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Agro-Processing Competitiveness project…Over Le14bn dished out to SMEs

By Ibrahim Tarawallie

The government through the Ministry of Trade and Industry has commenced the disbursement of fourteen billion, three hundred and seventy-four million, five hundred thousand leones (Le 14, 374, 500,000) grant to twenty-five (25) Small and Medium Enterprises.

The support by government under the World Bank funded Sierra Leone Agro Processing Competitiveness project, will ensure improvement on processing, packaging, as well as expansion on production by SMEs.

The Sierra Leone Agro Processing Competitiveness project was launched in April 2019 with the aim of providing support for SMEs to sustain and expand on their businesses.

According to the Project Coordinator, Dr. Martin Gbonda, a total of 150 SMEs will be trained during the five year life span of the project but disclosed that only 60 will be qualify for grant support.

He was speaking on Friday September 18, 2020 during a symbolic grant disbursement ceremony hosted at Eden Park Resort, along peninsula Road.

He described the agro industry as the fastest growing sector of the Sierra Leone’s economy, contributing more than half of the country’s GDP and accounting for the major share of the labour market.

He noted that the project poses a great moment to embark on export promotion and expand the borders of production front yard.

“This is a moment to include and milk our economy through incentives that can lead our agro processors to the level that they can maximize all the diversification of their products. It is also to expand SMEs businesses and increase profitability and investment funds that have to facilitate trade in the economy,” he said.

As they anticipate a mid-term review of the project, Dr. Gbonda noted that they are proud of their TA facility successes and the gains made in building the capacity of agency partners.

He assured of their determination to continue working with the sister Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in harmonizing efforts to see to it that the country’s fresh fruits and vegetables hit the European Union market every morning.

Deputy Finance Minister one, Dr. Patricia Lavalie said: “I must first tell you that this is one of the best projects we have in the World Bank’s portfolio. Agriculture accounts for about 60% of GDP. The jobs that will get created, the foreign exchange impact and consumption effect will be beneficial to the economy.”

She stated that the initiative resonated with cluster 2 and 3 of the National Development Plan, which speaks to manufacturing, services, industrial development and the creation of Special Economic Zone.

She added that the clusters also addressed enabling the business environment to mobilize funding for critical social programs across the country and according to her, the prosperity impact, job creation and food security aspect of the project cannot be underestimated.

“It is only when businesses of SMEs are made more sustainable that the agricultural value chain that we are trying to strengthen so as to improve tools, increase export that we will get closer to attaining the middle income status,” Dr. Lavalie noted.

Delivering the keynote address, Trade Minister, Dr. Edward Hinga Sandy, stated that the support to SMEs is part of government’s commitment towards improving and increasing the quality and standards of local products.

“Our aim as a ministry is to ensure that our local products find their way into the international market to compete with foreign products. We have been working very hard to make sure that we create opportunities for our own local people,” he said.

He recognized that the work of the World Bank in collaborating with the government of Sierra Leone to craft a very strong project which seeks to improve the business environment.

On behalf of the beneficiaries, Chief Executive Officer of Jamjay Agricultural Company said: “Our dreams have been fulfilled today. We have always been thinking of improving and expanding on our businesses.”

He noted that the grant support can help them purchase the necessary equipment, increase on production and packaging so as to attract the international market and to also compete with foreign products.

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