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Sierra Leone: How cash from the EU boosts access to nutritious food

Funds assist 12,000 people at a time when a healthy meal is out of reach for many.
, Lydia Wamala

Iyesata Koroma wakes up before dawn in Pujehun, in the south of Sierra Leone, to the sound of a text message alert telling her she can collect her mobile money from the World Food Programme (WFP). This means she’ll be able to buy fresh food for four of her children today.

Mobile money helps families to access food when they need it the most. Money is sent electronically to an adult’s phone and they can then redeem this amount for cash at nearby collection points.

With cash assistance Iyesata can buy food for her children. Photo: WFP/Daniel Bangura
Cash assistance helps Iyesata to buy the food her family needs. Photo: WFP/Daniel Bangura.

Iyesata meets her neighbour, Hasanatu, and sets out on foot through the palm plantations to the cash-out centre. 
“I need that money to buy more food for my children to eat before going to school – perhaps a bag of rice and bigger fish,” she says. “Currently, we eat cassava, cassava, cassava – in the morning, for lunch and for supper”. 

Research conducted by WFP reveals that Sierra Leone has experienced one of the fastest deteriorations in food security across West Africa since 2010. The country of 8 million people was still recovering from a ten-year civil war when it was hit by Ebola in 2014, mudslides and floods in 2017, and then, of course, COVID-19. WFP’s Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis found that three out of five people currently do not know where their next meal will come from. 

Families across Sierra Leone have been affected by multiple shocks. Photo: WFP/Evely Fey
Multiple shocks across Sierra Leone have pushed families deeper into food insecurity. Photo: WFP/Evelyn Fey.

Economic pressures are pushing families deeper into poverty. Food prices are soaring, the currency is depreciating in value and inflation is increasing. A seismic hunger crisis is enveloping the world amidst a time of unprecedented needs. Climate shocks, conflict, COVID-19 and the spiralling costs of food and fuel, compounded by the conflict in Ukraine are pushing countries such as Sierra Leona to the brink.

Many of the vulnerable families in Sierra Leone rely on remittances – money sent back from relatives working in the capital Freetown. As people lost their jobs during the pandemic, life became harder than ever for families already struggling to meet basic needs.

Thanks to a contribution from the European Union (EU), WFP is supporting 12,000 people in Pujehun with cash assistance so they can buy nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables and fish. For families who depend on cassava as a staple food, this is a critical opportunity to achieve a more diverse and balanced diet.

In addition, as the country heads into planting season, farmers can also use their money to hire labourers to help them to grow their own food.

Using the cash she receives, Iyesata buys eight cups of rice with pasted groundnuts tied in small polythene packs to feed her four younger children – her three older ones are being looked after by her brother. (Her husband, a labourer, also has another family so their resources are tight).

As soon as Iyesata collects her cash she can cook food for her family. Photo: WFP/Daniel Bangura
Iyesata is using her cash assistance to feed her children and buy foods she cannot usually afford. Photo: WFP/Daniel Bangura.

“Because I never went to school myself, I would like my children to study,” says Iyesata. “On top of eating well, I would like them to have books, pens, shoes, even school bags.” 

With the first round of money received from the EU in January, Iyesata bought a bag of rice and kept the rest. Thanks to support from the EU, Iyesata will receive money for three months to help her family to meet their needs.

The EU money is the largest amount Iyesata and her neighbours have ever received, and it helps her to buy food that she could otherwise not afford. Combined with the small fish she catches from her local pond, she’s able to ensure her family has enough food on their table – as are her neighbours.

Each month WFP helps families across Sierra Leone to access food, improve their nutrition and buy the food they need, thanks to the EU for supporting WFP’s work to save and change lives in Sierra Leone. 

Read more about WFP's work in Sierra Leone.

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