SLARI Launches Post-Harvest Handling, Marketing Project
Freetown, Sep 27, 2011 (Menafn - Concord Times/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --The Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) has officially launched a five-year project for post-harvest handling, marketing and the development of new rice based products at the Santano House in Freetown.
Addressing stakeholders at the occasion on Monday, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay said the food is important in any country. "This is why my ministry is working hard to make sure the country has enough food," he said, adding that the project's ultimate outcome is to increase food security and sustainable livelihoods.
The project will introduce improved harvest and post harvest rice processing practices and technologies, promote the development and adoption of new rice-based products as well as provide the needed technical advice and policy guidance support to the regional economic communities.
Dr. Sesay reiterated the socio-economic and political importance of rice in Sierra Leone and Africa as a whole, noting that the project was timely and in line with the main stream agricultural programme in the country known as the "Smallholder Commercialization Programme". He expressed the fervent hope that the project will have a positive impact on those in the rice value chain including producers, processors, marketers, input providers, extension personnel, researchers and policy makers.
He explained that "there is a dire and urgent need for our agricultural research system to develop improved systems of harvesting, processing and storage of products". Such innovations, he said, will not only drastically eliminate the massive post harvest losses of local farmers but will lead to far better value of the country's locally produced rice thus maximizing the income earning capacity of farmers.
Dr. Sesay also explained the merits of developing rice-based products including the identification and development of slow digesting rice varieties. Given the ugly situation of the increasing incidence of obesity and accompanying diabetes, he said the development of slow digesting rice varieties could be of considerable benefit to those that are suffering from diabetes. "Some African rice varieties are known to be slow digesting and therefore the need to screen and develop our slow digesting rice varieties," he said.
He pointed at complacency and dependency as common factors responsible for the failure of many projects in Africa and therefore implored officers of the project to rise up to the challenge and help the country to minimize dependency on other nations, especially for the country's staple food rice. He said Sierra Leone and the sub-region are at cross roads and referred to the current famine in the Horn of Africa as a reminder to fight the problem of food shortage and poverty. He therefore appealed to the officers in charge of the project to genuinely encourage the involvement and participation of other stakeholders so that the project is owned and hence its success and sustainability.
SLARI Director General Dr. Alfred Dixon explained the mandates of his institution, saying the Rokupr Agricultural Research Centre (RARC) of SLARI has made significant headways into the research of rice and has made many of such improved varieties, management practices to local farmers. Post harvest practices of farmers, he added, is a serious constraint and challenge significantly cutting down on what farmers expect from their rice farming.
He expressed the hope that the drawback would be handled with the full implementation of the Rice Value Chain Project. He urged the various stakeholders to take full advantage of the opportunity by doing their best so as to make the project a huge success.
The National Coordinator of the project Dr. Sydney Johnson made a presentation on the outcomes of the project as well as the implementation plan, saying among others that there will be increased access to improved harvest.
The Interim Project Coordinator Olupomi Ajayi gave an overview of the project including its background. He disclosed that discussions of the initiative started in 2003 between McGill University and Africa Rice resulting to collaboration between the two organizations.
Dr. Sahr Marvin Bockarie-Gevao, senior lecturer and Head of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Njala University in his presentation said that although post harvest practice is not a novelty in Sierra Leone, the practices are inefficient accounting for up to 25% losses in agricultural production.
"The losses could otherwise substantially increase food production in the country without an increase in the acreages cultivated," he said.
Copyright Concord Times. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).