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Monday, January 30, 2023

National early warning system for food security

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National early warning system for food security

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Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Prof Patrick Monty Jones commended the PEMSD Division at the Ministry for the good work that they have been doing, mentioning that since his arrival at the Ministry, he had come to rely on the Division for information and statistical data. The Minister referred to the NEWS system as a very good example of what we can do as a Ministry, with divisions working together to provide valuable data and reliable statistics as the foundation of a national food security tool.

Commenting also on the use of smart phones to collect and transmit data, Minister Prof. Monty Jones lamented that only 5 out of the 13 Districts are so far fitted with “AGROMET” stations. He instructed the Chief Agricultural Officer to enquire on the costs of such stations and for the acquisition of those stations to be made a priority for all the remaining 8 Districts. Prof. Monty Jones also praised the team for the preparation of a bulletin with information and statistical data on the early warning system and advised that all strategic officials such as Ministers and senior government officials should be given a copy of the bulletin as it is prepared on a regular basis for their informed decision making. Food security information which provides credible data on availability, accessibility and affordability would go a long way in reducing market distortions and scaremongering among traders who artificially hoard rice and other staple food crops to create scarcity and price rises. The Minister also recommended that the PEMSD should be proactive in making the information known and for that information to be delivered through mainstream media channels such as Newspapers, radio and TV.

The Chief Agricultural Officer, Mr Abdul Rahman Sankoh who is technically the Director General at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security lamented that there were only 5 AGROMET stations in the country and that number is not enough for nationwide coverage and the collection of such critical data that they are capable of providing. He recalled however that when the Ministry was formulating the adaptation scheme for the IFAD project, a recommendation was made for the establishment of the automatic weather stations for all of the IFAD Districts. This is why there are now only 5 out of the 13 Districts as the IFAD project only concentrated on the five Districts.

Mr Sankoh also recalled that the Ministry used to do nationwide market prices and based on seasonal and regional variations in the agricultural calendar, some price differentials can be anticipated or explained away.  In the event, he stressed that it is important that the information collated by the NEWS system is critical and must be available on a weekly basis.

The DG stressed that even though market data is collected and collated at District levels, they remain dynamic and the data has to be continuously collated and analysed. He explained that the NEWS system is sampling three markets per districts. The data are analysed and the prices that are published in the statistical bulletins are average prices per District or Region.

Supporting the establishment of the NEWS system, Mr Kabilla, Head of M& E at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security disclosed that the Ministry already has a satellite infrastructure installed by Africa Union, AMESD/ MESA programme…but stated that the Ministry is having problems with manpower to manage the system. He explained that the satellite infrastructure can give out reports on bush fires to show burnt areas, water bodies to indicate river flows and seasonality of swamps and vegetation index. The main issue with the manpower remains to be affordability of the salary for the technician as he is expensive to be maintained on the Ministry’s payroll.

In his final comments, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Prof. Patrick Monty Jones lamented that due to the current austerity measures in place, the Ministry would be constrained to recruit someone of that calibre at the moment but expressed the hope that the technician would be provided for through capacity support from existing projects of the Ministry in order to maintain the sustainability of the infrastructure that we already have and one which would be beneficial to agricultural and environmental monitoring of our rural areas and farm holdings.

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