- of people are food insecure
- children stunted (impaired growth and development due to chronic malnutrition)
- children receiving school meals each day
Sierra Leone is a small but densely populated country on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa, ranked 182 out of 189 countries in the 2020 Human Development Index.
The country had been recovering from an 11-year war, which destroyed infrastructure and basic social services, when it was hit by an Ebola outbreak in 2014. The disease claimed 4,000 lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic devastated Sierra Leone’s economy, slowing growth and the rate of poverty reduction. Growth contracted to –2 percent in 2020, mainly due to a shutdown of the service sectors, and reduced manufacturing, construction and agriculture.
Economic growth rebounded by 2.9 percent in 2021, before the effects of the war in Ukraine reversed these gains. In July alone, the price of fuel rose by 120 percent and, even though the Government later brought it down, the cost of living continues to rise.
Food insecurity was already high when the Ukraine crisis began to unfold. Resulting higher fuel prices had a domino effect of the price of food and other key commodities. They also coincided with longer-term economic stagnation, widespread poverty, a rapidly depreciating local currency and the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. People’s purchasing power is at its lowest, as the cost of living continues to rise.
There has been an improvement in the levels of stunting – impaired development as a result of chronic malnutrition –over the last ten years. However, a national prevalence at 26.2 percent remains high according to the World Health Organization classification. Stunting is the most severe form of malnutrition in the country, further undermining human productivity and Sierra Leone’s economic prospects.
Agriculture is the backbone of Sierra Leone’s economy. However, it is dominated by smallholders practising subsistence farming, with traditional methods and limited use of improved seeds and fertilizers. It is also fragmented and characterized by declining yields, due in part to an increasingly unpredictable climate.
Climate change poses a significant threat to food security and the livelihoods of most of the population, the large majority of whom live in rural areas. Any changes in climate increase the risk of droughts and floods, and any increase in sea levels affects the water supply and thereby the country’s agriculture. Sierra Leone experienced major flooding in 2015 and August 2019, and a devastating landslide in 2017. Over 1,000 people lost their lives.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been present in Sierra Leone since 1968. It supports the Government through a range of integrated life-saving and resilience-building activities. WFP uses food, cash, nutrition assistance, and capacity strengthening, empowering young women smallholder farmers in particular. Increased national preparedness for climate-related shocks is among WFP’s priorities, along with school feeding and food-security analysis and monitoring.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Sierra Leone
WFP assists the most food-insecure populations, in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Cash transfers empower people to make their own choices of food, including fresh vegetables and fruit, while boosting the local economy. Strengthening the emergency-response capacity of the National Disaster Management Agency is also a WFP priority. In 2021, WFP embedded an international climate change specialist to assist the agency with technical and operational support.
Home-grown school feeding
In supporting the Government’s efforts to draw children to school, WFP provides daily hot meals to 216,000 pupils in the most food-insecure areas. For some schools, WFP obtains part of this food from local smallholder farmers’ groups, as it gradually scales up home-grown school feeding in line with the national policy. More children are being served fresh vegetables each day, and the farmers have a reliable market for their crops. WFP also trains cooks to prepare safer, tastier and more nutritious food.
Inadequate knowledge around complementary feeding – when food other than milk is added to the diet – is a key driver of stunting in children aged 6-23 months. WFP helps mother-support groups to conduct regular community sensitization and cooking demonstrations. The exercises target pregnant and breastfeeding women and adolescent girls in three districts, who are educated and counselled about the best complementary feeding practices. WFP also supports local research by introducing local species of enriched complementary foods.
Promoting local nutritious foods and supporting applied research
WFP works with Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute to promote diet diversity and people's access to healthy local foods for their infants. Following successful acceptability trials, WFP and the institute have introduced four standardized and enriched local complementary foods. These include tubers rich in pro-vitamin A, such as orange fleshed sweet potato and yellow cassava. WFP supports communities in cultivating and storing them safely.
Supporting smallholder farmers
WFP assists 140 groups – comprising over 9,000 smallholder farmers across seven districts – to cultivate, process and market rice and nutritious vegetables. The groups cultivate inland valley swamps, a high-production source that can be farmed year-round. WFP supports the farmers in irrigation schemes. The smallholders are also trained in climate-smart agricultural methods, post-harvest crop management, group marketing and how to successfully run village savings and loans schemes. The farmers’ groups supply the home-grown school feeding programme.
Strengthening livelihoods for peace at Guinea border
To strengthen peace between Sierra Leone and Guinea, WFP is working with the International Organization for Migration to implement a cross-border UN peacebuilding project. The partners are working to minimize localized conflicts between cattle keepers and crop farmers in Falaba district in Sierra Leone and Faranah prefecture in Guinea. WFP supports all-year climate-sensitive agriculture, by cultivating inland valley swamps. This draws people away from the slash-and-burn farming in the uplands, which is associated with tree-cutting, reduced soil fertility and low yields. At the same time, it supports reforestation.
In rural Sierra Leone, Fatmata’s kids won’t be eating tonight
Story | 26 October 2022
Sierra Leone: How school feeding empowers parents to grow and sell vegetables
Story | 19 July 2022
Sierra Leone: How cash from the EU boosts access to nutritious food
Story | 10 May 2022
In the swamps of Sierra Leone, rural women plant seeds of peace
Story | 30 November 2021
VIDEO: ‘We are suffering’ — food price rises leave people in Sierra Leone hungry
Story | 4 June 2021
Sierra Leone: How cash assistance is helping to secure peace
Story | 27 October 2020
Partners and donors
Find out more about the state of food security in Sierra LeoneVisit the food security analysis page
Operations in Sierra Leone
6A Renner Drive Off Wilkinson Road P. O. Box 1011