What if we Invest in Digital Technology to Boost Agriculture in Sierra Leone?
Image source: The Conversation
Hey!!! Do you know? “Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people.”
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Welcome handsome and beautiful readers!!!….. A great opportunity to explore the beauties of Greenland awaits you….. It’s high time for you to grasp this insightful opportunity; you won’t regret it.
What is called the Green Land?
Sierra Leone, which one may call the Green Land due to its beautiful forests, mangrove, trees, and mountains, is home to over 8 million people (Worldmeter, 2020), who reside in the different regions: eastern province, southern province, northern province, and western area (where the capital city is located). The three parts (northern, southern, and eastern regions) are made up of 14 districts that include Bo, Kenema, Bombali, Tonkolili, Kambia, and Kionadugu, to name a few (Sierra-leone.org, 2020). The country is located on the west coast of Africa with a total land size of approximately 72, 180-kilometer square (World Bank, 2020), sharing boundaries with Guinea, Liberia, and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. As an agriculture-dependent country, over 65% of the total population work in the agricultural sector (Chenoune et al., 2015), with the remainder in the other sectors. However, FAO (2020) notes that women accounted for 52% of the labor force, whereas men accounted for the rest. The dominant in the sector are small-scale farmers residing in the country’s rural areas where various tubers and cereal crops such as rice, maize, millet, cassava, yam, cocoa, and other related crops are grown seasonally. Amongst these crops, rice and cassava are the two staple foods grown almost in every region for internal consumption, whereas cocoa, coffee, oil palm, and cashew nuts are mostly grown for export to other countries within and outside Africa. In 2001, the agricultural sector generated over $7.5 million by exporting coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, piassava, kola nuts, and ginger (Nations Encyclopedia, 2020). Other crops grown include mango, pineapple, and coconut, which can be found in houses in the country’s rural and urban centers. Furthermore, the growing and harvesting seasons of these crops and that of the cereal crops, as well as the tubers are distinctly different.
Additionally, Sierra Leone crops are often grown in three central regions: north, south, and east, respectively. A report from Nations Encyclopedia (2020) stated that rice and millet are produced from the northeast; palm oil and palm kernels from northeast and southeast; coffee from the eastern and southern regions; cocoa beans from the south of the area. The study further reported that 247 000 tons of rice, 58 000 tons of palm oil and palm kernels when putting together, 11 000 tons of cocoa beans, and 15,000 coffee were produced in 1999. Another report from Idh Sustainable Trade (2020) noted that mangoes are grown in the north; pineapple in the north, south, and east; and coconut in the south region. These crops can also be found in urban centers. However, these crops’ productivity is based on the climate conditions of the areas where they are usually grown. Generally, Sierra Leone has two principal seasons: the rainy season (May to October) and the dry season (November to April). In the rainy season, crops like rice, maize, and millet are grown and ready for harvest in the dry season, whereas the rest of the other crops are grown in the dry season and harvested within the same season. Moreover, in Sierra Leone, farming activities are carried out by adults with an average age of 46.2, who either engage in activities that include crop farming, animal husbandry, or fishing (L.S.Gboku et al., 2015). Although one might be doubting the age demographic of people who farm, the agricultural sector still remains the most crucial sector in Sierra Leone, contributing to about 56% of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Chenoune et al., 2015), compared to other industries that accounted for the remainder.
But what happened next?
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Image source: Slowfood
For several years, the agricultural sector has been the driving force for Sierra Leone’s economy, providing jobs, food, raw materials, and other resources. But still, the industry is declining day by day while its challenges and impact on the population are increasing significantly. After encountering a devastating twelve-year civil war from 1991 – 2002, the country has struggled to fix its GDP (M’cleod and Ganson, 2018) and revive the agriculture sector. During the civil war, agricultural production in the country significantly decreased. About 18,000 farmers living in areas where the war vastly affected lost various farm materials and resources: seeds, tools, storage facilities for production, fertilizers, and other related resources (FAO, 1997). The drawbacks include farmlands and infrastructure and rural service centers’ destruction, labor shortage, and the displacement of thousands of farm households (Asangna, 2017). Moreover, the 2014 Ebola outbreak shook the economy (decrease GDP from 21% in 2013 to 4.6% in 2014); after 4,000 lives were destroyed by the virus (Country Economy, 2020; WFP, 2020). However, these have further disrupted the transporting of farm produce to different parts of the country, leading to hunger, unemployment, and poverty in various regions.
Despite the war’s and Ebola’s effects, another factor was found as a significant contributor to the decline in the agricultural sector. One might wonder what caused the shortfall and its impacts on the industry; it is nothing other than climate change. Climate change involves “a difference in the average conditions—such as temperature and rainfall—in a region over a long time” (NASA Climate Kids, 2020). However, climate change has significantly contributed to the low agricultural production and productivity of farm households in Sierra Leone. While the industry is experiencing such a challenge, one might still be wondering who is to blame. Well, the answer should lie in the hands of Sierra Leoneans. With the continuous increase in population growth and migration to urban centers, carbon emission has become a leading factor in climate change. According to Irishaid (2016), many of the people living in the urban center demanded biogas for energy and performed activities that increase air and water pollution and carbon emissions in the country. The report further noted that people living in rural areas engage in deforestation, charcoal burning, and other related activities that have led to soil erosions, landslides, and possibly land degradation. Furthermore, WFP (2020) reported that Sierra Leone was ranked in the 4th position of most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change in a 2017 report from the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI). The same CCVI 2017 report, which assessed countries’ low standard of living, food manufacturing, migration, and social security, classified Sierra Leone as overly exposed to these factors (WFP, 2020).
While the trend continues, the World Population Review (2020) has ranked Sierra Leone in the 10th position of the poorest African countries in 2020, with Lesotho, Burundi, Liberia, which took the 7th, 8th, and 9th positions. The country’s problems are increasing; unemployment is shooting up, investments are fading, governmental policies on farming are non-satisfactory, poverty and hunger are escalating. With $1.25 per day being the nation’s poverty line, about 53% of the population live below this figure – about 63.7% live an unhealthy life due to a lack of access to healthy and sufficient food (WFP, 2020). However, in 2015, the rate of hunger significantly increases in the various regions of the country. According to L.S.Gboku et al., (2015), about 16.7% of households in the northern part of the country were severely food insecure; 13% in the southern region moderately food insecure; 47.3% in the eastern region severely food insecure; 26.8% in western rural areas relatively food insecure; and 88.9% in west urban areas severely food insecure. Also, the number of children suffering from impaired growth, which can possibly affect their overall health, has increased to 40% in recent years (Partners in Health, 2019). Thus, these figures have shown that if no course of action is taken by the government of Sierra Leone and other stakeholders, the possibilities of people suffering from hunger would be massive in the coming years.
What is next for farmers in Sierra Leone?
“The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life.”
In recent years, digital technologies have been the driver for productivity and efficient practices in various sectors (education, healthcare, governance, and finance), including the farming sector, which has fostered market access and information for farmers, increase food production, as well as providing jobs for technology-oriented people. Most importantly, the effective use of digital technology in agriculture can also play a crucial role in increasing farmers’ financial performance and supporting farmers to meet larger populations’ immediate demands (Accenture, 2017). Such technologies like farm management software, remote monitoring and drones, and smart food monitoring solution are amongst other advanced technologies that have driven significant impact in the agricultural sectors. According to Saiz-Rubio and Rovira-Más (2020), the use of advanced technologies in farming has significant advantages: saves money and work, improves production, reduces costs with little or less effort, and produces quality food with more environmentally friendly practices. They mentioned that farmers with large farms without advanced monitoring farm systems sometimes experience loss, as most times they do not have sufficient time to monitor all of their crops (Saiz-Rubio & Rovira-Más, 2020). This would mean that farmers who have invested in modern technology benefit from their farming practices more than those who are still using traditional farming methods. This would also mean conventional farmers should make possible moves to embrace advanced technology.
But what should be done?
For agriculture to re-boom in Sierra Leone, the government of Sierra Leone, together with potential investors, partners, and other agricultural stakeholders, should start thinking of massive investments in digital technology. They can start by conducting detailed research on countries that have initiated digital farming systems and successfully reaped their benefits. Countries like the United States, India, China, Brazil, and Australia with the most arable land (Beef2live, 2020), are great examples of countries that have applied digital technology in farming. They should also establish progressive policies that will cater to farmers and people with desires to embark on agriculture. Prospect policies will influence the provision of high-level farm-based education and training, financial support, essential information, and consumers’ demands for primary food (Saiz-Rubio & Rovira-Más, 2020). Conversely, initiating these methods will promote sustainable agriculture: higher yields, generation of farm profits, food security, and better and environmentally friendly farming practices among farmers in Sierra Leone.
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