NewsWest AfricaSierra Leone squeezing to get more juice

Thu,23Nov2017

Posted on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 14:38

Sierra Leone squeezing to get more juice

By Gemma Ware in Newton

Mangoes at the Africa Felix Juice factory/Photo©Gemma WareThe country is making its first steps into processing its abundant produce, but young farmers still need more training to move up the value chain.

When the first containers of mango concentrate from Africa Felix Juice (AFJ) arrived in Rotterdam, customs officials sent the documents straight to the fraud office.

They had never seen manufactured exports from Sierra Leone before.

Set up by Italian businessman Claudio Scotto, the juice factory opened in 2011 at the First Step Economic Opportunity Zone, near Newton, 30km east of Free- town.

First Step is a free-trade zone that is backed by United States-based World Hope International. AFJ has exported 800tn of concentrate to Europe, Turkey and Ghana.

Using a network of extension agents to source its product, AFJ has had a difficult start because farmers prefer to sell fruit in local markets and get higher prices than the global average.

"It's still an uphill struggle," Scotto says.

Sierra Leone has huge potential, although very little of what is produced is processed before making it to market.

Agriculture is the largest contributor to gross domestic product, though its share fell from 55.6 percent in 2011 to 53.9 percent in 2012 as revenue grew from the mining sector.

Production of key crops is rising: rice and oil palm production increased threefold between 2001 and 2011, and cassava increased eightfold (see graph).

Yields per hectare are also gradually rising for other export-driven crops such as coffee and cocoa.

The government's Smallholder Commercialisation Programme has set up more than 500 agribusiness centres (ABCs) across the country to provide equipment to farmers.

There has been little in the way of training and many farming communities do not have the capacity to use the machines.

"It's not attractive to be a farmer," says Francis Foray Koroma, the chairperson of the youth council in Koinadugu District in northern Sierra Leone.

He says there is a lack of support for young people to engage in mechanised farming, such as tractors, improved seeds and chemicals. "We need technical training," he says.

In a 500-acre site down the road from the juice factory, the Sierra Leone Agri-Business Initiative (SABI) is working to plug some of the skills gaps.

A large warehouse houses the machinery found in the ABCs, including a cassava grating machine and a rice destoner.

The site also houses a chicken coop and piggery.

"We are training trainers for the ABCs," says Francis Kuyembeh, processing co-ordinator at SABI, which is modelled on a similar centre in Benin and has support from the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the government.

Groups of young farmers also come to work on the land, which is farmed organically, to learn to use the machinery.

Foreign farms cause tension

In the meantime, a series of large-scale foreign investments should soon bear fruit.

The most high-profile is the Addax sugar-to-ethanol project near Makeni, while Goldtree, founded by Mauritius-based investment fund Pan-African Agribusiness, is gearing up for production at its palm-oil plantation in the eastern district of Kailahun.

In January 2012, the China Hainan Rubber Industry Group announced a $1.2bn investment in rubber and rice plantations, though there has been little sign of progress.

Tension is mounting over these investments, as land tenure is controlled by paramount chiefs.

Claims of inadequate compensation and corruption surrounding a 6,500ha palm-oil plantation in Pujehun District, managed by Luxembourg-registered SOCFIN Agricultural Company, led to a defamation suit against civil society group Green Scenery in early June.

Joseph Rahall from Green Scenery says SOCFIN has not revealed its claims in the case, a strategy, he says "is calculated as a subtle threat to censor critical voices in a democratic system". ●
Gemma Ware in Newton



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