GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 
 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 279

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply conditions give rise to concern)

COUNTRY: SIERRA LEONE

DATE : 18 February 1998


While the food supply situation in Freetown might improve following the recent events in Sierra Leone, it is likely to worsen in rural areas. As the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) military forces now control Freetown, the economic embargo in force since August 1997 might be relaxed or lifted allowing some improvement in the functioning of food markets as well as the flow of relief supplies to the capital. On the other hand, if fighting spreads into the rural areas, which remained relatively calm during 1997, more people will be displaced and the performance of vital agricultural activities such as land preparation and planting of the rice crop, which normally starts in April, will be hampered. Heightened insecurity will also impede the distribution of inputs to farmers and possibly also lead to looting of cassava fields and rice stocks on farms by the fighters. As a result the area planted and crop production may fall in 1998 if peace is not fully restored throughout the country.

Since the implementation of the economic embargo in August 1997, very little humanitarian assistance has been provided to the country, despite a UN-ECOWAS agreement on sanctions exemption mechanisms for such assistance. Also, due to restricted internal commercial activity and poor infrastructure, the movement of available food supplies has been severely hampered, with food prices rising to levels beyond the reach of a large part of the population. If the embargo is lifted, the food supply situation of the capital would ease and prices should decline.

The recent fighting has also increased the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), whose nutrition and health situation gives cause for concern. Latest estimates indicate that the number of IDPs may have increased to 250 000 following the recent fighting. With household food stocks exhausted or looted, their nutritional situation is likely to deteriorate unless rapid interventions can be effected. A large number of Sierra Leoneans have also fled to neighbouring countries; while over 2 900 are reported to have fled to Conakry by sea during the fighting, the number fleeing across land borders is estimated to be much larger. In addition, an estimated 420 000 Sierra Leonean refugees remain in neighbouring countries following the civil strife which started in 1991.

Sierra Leone’s cereal import requirements for 1998 are currently estimated at about 260 000 tonnes. If peace is re-established and the embargo lifted soon, it is estimated that about 180 000 tonnes of cereals would be imported by local traders up to the end of 1998, leaving a food aid requirement of 80 000 tonnes. If these conditions cannot be rapidly established and humanitarian assistance remains restricted, the country could face a large scale food crisis.
 
 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required. 

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