Attended by strategic stakeholders from local communities and from the agricultural sector including paramount chiefs, local council officials, government and public officials including the civil society, the main aim of the conference was to provide a status report on the mandate and activities of the platform and developing an action plan geared towards achieving zero deforestation and sustainable oil palm by the year 2020.
Giving an overview of the conference, a key platform member Dr. Henry Yamba Kamara who happens to be the Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company (SLPMC), said the main thrust is to promote the ideals of the Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which emphasizes responsible production and environmental sustainability.
Dr. Henry Kamara went on to point out that trade in palm oil in the international market system should follow due processes in line with the RSPO which serves as criteria for entry of palm oil into the United Kingdom (UK) and American markets, adding that Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Sierra Leone are currently taking the lead in promoting the RSPO initiative.
Dr. Kamara informed the gathering that the Government of Sierra Leone, as in the other countries participating in the process, is taking the lead in the implementation of the project. He heaped praises on the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Trade and Industry for their commitment to the successful implementation of the project as well as the collective role being played by the civil society, non-governmental and media organizations that constitute the Sierra Leone Platform.
In his statement, James Parker, the Principal Project Manager of PROFOREST based in Ghana, expressed delight over what he referred to as an overwhelming attendance and thanked the country team for a job well done.
He noted that the project is aimed at invigorating rapid income generation for all players in the oil palm industry while at the same time emphasizing on environmental sustainability.
“Over the last few years, the issue of addressing commodity driven deforestation while achieving reforestation and forest restoration targets, has generated high level commitment from nations, companies, indigenous people and other organisations”, Mr. James Parker said, adding that, “The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 was developed to help achieve these commitments through a dedicated public-private sector collaboration”.
Mr. Parker went on to state that the TFA 2020 was founded in 2012 in Rio by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in partnership with the United States Government, with a secretariat hosted by the World Economic Forum in Geneva and funding from Norway and the United Kingdom.
The Geneva secretariat he said, gears towards providing expertise and knowledge to assist with the development of commodity markets that promote the conservation of tropical forests and improve monitoring of tropical deforestation and forest degradation to measure progress.
In his keynote address, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Joseph Ndanema, expressed delight that Sierra Leone is making progress in promoting the objectives and principles of TFA 2020 and pledged government’s commitment to providing the required leadership and oversight.
Minister Joseph Ndanema outlined four action plans which he said will serve a as government’s blue print in achieving national food security and enhancing economic prosperity through agricultural activities. The four strategic plans he said include developping the rice sector, livestocks transformation, crops diversification and improving forestry and biodiversity.
The minister stressed that TFA 2020 falls within the set objectives of the government’s action plan relating to forestry and biodiversity, adding that, “To sustain food security, the forest should be paramount in the process with the understanding that if you cut one tree you must plant three as part of the rapid tree replacement scheme supervised by the forestry division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
The minister noted that there are great potentials in the oil palm sector and warned that respect for land owners is key. He damned what is going on in Sahn Malen chiefdom Pujechun district, saying the SOCFIN agreement was faulty from the onset. He assured that under his administration, no land negotiation will take place in any community without the involvement of land owners.
He called on companies in the oil palm sector to adhere to international best practices and work towards ensuring a win-win situation, adding that the security of companies lies in the happiness of the people affected by their operations. He cited Sierra Tropical operating in Lugbu Chiefdom as a good example and one that has adopted the RSPO principles.
He disclosed that government has acquired an amount of $60 million US support to boost agricultural productivity. According to him, 16% of the sum total will go towards rice production and 40% to oil palm production, furthering that the overriding objective is to build the capacity of smallholder farmers in the oil palm sector.
Also speaking at the conference was Paramount Chief Musa Ngombukla Kallon of Jawei Chiefdom, who hailed Goldtree Agricultural Company for adhering to its coopeprate social responsiblty, thereby making its operation in his chiefdom very welcoming. He however expressed need for the community to be fully represented in the renegotiation of the land lease agreement.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the chairman of the event Njala University Lecturerer Sylvanus Brima Mattia, pointed out that revamping the agriculture sector which he said has been in shambles over the past years, is crucial. He expressed the need for wealth creation for the palm oil farmers who now depend on crude methods of processing, thereby resulting in them living in abject poverty.
Presentations were done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Solidaridad, civil society and Goldtree on the protection of the environment for sustainable palm oil production and the role of the private sector.
Meanwhile, palm oil produced in Sierra Leone remains banned from entering the European Market due to issues relation to standards of production.