Twenty-eight Sierra Leonean agricultural research scientists are to receive advanced training at the renowned International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria and other IITA research stations in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.
The scientists, largely drawn from the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), are being sponsored by the Agriculture Sector Rehabilitation Project (ASREP) - an African Development Bank (AfDB) portfolio operating under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security.
Twelve out of the twenty-eight have already left the country while the remaining sixteen are to depart this week. The scientists will be trained on various agricultural fields like crop breeding, hybrid seed production, bio-technology, assessment of post harvest losses, plant and soil analysis etc.
At a farewell ceremony held at the conference room of the Agriculture Ministry past Friday, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay recounted how the country's agricultural research institutions were destroyed during the war - rendering the sector apparently handicapped to carry out viable research work to boost crop yields.
He made special reference to the Rokupr Rice Research Station in Kambia which was recently rehabilitated after it was severely destroyed by rebels during the war, reiterating that the centre - now fully rehabilitated - must be made functional through the development of its human resources. "Asian countries are producing high yielding crops because of research and this is what we have been lacking in our own agric sector," he lamented.
Earlier, ASREP Project Coordinator, James Rome Koroma, said even though ASREP was initially established to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure destroyed by the war, one of the project's key components has come to focus on human resource development. Mr. Koroma furthered by stating the need for research and development, describing this as a viable alternative towards the county's fight to boost food production.
"I am thankful to the government for prioritizing agriculture in its Agenda for Change, which is now graduating into the Agenda for Prosperity...I am sure with these kind of ventures, it is only a matter of time for Sierra Leone to start reaping the benefits from its agricultural potentials," he averred.
A representative of the AfDB Resident Representative for the Sierra Leone Field Office, Christian Tucker, reiterated the bank's determination to help mitigate the continent's growing food crisis by putting a "high premium on capacity building" for farmers in new agricultural research technologies. He believed such technologies transfer can better be provided by local agricultural scientists such as those already selected for the training.
"We are gratified that the bank is contributing in training these young and dynamic professionals who have the ability to contribute more years on their return. I therefore encourage all of you beneficiaries to take full advantage of this training," he concluded.
The ceremony was climaxed by the handing over of air tickets to the scientists by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay.