By Amin Kef (Ranger)
In a recent announcement, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Henry Musa Kpaka, has expressed optimism about reducing onion importation to Sierra Leone in the coming years. Kpaka, who concluded his first full week in his role, visited the onion-rich region of Port Loko District and outlined plans to curtail the country’s dependency on imported onions within two and a half years.
The onion belt in Port Loko, boasting over 1,200 hectares of suitable lowland for onion cultivation, holds the key to this ambitious endeavour. The majority of onion cultivation in this area is carried out by smallholder farmers, who possess the necessary skills but face several challenges. Despite these obstacles, the potential benefits associated with the onion value chain are apparent to these farmers.
Minister Kpaka’s pivotal moment of conviction came during a visit to the Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) mechanized onion production site in Mathen village, Lokomasama Chiefdom. This site has demonstrated that Sierra Leone has the capability to significantly increase domestic onion production and thereby reduce the reliance on imports.
Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) conducted a pilot project covering 5.6 hectares of mechanized onion production last year, yielding 10 metric tons per hectare, which is below the estimated potential. However, with adjustments to soil pH, they anticipate achieving up to 30 metric tons per hectare.
Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) has strategically planned to cultivate 75 hectares during the October-December cycle and again in the February-May 2024 cycle. If these plans are executed successfully, an additional 4,500 metric tons of onions could be introduced to the market within the two cycles. To provide context, official trade data indicates that Sierra Leone imported slightly under 1,000 metric tons of onions in the entirety of 2022.
In a noteworthy initiative, Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) supported 900 smallholder farmers last year by providing inputs, mechanized plowing services, and training in sound agronomic practices for onion cultivation. The future prospects are even brighter, as Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) aims to dedicate nearly 640 hectares to onion cultivation within the next three years. These promising statistics are indicative of a potential path for Sierra Leone to transition from an onion importer to a net-exporter.
President Bio’s Feed Salone Programme, known for its strategic integration of the private sector to drive agricultural transformation, plays a significant role in this endeavour. The Government is dedicated to supporting private sector actors such as Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS), recognizing that their success contributes to the overall prosperity of the nation.
As Sierra Leone sets its sights on self-sufficiency in onion production, Minister Kpaka’s enthusiasm and the progressive efforts of entities like Pee Cee and Sons Ltd (PCS) provide hope that the nation’s reliance on imported onions could be dramatically reduced within the next two years.