required by the Brewery. She added that for this reason they engage sorghum farmers every year to discuss price and other essentials so that the yield would improve and more money would come to their pockets. She said they also connect sorghum farmers to banks so they could get loans and access to other banking facilities.
She maintained that they have similar projects in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nigeria where they are conducting research on sorghum varieties. She added that apart from creating financial platforms for the farmers, they have also trained up to 499 farm leaders on how to manage their business and how to keep financial records among other deals.
Mr. Diego Barreiro, Development Advisor attached to SLeCAD also made a brief presentation. He spoke about GIZ intervention to particularly farmers with focus on providing capacity training for women, youth and disabled people to become self-reliant.
At the end of the one-day conference, it was agreed that no effort would be spared under the New Direction to ensure that sorghum farmers do not suffer as a result of bad policies. It was agreed that the group and other interested partners should now embark on aggressive sensitization of the benefits of sorghum and the need for the government to be seen taking the lead in this lucrative occupation.
The group called on President Bio to lead the direction towards better deals for sorghum farmers in Sierra leone taking into consideration the fact that with the intervention of the SLBL and Heineken the cultivation of sorghum alongside rice has the potential of booming the economy with the right encouragement and input by all stakeholders.
The climax of the conference was the address by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Mr. Joseph N’danema. He reiterated the government’s commitment to taking agriculture and particularly cultivation of sorghum a priority because it is responsible for the welfare and improved livelihood of sorghum farmers across the country, adding that before now sorgum was not considered a crop of value. He called on the participants to come forward with recommendations and suggestions that would help mistigate the problems facing soghum farmers and promised that he would promptly respond to see what can be done to make the situation a win-win situation for everyone.