Advancing Sierra Leone’s agricultural trade through inclusive dialogue

25 May 2023
ITC News

The International Trade Centre brought government and private sector institutions around the table for trade competitiveness in Sierra Leone, emphasizing the importance of public-private dialogues as an inclusive approach.

Sierra Leone's economy relies heavily on agriculture, contributing 57.4% to the country’s GDP and employing 54% of the working population. However, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the agricultural sector face significant challenges in producing competitive products while complying with regulations.

Recognizing the need to support market competitiveness and foster a business-friendly environment, the International Trade Centre (ITC) organized three public-private dialogues in Freetown in February and March 2023, in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

These events brought together representatives from government institutions, trade support organizations, and MSMEs, acting as a bridge between the public and private sectors and facilitating inclusive dialogue. They served as a platform for key stakeholders to share information, identify challenges, and collaboratively work towards solutions. The topics were informed by policy position papers developed by ITC based on consultations with stakeholders between 2021 and 2022.

  1. Addressing trade policy challenges in the cocoa sector

Cocoa is Sierra Leone’s primary agricultural export commodity. Recognizing its potential as a catalyst for socio-economic growth, the government has prioritized the development of this sector.

To this end, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry supervised the National Cocoa Policy in 2019, designed to enhance competitiveness and sustainability within the cocoa sector by the year 2023.

In support of this initiative, ITC produced a policy paper to identify important policy measures for easier trade in the cocoa value chain. Subsequently, ITC collaborated with the Ministry to organize the first public-private dialogue, at which participants underscored the significance of collaborating with neighbouring countries to combat cross-border smuggling and emphasized the need for stronger institutional partnerships.

They also advocated for policy measures to enhance the trade of organic cocoa from Sierra Leone using Geographical Indicators. Applying these recommendations will reduce the prevalence of poor-quality cocoa, enhance post-harvest practices, and improve infrastructure in the cocoa value chain. 

  1. Modernizing produce inspection rules for exports

Agricultural trade in Sierra Leone faces challenges due to the outdated Native Produce (Inspection) Rules (Cap 185) of the Laws of Sierra Leone. These rules no longer align with current sector policies and regulations, neglecting the country's present export opportunities and priorities.

By modernizing these rules, Sierra Leone can attract investment and promote agricultural exports, empowering companies to take advantage of market access opportunities both regionally and globally.

Recognizing the need for reform, ITC collaborated with the Produce Monitoring Board to organize the second public-private dialogue. During the discussions, participants agreed that Cap 185 should primarily focus on agricultural produce but also emphasized the importance of redefining "produce" to encompass processed and semi-processed goods, moving beyond the outdated focus on "raw" produce.

A comprehensive list of products that exhibited significant potential for inclusion in the modernized Cap 185 now includes marketability, growth and value addition. Participants also provided recommendations for rules addressing aspects such as adulteration, transportation, and storage to enhance the quality and safety of agricultural products for export.

  1. Facilitating access to agricultural inputs

Farmers in Sierra Leone face numerous constraints as they lack crucial agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and machinery.

The third public-private dialogue, in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Chamber for Agribusiness Development, focused on improving access to these inputs. Participants emphasized the need to support farmers with accessible soil testing and relevant information. They also proposed a fertilizer blending plant and emphasized collaboration with research institutes to develop customized fertilizer solutions.

 Participants stressed the importance of developing new and improved seed varieties, as well as implementing effective monitoring mechanisms for seed imports to ensure quality and diversity. Recommendations included strengthening existing seed multiplication systems and establishing a seed bank.

Addressing challenges related to agricultural machinery involved developing machinery standards, establishing regulatory bodies to ensure quality, and enhancing machinery fabrication, maintenance skills, and training with the help of the private sector.

Putting the recommendations into action

The dialogues successfully brought together a diverse group of almost 60 participants, representing nine government agencies, as many small businesses, seven trade support institutions, five cooperatives and associations, two international organizations, and one academic institution.

ITC's intervention emphasized the importance of inclusive communication between the public and the private sector. As a result, the government expressed its intention to support public-private dialogues in the future. For instance, Edward Hinga Sandy, Minister of Trade and Industry, said the government intended to incorporate the dialogues in the government’s upcoming Mid-Term Development Plan.

The recommendations aim to create an environment conducive to exports and contribute to the overall growth of the agricultural sector.

Leveraging the lessons learned from these sessions, ITC is currently developing a comprehensive document on best practices for conducting public-private dialogues. This valuable resource will be shared with stakeholders, further promoting effective dialogue and collaboration in the future.

About the project

The public-private dialogues were organized under the International Trade Centre’s West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP) Sierra Leone, funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with UNIDO. The project aims to enhance the competitiveness of the cocoa, palm oil and cassava sectors in Sierra Leone to boost the country's connection to regional and global value chains, create more jobs and strengthen its resilience against economic chocs.