Sierra Leone will look to the African Development Bank to stimulate agribusiness development in the country with a focus on rice production, its president Maada Bio told a visiting delegation led by its president Akinwumi Adesina.
Adesina began a two-day visit to Sierra Leone on Wednesday, during which he will hold meetings to discuss curbing malnutrition, creating skills and jobs for young people, rapidly scaling up economic diversification and restoring the country to self-sufficiency in rice production.
“Our government is working hard to recover the economy, which was on the brink of collapse. We want to focus on economic diversification, with agriculture as the main driver,” President Bio observed, in a meeting with the Bank delegation.
“We are serious about developing this country and will appreciate the Bank’s support to realize our dreams. Infrastructure is an enabler for development, so we appreciate what the Bank is doing in Sierra Leone,” Bio said, identifying a productive workforce as a top national priority as well as jumpstarting economic activities in rural areas, where 73.9% of Sierra Leone’s poor live.
Commenting on the country’s capacity to enhance local production, and the export of rice, Sierra Leone’s staple food, Adesina said, “Sierra Leone should not be spending over $200 million yearly importing rice because its climatic conditions are generally favorable for rice production.”
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry data, total rice demand in 2018 was 1.6 million metric tons, against local production of 700,000 metric tons. In July 2019, the Bank approved the $11 million Agribusiness and Rice Value Chain Support Project to stimulate agribusiness development in the country with a focus on rice.
Sierra Leone also sought the Bank’s support for the implementation of its free quality education programme, which aims to enhance human capital development and facilitate economic transformation.
Adesina encouraged the country to explore the Bank’s Africa Investment Forum to elicit investor interest for the proposed Lungi–Freetown bridge. The project will link the capital city, Freetown, to the country’s sole international airport, which is presently accessible by ferry or helicopter.
The Bank also expressed keenness to support the development of critical infrastructure in the West African country and to open up space for greater private sector participation in the economy. Adesina said the Bank would deploy the African Legal Support Facility to help the country better manage its natural resources.
Adesina commended President Bio for his decision to join the African Leaders for Nutrition as a nutrition champion in his country, and for Africa. “Sierra Leone is an important country to the Bank,” We will support you to build a more robust and resilient economy, to transform the lives of your people. That is our role as a bank, putting people at the heart of development.”
“The Bank’s footprint is everywhere in Sierra Leone,” Chief Minister David Francis told Adesina. “The Bank has remained committed to the post-Ebola reconstruction. You have remained a faithful partner, and the country is grateful.”
Sierra Leone was one of the Bank Group’s founding members, and the Bank has financed projects there since 1967, to a cumulative sum of $758 million.