“BOAT RIDERS” TRANSFORMING AGRICULTURE OR “THE BOAT RIDERS”

As you descend the staircase of the plane that brings you to Lungi airport, the hot tropical breeze welcomes you with open arms. Lungi isSierra Leone’s only airport for domestic and international travel.

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Lungi is a small strip of land about 10 kms from Freetown, the beautiful capital city of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone, which means “Lion Mountains”, is described as the land of roaring lions on the mountains. As if programmed for you to experience triune form of air, road and sea transportation, passengers are herded into to a sea port for an almost non-optional bumpy boat ride to the coastal town of Freetown. Even the hydrophobic ones among the passengers, mostly WAAPP participants, had no choice if they were to attend the meeting scheduled to take place across the other side of the menacing sea. This reminds one of the Israelites and the red sea story. The youthfully exuberant boat captains did not help matters with their racing-like high speed. Some passengers were seen mumbling their last prayers and abandoning their fate despite being kitted with life jackets. A seemingly courageous passenger managed to mumble, “I will report these boys to the authorities.” This passenger was oblivious of the fact that on the boat ride ticket is boldly written, “The Water is our Playground.”

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But the participants managed to reach Freetown after 35 minutes of hearing nothing and seeing nothing due to fear of the unknown. Stepping off the boat was a big relief for the frightened passengers who later discovered that they were all in Freetown for the same purpose – West Africa Agriculture Productivity Programme (WAAPP) wrap up meeting. A passenger later confessed, “My heart was in my mouth throughout the journey. Ah! These boys can cause high blood pressure.”

At the opening ceremony of the meeting at Bintumani Hotel, the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who graced the occasion joking asked participants, “I hope you enjoyed the boat ride from Lungi to Freetown.” Of course, it was a mixed reaction from participants who had come from 13 countries of West Africa. Participants laughed it off while mumbling to themselves. Apparently the fear of the boat ride had been diminished by the joy of the presence of President Koroma at the wrap up meeting. This is the first time a sitting President is attending such meetings.

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It is not a surprise that WAAPP attracted the presence and support of President Koroma, a farmer himself. The WAAPP which started in 2007 with Ghana, Senegal and Mali has attracted much attention and impact on farmers and agricultural scientist across the region. Since then ten other West Africa countries, namely Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Code d’ Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger, Gambia, Togo and Guinea, have come on board bringing the total to 13 participating countries.

The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP), which won the 2013 World Bank Africa Vice President Award for Excellence is a regional drive to generate, accelerate, disseminate and adopt improved technologies for increase agricultural productivity especially in the top agricultural priority areas identified in the regional agricultural policy. Several agricultural scientists are being trained at doctoral and Master’s degree levels across the region under WAAPP sponsorship. Farmers now have free movements and exchange programs. WAAPP has become a powerful tool that is contributing to regional integration and has really taken regional integration from words to action within the West African country despite language differences. The varied languages are no more barriers for technology dissemination across the West African Region.

At the opening ceremony, President Koroma expressed total support for the project adding that Sierra Leone will fully participate in the regional programme which has great potentials for transforming the agricultural sector.

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“Agriculture is the mainstay of economic development in Sierra Leone and it impacts nearly all other sectors. It is the source of livelihood for the majority of our people and holds the greatest promise for positively transforming the lives of our citizens,” Said President Koroma.

President Koroma then advised participants that, “for the agricultural sector to improve its contribution to the overall goal of national economic growth, wealth creation, food security and poverty alleviation, the sector must be transformed from a subsistent to a commercial venture.”

He commended the donors for the initiative and the opportunities afforded Africa.

“The World Bank and ECOWAS, through the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP), are providing huge opportunities for enhancing our capacities for improving the productivity and profitability of different value chains. We will seize this opportunity, we will enhance agricultural productivity and together we will bring home the fruits of the Agricultural transformation of Africa,” President said.

Other speakers at the occasion were the Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) of Sierra Leone, the Executive Director of CORAF/WECARD, the Representative of the World Bank and the ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of Agriculture and Water Resource.

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An elated Regional Task Team Leader, Abdoulaye Toure expressed appreciation to President Koroma for his presence at the opening ceremony of the WAAP meeting. “This shows great political support at the highest level for the regional programme,” He enthused.

President Koroma and his entourage took time to inspect some of the farm products at the mini

exhibition show by the 13 participating countries.

WAAPP which has three main components - Enabling Condition for Regional Cooperation in improved Technology Generation and Dissemination; National Center of Specialization (NCOs) and Funding of Demand-Driven Technology Generation, Dissemination and Adoption has, no doubt, recorded appreciable and visible innovations since commencement in 2007. For instance, in Senegal, there is enrichment of bread and pastries with local cereals and consumption of bread mostly in the form of baguettes is as now widespread as the traditional dish called thiéboudiène.

The programme has helped to foster greater collaboration between research institutes in the region through mutual support and sharing of knowledge and expertise, as well as innovations, among research centers.

As a regional project, WAAPP has developed a broad network of partnerships within and across countries. It has also helped foster collaboration between institutions within national agricultural research systems as well as between these systems across countries and internationally institutions. Partnership with agro-industries and the private sector for the scaling up and commercialization of innovations has also been one of the operating features of WAAPP.

The World Bank assisted $500 million programme works to rebuild the crumbling West African agricultural Research and Development system, thereby providing opportunities to generate and disseminate innovations to revert the long term declining productivity and the weakening resilience and competitiveness of the agricultural production systems across West Africa.

Apart for the innovations, WAAPP has also recorded appreciable results in moving cassava from food staple to industrial crop in Ghana. WAAPP made it possible to develop high-yielding cassava varieties that are suitable for both human consumption and industrial uses. Under WAAPP, through the Ghanaian Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) a series of technologies were developed that allow cassava to become an industrial crop with many different uses such as starch, composite flour for bread-making, ethanol and others

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Further innovations in ICT have been witnessed, through the use of e-Extension in Ghana and SMS-subsidy in Senegal.Ghana’s has been able to overcome the challenge of shortage of agricultural extension agents through the use of ICT. Ghana’s Directorate of Extension Service was assisted by WAAPP to set-up a voice-based SMART phone platform that allows a two-way communication between the extension/advisory service and farmers and other rural stakeholders for advisory services. Against a fee of 1$ per week, farmers or any user would be able to obtain and exchange information on marketing and prices as well as production practices. This voice-based system is being rapidly multiplied in West Africa with WAAPP support.

In addition, partnership with agro-industries and the private sector for the scaling up and commercialization of innovations has also been one of the operating features of WAAPP.

A vocal Farmer from Senegal who attended the wrap up meeting, Mamadou Cissokho, described the objective of WAAPP as good but noted that dissemination of technology and seeds were not enough to enhance agriculture in Africa. According to him, these need to be backed by Government policies on credits and linkage of research centers with farmers.

According to Mamadou Cissokho, who is the Honorary President of the West African Farmers Network (ROPA), partnership with farmers associations in the dissemination of farm information will ensure success of the project.

“There is need for WAAPP, CORAF/WECARD, World Bank and other sponsor organizations to institutionalize linkage and partnership with ROPA to disseminate all information on the technology and other agricultural research related information to the farmers as well as organize the joint monitoring of the impact of the results of the new technologies. This will create participation, ownership and sustainability of the mutual partnership.”

With the positive reports of visible results and impact being achieved by WAAPP in the 13 participating West African countries, the over 200 participants made up of World Bank, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), CORAF/West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD) staff, Staff of WAAPP Coordinating Offices, Government officials, Press, Donor Agencies, Research institutions and farmers put behind them the terrifying boat ride experience. They were emboldened and determined to joyfully make another boat ride to Lungi airport enroute their various countries, for greater WAAPP results, despite the menacing waves and tides of the Atlantic Ocean.

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”Now it does not matter anymore if we are called ‘The Boat Riders’ as long as we go back to our countries to transform the face of agriculture in West Africa,” Said Professor Damian Chikwendu, National Project Coordinator, WAAPP, Nigeria, who was a participant.

The wrap up of the implementation support missions was held in Freetown, Sierra Leone from April 22-26, 2013.Next meeting of WAAPPP is expected to be held in Banjul, Gambia.

Obadiah Tohomdet, Senior Communications Specialist, Nigeria and Sheriff Ismail, Communications Officer, Sierra Leone.

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CF/No. 001056;
CBR/12 No. 002767 of 19.11.2014;
TIN - 1061168-0