Sierra Leone is a small but densely populated country on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa, ranked 181 out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index. Poverty levels are high, with 53 percent of the population living below the income poverty line (US$1.25 per day). Since the signing of the peace agreement in 2002, the country has been recovering from a 11-year war that destroyed the national infrastructure and basic social services.
An outbreak of Ebola in 2014 claimed the lives of 4,000 people and had a severe impact on the economy. GDP growth, which had peaked at almost 21 percent in 2013 thanks to strong mining exports, slowed down in 2014 due to the Ebola outbreak and a fall in global iron ore prices.
Around 5.1 million Sierra Leoneans are estimated to lack sufficient nutritious food to live a healthy life, with 789,536 of them being severely food insecure according to the June 2020 Emergency Food Security Monitoring System report. Chronic malnutrition is widespread, with the prevalence of stunting at 31.3 percent, above the World Health Organisation’s ‘high’ threshold (>30 percent). With Sierra Leone being a net importer of rice, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased food prices, and many consumers could easily be priced out due to further market disruptions caused by supply chain restrictions.
According to the 2017 climate change vulnerability index (CCVI), Sierra Leone is the fourth most vulnerable country to the effects of climate change, and is categorised as extremely vulnerable in terms of impact on food production, poverty, migration and social stability. Climate related shocks in recent years have been common, including major flooding in 2015 and August 2019, and a devastating flooding and landslide in 2017.
Only one-fifth of the estimated 5.4 million hectares of arable land is used for agriculture. The sector is dominated by smallholder farmers practising subsistence farming with traditional methods and limited use of improved seeds and fertilizers.
Deforestation, land degradation and climate change have also affected food production. Production of the country’s staple food, rice, has declined to such an extent that only 4 percent of farmers produce enough to meet the needs of their family for one year.
The country ranks 150 out of 160 assessed on the Gender Inequality Index. Women’s literacy is 44 percent compared to men.
About half of the adult population is illiterate and half of those leaving primary school are unable to read or write.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been present in Sierra Leone since 1968. WFP supports the Government of Sierra Leone through a range of life-saving and resilience building activities. WFP uses food, cash and nutrition assistance to empower women, build local capacities and enhance both local and national preparedness to climate-related shocks.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Sierra Leone
Maternal and child nutrition
WFP is phasing out moderate acute malnutrition treatment for children under 5 and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. This continues to be provided through supplementary feeding in Government health facilities in the four districts with the highest rates of Global Acute Malnutrition. WFP complements the efforts of the Government, UNICEF and other partners to address stunting, focusing on the first 1,000 days by providing a nutrient-dense complementary food, to children under 2 in two districts.
Food by prescription for people living with HIV and TB
Although WFP has phased out direct nutrition support to people living with HIV and Tuberculosis (TB), it has been advocating with the National Social Protection agency for inclusion of eligible beneficiaries in their social protection schemes. As part of capacity strengthening, WFP provides Ministry of Health and Sanitation staff – both at national and health facility level – with a training package on nutrition and immuno-compromised diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB.
Smallholder and agriculture market support
Through linking farmers to WFP local procurement opportunities and private-sector buyers, WFP and its partners support smallholder farmers in selling their surplus crops at competitive prices, thus bolstering their income, reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience. WFP also supports farmers to build capacities in post-harvest management and value addition, including milling, parboiling, packaging and appropriate storage to minimize post-harvest losses and achieve quality, high-value outputs.
WFP strengthens the livelihoods of food insecure communities that are vulnerable to shocks by implementing food assistance for assets (FFA) programmes that create productive assets, promote the production of nutritionally diverse foods, diversify livelihood strategies and rehabilitate degraded ecologies. WFP prioritizes the targeting of assets that are communally managed to ensure that food and nutritional benefits accrued benefit the community as a whole. For these activities, WFP works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).
Building on the infrastructure and logistics capacity established during the Ebola outbreak, WFP continues to provide national institutions with training and technical assistance in the areas of disaster planning, supply chain systems, geo-spatial mapping, nutrition-sensitive programming and food security monitoring and analysis. WFP also maintains a logistics base to store essential humanitarian and preparedness assets and support WFP–led national disaster response training programmes. For these activities, WFP partners with the Office of National Security, MAF and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
WFP is supporting the integrated school feeding programme providing over 300,000 primary school children with fortified food in two of the most food insecure districts of the country – Pujehun and Kambia – as well as seven additional districts (Bonthe, Bombali, Kailahun, Karene, Kenema and Port Loko) being funded by the Government of Sierra Leone. The programme will attempt to link local farmers to school feeding supply chains to provide a market opportunity to increase household income and support rural development.
WFP is supporting the most affected populations, including people in treatment centres, quarantined homes and self-isolation, and scaling up activities to combat malnutrition in collaboration with UNICEF.
To support the the humanitarian response, WFP has been providing services such as management of in-country staging areas, warehouses and transport capacities for medicine, water and sanitation, food and non-food supplies; engineering support; and coordination of WFP COVID-19 air services pending resumption of commercial flights.