Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 October 2016
Sierra Leone has once again become a charity case, after failing to develop its agricultural sector to feed its 6 million population and become Africa’s food basket.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the farming industry, through the World Bank and international aid since 2007, large swathes of fertile land remain uncultivated or under-utilised.
Fertilisers, seeds and machinery procured by the government, and donated by the international community for poor farming communities, have been misappropriated by unscrupulous public officials. In some cases these products are being illegally sold off to neighbouring countries.
Sierra Leone cannot feed itself due to rampant corruption, poor management of the Ministry of Agriculture and lack of investment in food production by indigenous Sierra Leoneans.
The smuggling of rice and other food produce into neighbouring countries like Guinea, where they are then exported back into Sierra Leone for payment in dollars, is a corruption racket that is causing immense food shortage and destroying the country’s farming industry.
Those responsible for importing rice and other food commodities are not only given special import privileges by State House, but also receive millions of dollars in custom duty exemptions.
The State of Food Insecurity in Sierra Leone report launched yesterday by the Government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows more than half of the population – over 3.5 million people – are food insecure, without access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food.
Of these, about 600,000 are severely food insecure, eating significantly less food and less varied and nutritious food, and unable to cope with new shocks such as drought, floods and fluctuating food prices.
The number of severely food insecure people has increased by 60 percent since 2010.
The report is the culmination of a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) of over 34,000 households across Sierra Leone’s 149 chiefdoms and 18 urban wards, making it the largest food security assessment of its kind in the country.
In his keynote speech at the launch ceremony, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS), Professor Monty Jones (Picture), said the government was committed to doing what it takes to transform the agriculture sector into an engine for socio-economic growth.
“The findings of the CFSVA will assist my ministry to design, target and implement programmes that will improve agriculture production and productivity, enhance commercial agriculture, create employment and enhance skills of farmers in a number of areas. We will encourage private sector investment and involvement to improve access to inputs and markets for our farmers.
“The government and development partners have a key role in designing sound agricultural policies and programmes to effectively meet the priorities of the Government’s National Ebola Recovery Strategy,” he said.
The districts of Kailahun, Kambia, Port Loko, Pujehun, and Tonkolili have the highest levels of food insecurity. Levels of food insecurity at least doubled from the 2010 CFSVA in the districts of Bombali, Bonthe, Kailahun and Kenema.
Out of 149 chiefdoms and 18 urban wards surveyed, 110 chiefdoms had food insecurity levels above the national average of 50 percent.
While the Ebola outbreak accounted for the decline in food security in some districts, notably Kailahun and Kenema, in the majority of districts, food insecurity is a chronic problem, caused by structural factors that affect the food production system and limit the ability of households to produce or buy enough food. (Photo: Young men attracted to diamond mining instead of farming).
“The results confirm that drivers of food insecurity are low agricultural productivity, poverty and a lack of resilience, poor road and market accessibility, gender inequality and a lack of income generation diversification. The negative socio-economic impacts of Ebola further exacerbated food insecurity.
“While the majority of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods, the report shows that only 4 percent are growing enough rice to meet their needs for the whole year, and rice production has decreased nationwide by 15 percent over the last five years,” said Nyabenyi Tipo, FAO Representative in Sierra Leone.
The analysis shows that on average, only 4 percent of farmers use chemical fertilizer, 10 percent have access to improved seed varieties, and 99 percent use manual tools. Very few households are engaged in fishing or livestock rearing.
To sell or buy food, households in rural areas have to travel almost eight miles, or one and a half hours, to reach the nearest market.
“Sierra Leone now has unprecedented insight into its food security situation, with data available at the chiefdom level for the first time. This allows the humanitarian and development community to zero in on the most vulnerable, allowing us to use our resources more efficiently to improve food security, strengthen livelihoods and build resilience to recurrent shocks”, said Peter Scott-Bowden, WFP Country Director in Sierra Leone.
“With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the findings also provide accurate baseline data for government and development partners to gauge progress in achieving SDG 2 ending hunger,” he added.
WFP and FAO are supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to bridge the gap between local food production and national demand. The recommendations of the CFSVA underscore the urgent need for an increased investment in sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods.
The 2015 CFSVA was financed by the African Development Bank, the European Union and the World Bank. Thirteen local and international NGOs provided technical assistance, in-kind and cash contributions to support the exercise.
FAO leads international efforts to defeat hunger. It helps countries to modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. FAO focuses special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world’s poor and hungry people.
WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.