In his opening remarks, UNDP Local Government and Economic Development Project Manager, Pious Bockarie said the overall objective of the forums which attracted an appreciable number of owners of Small and Medium Enterprises is to provide technical support to SMEs so as to ensure sustainable innovation, business diversification, product/service differentiation and competitiveness that open wider market opportunities at domestic and regional levels as well as providing high development and support services through training, coaching and mentoring. The sessions, he said will also create a space for dialogue on critical Small and medium Enterprises and Public and Private Partnership related issues and chart the way forward to inform policy direction and development of the SME/PPP Strategic Action Plans in the targeted local councils and spread information and knowledge on the legal instruments and arrangements for SMEs development in Sierra Leone. He expressed UNDP’s unwavering commitment to supporting SMEs so as to help addressing poverty in the country and entreated the participants to be focused and make the best use of knowledge gained from the sessions and previous training programmes.
In his presentation on the topic, “Overview of the SME Sector and existing evidence (SME Policy, Regulations and Implications”) the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Edison Bobor said the business landscape of the business is relatively smaller and most of the business enterprises are inactive. In an attempt to address some of the problems facing the business sector, he said government in collaboration with partners developed a policy in 2014 that covers SMEs in every sector, except mining. The objective of the policy Mr. Bobor said is to provide an enabling environment for SMEs to operate and expressed the need to review laws and reduce barriers that inhibit their operations. He encouraged owners of SMEs to sell their goods and services to companies that export them.
The Corporate Affairs Outreach and Education Officer, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, SMEDA, Julius Kondeh Kanu said his agency came into operation in 2017, following an Act of Parliament and policy, aimed at revitalizing the economy through the promotion of SMEs. He underscored that Sierra Leone has potentials that can be harnessed to reduce poverty and pledged their desire to create a conducive environment for the formation and development of capable Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and work with stakeholders to foster the emergence of innovative and competitive SMEs for job creation.
Presenting a paper on the topic, “Overview of SMEs and Agribusiness”, an Agribusiness Development Expert in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mary Hawa Turay, emphasized the importance of agriculture in national and commended owners of small and medium enterprises for contributing to national development. She urged Sierra Leoneans to engage in farming and promote government’s New Direction Agenda. She outlined a number of steps taken by government to promote agriculture in the country, including the development of policies and setting up of intuitions such as the Small Holders Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project, SCADEP which seeks to support famers, especially women among others. Madam Turay who also dilated on the local scenario of SMEs Case Studies stressed the need to use and popularize and products with “Made in Sierra Leone” trade mark. Sharing experiences from a Sierra Leonean Agribusiness Promoter, Noeller Barber and the “Leaky Bucket” initiative, she advised owners of SMEs to be mindful of their income and expenditure patterns, control their expenditure outflows, develop good business plans and manage time well. She also admonished them to increase revenue through diversification and put premium on the quality and quantity of their products to access local and international markets.
Speaking on the Role of Local Content Policy in SME development, the Evaluation and Monitoring Officer, Local Content Agency, Daniel Fornah said the institution was established to promote the utilization of locally available Sierra Leonean goods and services, facilitate the development of Sierra Leonean Service Providers by promoting linkages with foreign investors, support SMEs growth, promote employment, local ownership and develop human and institutional capacities, among others. This initiative, he said, has created space and empowered local entrepreneurs and urged them to always consider, time, quality and quantity and level of qualification in order to be successful.
A representative from the Public, Private, Partnership Project, PPP, Patrick Sesay said government and partners thought it fit to introduce the initiative because of several considerations, including lack of the requisite resources and expertise on the part of government to do business and implement projects, high rate of population growth and development of more towns and cities. PPP, he noted, gives strength to SMEs and Local Entrepreneurs, adding that through this initiative, goods and services have been provided for beneficiaries in various parts of the country, especially in the area of Waste Management and Revenue Mobilisation.
Representatives from UNDP’s implementing partners, Graceland and Community Empowerment for Peace and Agricultural Development, CEPAD, Joel Kamara and Peter Mbayo, gave a brief overview of their organization, while noting the positive impacts of their contributions on the lives of beneficiaries in areas of operation through the support of UNDP.
During discussions on challenges of SMEs development, operations and the way forward, an Agribusiness Entrepreneur, Jamal Bangura gave an account of how he started his business in Kambia District with a meager sum of money earned from menial jobs. He said with commitment and hard work he was able to raise an appreciable amount of money which he later invested in a very small scale business. Mr. Bangura said with determination to succeed and support from UNDP and Graceland who provided him training and finance, he can now boast of a number of business enterprises stocked with a variety of agricultural inputs. “My welfare has now improved considerably, thanks to UNDP and Graceland”, he told the cheering crowd.
A banana seller, Madam Jami Ndolleh who is now proprietor of a cosmetic shop in Kailahun also appreciated the role played by UNDP and CEPAD in promoting her business. At the end of the sessions a number of concerns and recommendations were raised by participants, including the need to establish State Farms, provide more financial support for farmers, develop the private sector to promote food security, empowerment of UNDP’s implementing partners, reduce interest rates and other trade barriers, develop policies that will serve the interest of SMEs, ensure prompt supply of agricultural inputs, citizens ensure citizens contribute to Local Council’s revenue generation drive and the need to provide quality infrastructures for post-harvest storage and value addition.
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