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The Minister of Trade and Industry answers our questions on institutional feeding

Following up on last month’s update on institutional feeding, Capt. Momodu Allieu Pat-Sowe, Minister of Trade and Industry, explains exactly why it plays an important role in improving SMSE access to markets.

Institutional feeding refers to the provision of food items to public institutions such as the police, the military, and correctional services, paid for from the Ministry of Finance’s Consolidated Fund. In the context of the President’s Recovery Priorities, The Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI) is working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) to add value to Sierra Leone’s farm products and find new markets for them, notably by increasing the quantity of locally sourced rice in institutional feeding contracts.

Q. Why is the President’s Recovery Priorities process focusing on institutional feeding?

Rice is our most important crop. However, we are dependent on importation. Over $100m of rice is imported annually, which represents a substantial part of national consumption. At the same time, the Government of Sierra Leone spends close to $10m every year to feed these public institutions with imported rice. The institutional feeding sub-initiative is therefore critical for reducing the proportion of imported rice, thus also reducing the Government’s use of foreign currency against the backdrop of austerity measures. This is also in line with our Local Content Act of 2015, which stipulates that “for the supply of food products to public institutions, first consideration shall be given to locally produced food.”

Q. How important is this initiative to growing the market for local rice?

Although rice farming brings livelihoods to about 3.5 million farmers, the small number of commercial enterprises combined with mixed cropping practices by smallholders contributes to low rice yields. Developing our local rice market is therefore critical for transforming our agriculture sector, creating jobs, and growing our economy. In particular, supporting entrepreneurs to develop “at-scale” operations is the key to unlocking the potential of rice, and Government plays a key role in improving the business environment for commercial producers. Most of these commercial producers have extensive out-grower schemes supporting thousands of farmers. In addition to improving their livelihoods, they are also critical for the effective distribution of quality inputs and transferring know-how, which contributes directly to increasing the competitiveness of our local rice. Rice accounts for 40% of total calories, and is essential to the Sierra Leonean diet. Growing our domestic rice market is therefore also critical to improving the food security and nutrition of our local communities.

Q. What percentage of local rice would MTI like to see in institutional feeding contracts?

In the first year, 10% local sourcing is being considered for targeted institutions, this will gradually increase based on the success of this pilot and increased customer demand. For example, the Sierra Leone Police requires 12,800 bags of 50kg per month to feed their officers, which represents 1,280 bags of local rice. We are confident that local companies can meet the specifications of our institutions. There is no doubt in my mind that, in Sierra Leone today, it is possible to buy local rice with the same standards as imported rice, and it is even better tasting and more nutritious.

Q. What is the Ministry of Trade and Industry doing to facilitate this?

Although anchored in the Ministry of Trade, this initiative requires the highest level of coordination and leadership across Government. The Minister of Agriculture and I meet regularly to discuss institutional feeding and how we can support our local private sector. We have conducted detailed assessments of the production and milling capacities of major local players. They welcome this opportunity and are committed to providing rice under the institutional feeding scheme. My team in MTI has also met with the procurement units of all targeted institutions to understand their quality and quantity specifications for local sourcing; there is general buy-in from these institutions but procurement processes are complex and require careful review. The process is now well underway and we are confident that delivery will start in January for some of these institutions. Our facilitation role also includes engaging with the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Sierra Leone to discuss financing and guarantee mechanisms; our local private sector has a bottom line and we need to respect that for this initiative to be sustainable.

With harvest season upon us, the time to take responsibility and act accordingly is now! The institutional feeding initiative represents a unique opportunity to achieve impact during this recovery period, and to initiate a longer-term economic transformation that is vital to achieving our Agenda for Prosperity.

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