As Sierra Leone Embarks On Large Scale Rice Farming… Very Important to Know Why Previous Attempts Failed

By Amin Kef Sesay

Starting from the early 1970s, successive governments, starting with that of Siaka Stevens, JS Momoh, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Ernest Bai Koroma all had very laudable ambitions to make agricultural growth and development the centrepiece of the country’s socio-economic development efforts; given the sector’s various invaluable contributions to society; including creation of thousands of jobs for youths and the elderly of both sexes, incomes, community development, national revenue and reduction of food import resulting in reduced loss of foreign exchange to foreign farmers and importing companies.

As President Bio’s New Direction Government sets about implementing the largest commercial rice farming in Port Loko and Pujehun and Bonthe districts totalling about 40, 000 hectares which if successfully implemented sustainably would be the country’s biggest economic game changer since the era of the 1960s when Sierra Leone exported over 500, 000 tons of rice annually. It is very important to look back and learn lessons from why since the days of Siaka Stevens in the 1970s up to now Sierra Leone has failed woefully to capitalize on its huge agricultural potentials to not only escape mass poverty but also elevate to becoming one of the very little prosperous small countries in the world.

Let us start this COMMENTARY by asking: Why do food security projects so often fail and why have they had such a small impact on rural poverty and malnutrition? What kinds of projects could work better to deal with these problems? Our brothers and sisters from Njala University should be able to provide the scientific, technical and pragmatic answers which the Ministry of Agriculture would find very useful in partnering to implement our rice commercialization program.

Where The Calabash would like to make its own contribution to this country’s transforming agricultural initiative of His Excellency President Bio is the importance of proper project management.

Project management is first and foremost a philosophy of management, not an elaborate set of tools and techniques.

As such, it will only be as effective as the people who use it.

From experience gained from the various Agricultural Integrated Agricultural Development Projects that the Siaka Stevens APC Government tried to establish in all the four regions of the country in the early 1970s with all eventually ending up as white elephants, the most important lesson is, divorce political interference, political patronage and political appointments completely from public-private commercial projects.  Allow the professionals, technocrats and technicians manning these projects complete free hand to do their work.

This is because the application of project management tools and techniques does not necessarily guarantee the success of a project, but success is guaranteed by the proper integration of interrelated factors such as the mode of application and the character of the Project Manager.

Although there are many factors that could result in project failure, here are primary reasons generally for project failure.

  1. Political interference and control
  2. Lack of project management practice in organization
  3. Improper stakeholder management
  4. Square pegs in round holes due to political appointments and political patronage
  5. Poor definition of project objectives
  6. Lack of control systems – mainly monitoring, supervision and early rectification of mistakes

It is important to note that not only Government funded agricultural development projects but also many Government funded development projects have failed because they had no standard project management procedures leading to mixed results.

This made it difficult to link the cause of the success or failure of these projects to a procedure. Thus, since the redundant process or processes that led to the failure could not be easily identified, it became difficult to improve the organization’s overall efficiency, which in all the cases led to project failure as the case with  Guma, NPA, Sierratel.

Some Government projects have also had good project management but were for political reasons not committed to wholehearted implementation of the project.

Such Government projects hired employees without experience and did not take action in backing up their words.

Therefore, in implementing the country’s rice commercialization project, President Bio should be fully aware that proper understanding and implementation of the project management planning is necessary in order to prevent failure.



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