FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE

SPECIAL REPORT

CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION IN SIERRA LEONE


4 February 2000

1. OVERVIEW

Since November 1996, when the last FAO/GIEWS Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the country, serious security problems precluded any meaningful assessment of the food situation in Sierra Leone. It was only towards the end of 1999, following a peace agreement and the restoration of a civilian administration, that it became possible, albeit to a limited extent, to engage in such an exercise. Accordingly, FAO/GIEWS fielded a short mission from 29 November to 11 December to carry out an on-the-spot assessment of the food situation to the extent that circumstances allowed. This report is the outcome of that mission.

The Mission acknowledges the valuable contributions from a range of agencies and organizations, private and public, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources (MAFE), WFP, World Vision International (WVI), EC, USAID, CRS, AFRICARE, Action Contre La Faim (ACF) and CARE. The mission also had detailed discussions with some members of the National Association of Farmers of Sierra Leone.

The Mission was unable to visit all the regions of the country due to insecurity. However, visits were made to the South West, Southern and part of Eastern regions, where discussions were held with MAFE officials, chiefs, farmers and their leaders. While at Kenema the Mission also held discussions with farmers' representatives from Kailahun district, inaccessible otherwise. The security situation in the North, North-Central, North-West and (most of) Eastern regions was very fluid and therefore these regions were inaccessible to all international agencies.

The Mission found that the agricultural sector has been extensively disrupted throughout the country, including even the Southern region where relative peace now prevails. Over the years, farmers have lost all their productive resources including seeds, implements and other capital assets. There has been large-scale destruction of infrastructure and rural institutions. As most rural farm families were displaced, availability of labour for planting and harvesting is a major constraint. Also, farmers' holding capacity for whatever small harvest is low due to financial constraints and the fear of looting by rebels. Practically all the farmers are dependent on Government and NGOs for the supply of seeds, and thus planted areas are highly determined by the capacity of these agencies to assist them. Due to shortages of seeds and other inputs, average rice area per farm has declined from about 0.80 hectare normally to about 0.60 hectare in the current year. Thus, the shortage of tools, fertilizers and labour adversely affected food production in 1999.

Total cereal supply in 2000, including rice in milled form, is estimated at 181 000 tonnes against a utilization requirement of 510 000 tonnes, resulting in an import requirement of 329 000 tonnes for 2000. This compares with 1999 estimated imports of 290 000 tonnes, an increase of 13 percent. Over the war years, there has been a steady substitution of roots and tubers for cereals, and this largely explains the estimated small increase in cereal imports between the two years.

The Mission recommends that as soon as the security situation in all the rural areas improves, a full FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission should be fielded to make a comprehensive review of the food situation in Sierra Leone.

2. SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONTEXT

The civil war in Sierra Leone began in March 1991 when rebels calling themselves the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) took up arms to overthrow the Government. The rebels were able to sustain fighting because their stronghold, the eastern border region, is rich in diamonds, exports of which financed the war.

In April 1992, a pay revolt by junior officers of the national army led to the overthrow of the Government. In 1995, under strong international pressure to restore democracy, the military regime agreed to elections that ushered in a civilian administration. However, this was short-lived, as Sierra Leone experienced another coup - the most violent and destructive in the country's history. In October 1997, the military junta agreed to a cease-fire and a peace plan that provided for the re-instatement of the overthrown president within six months. A Nigerian-led military intervention force, the Economic Community of West Africa States Cease-fire Monitoring Group (Ecomog) supported the president's return from exile on 10 March 1998. However, fighting continued, with the rebel forces remaining firmly in control of the North, the Kono diamond fields and areas along the Liberian border. In April 1999, following release of some rebel leaders from detention, peace talks were resumed, culminating in the declaration of cease-fire in May and the signature of a peace agreement in July 1999 in Lomé, Togo.

There has been a steady deterioration in the Sierra Leonean economy since the early 1990s. The economy grew at about 4 percent per annum up to the first half of the 1970s, after which it contracted at about 1 percent per annum between 1975-85. During the 1980s, due to falling production in the mining sector and poor fiscal management, the economic situation deteriorated further. The prolonged civil war destroyed infrastructure, displaced thousands of farm families and disrupted the supply of farm inputs. Agricultural production, which has been fluctuating, has never regained pre-war levels. Practically all the sectors of the economy have been adversely affected by the civil war. The GDP (in real terms) declined on average by 4.9 percent per annum during the period 1992 to 1998. The population of the country, however, increased by about 2.3 percent annually during the same period. With decreasing production/supply and increasing demand, prices rose sharply in the late nineties. The rate of inflation averaged about 25 percent per annum during the period 1993 to 1998, whilst the consumer price index averaged 37 percent. Taking into consideration the decline in GDP in real terms and the increase in population, it is estimated that per capita income in Sierra Leone has declined by about 30 percent during the period 1992-98. The proportion of the population below the poverty line is estimated to have increased from 80 to 90 percent during this period.

Despite the Lomé Peace Accord in July 1999, obstacles to a comprehensive settlement remain, and reconstruction and rehabilitation will prove costly and difficult. The Mission's visit coincided with the arrival of a UN peace keeping force. The progress of disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of rebels is slow. However, there is a general feeling that once the process of disarmament starts and peace is restored, the recovery of the agricultural sector may pick up as the supply of agricultural inputs improves.

3. FOOD PRODUCTION

3.1 Impact of the War

Sierra Leone is a country of rich agricultural resources, yet has one of the least developed agriculture. Out of 5.24 million hectares of total arable land, only about 12-15 percent is under crop production. The staple foodcrop is rice, which covers slightly less than half of the cropped area. Other cereal crops grown include maize, sorghum and millet. Benniseed is also cultivated on a small scale (about 2 000 hectares). Cassava and sweet potatoes, which were earlier complementary foodcrops, are now accepted substitutes for rice as "crisis crops", particularly in rebel-controlled upland areas. During the war period up to 1997, production of cassava increased by about 70 percent, while that of sweet potato increased by about 20 percent, compared to 1990. Groundnut is the major crop among oilseeds.

The years of civil strife have seriously disrupted agricultural activities. Agricultural infrastructure and rural service centres have been destroyed. Makeni and Kambia, two main centres of rice production and seed supply, were the worst affected during the most recent phase of the war. Rebels took over and looted the country's main agricultural research station at Rokupr, near Kambia, in April 1999. Production of various foodcrops has shown a declining trend over the 1990s, except in 1996 and 1997 when the peace process and a seed support programme helped farmers to reap a good crop. However, in 1998 fighting and new population displacements again adversely affected crop production and food security. The country, which was almost food self-sufficient before 1990, has become highly dependent on imports and food aid. Most parts of the country in the north, north-west, north-central and east remained inaccessible to NGOs, international and government agencies during 1998 and 1999.

3.2 Production of Major Crops

The Production, Evaluation, Monitoring and Statistics Division (PEMSD) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Marine Resources (MAFE) produces official estimates based on periodic surveys, updated with data on supply of inputs and other indicators. The estimates of production of major crops for the years 1990, 1991 and 1995 to 1998 are shown in Table 1. The level of production was highly influenced by the intensity of the war in different years. Production of paddy, which was estimated at 391 700 tonnes by an FAO Mission in 1996, improved to 411 300 tonnes in 1997. It declined to 328 300 tonnes in 1998. Production of roots and tubers (cassava and sweet potatoes), which increased steadily up to 1997 also declined in 1998.

Table 1. Production of Major Crops (thousand tonnes)

Crop
1990
1991
1995
1996
1997
1998
Cereals
604.6
468.3
401.8
444.3
466.8
373.0
Rice (paddy)
543.7
411.1
355.5
391.7
411.3
328.3
Maize
12.3
11.0
8.3
8.9
9.4
8.6
Millet
23.7
22.6
18.0
20.7
21.7
16.5
Sorghum
22.2
21.2
18.0
20.5
21.5
17.5
Beniseed
2.7
2.4
2.0
2.5
2.9
2.1
Roots and Tubers
221.1
224.2
306.5
327.7
359.8
331.4
Cassava
182.4
183.4
261.3
281.1
309.5
289.2
Sweet potatoes
38.8
40.8
45.2
46.6
50.3
42.2
Oil Crops
30.0
34.0
37.2
35.8
37.9
35.4
Groundnut
30.0
34.0
37.2
35.8
37.9
35.4

Source: MAFE

3.3 Production Estimate for 1999

3.3.1 Rainfall and input supply in 1999

The 1999 growing season started somewhat early in April. Although most of the meteorological stations have been destroyed during the war, except in Freetown and Lungi, reports received from informal sources indicate that almost all the regions received normal to above normal rainfall in 1999. Most rivers were still full in late November, which indicated a good rainfall pattern during the year.

The Mission had detailed discussions with the officials of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources (MAFE). Efforts of MAFE in the reconstruction process are being supplemented by various international agencies and NGOs. World Vision is supporting an Agricultural Recovery Programme addressing agricultural needs of vulnerable farming communities in Kono, Bo, Bonthe and Pujehun districts. AFRICARE, under grants from the USAID/OFDA, provides support for distribution of groundnut seeds to farmers in Bo and Pujehun districts. In areas with relative peace, such as the South West (Moyamba and Bonthe districts), the potential for food production was constrained by low input supplies during 1999. For the rest of the country, agricultural activities were severely hampered by persistent insecurity during the first half of the year, up to the signature of the peace agreement in July 1999. Neither the Government nor the international agencies could supply inputs (notably rice seeds) in many of these areas due to inaccessibility and insecurity. The security situation remains volatile in North Western areas bordering Guinea and, at the time of the Mission, the North of the country was inaccessible.

3.3.2 Production Estimate

The area under rice in 1999 was restricted mainly by shortages of rice seeds. In some cases, the quality of seeds was also very poor. The crop was also damaged by floods and heavy rains in four chiefdoms (one in Moyamba District and three in Pujehun District). The North West and Bombali (in Makeni District) which are major rice producing areas, were adversely affected by insecurity and frequent rebel attacks. CARE, which is supporting emergency rehabilitation and resettlement activities in the districts of Tonkolili, Moyamba and Bonthe, observed that in seven chiefdoms of Tonkolili, which remained inaccessible, there was an extremely low or no harvest in 1998 and 1999. Up to 90 percent of 1998 crops were looted and most farmers, with whatever little remaining rice seed, were prevented from planting in 1999.

Several important constraints were identified during field visits:

Because of these constraints, there was a drastic reduction in planted areas in the North-Central, Northern, North-Western and Eastern regions which were inaccessible, as well as, to some extent, in the Southern and South-Western regions. Discussions with some leaders and chiefs who hailed from inaccessible areas indicated that some limited farming activities were going on in these areas. According to them, about 60 percent of households are farming but at half of the normal level.

A Rapid Agricultural Production and Need Assessment Survey was undertaken by the Agricultural Statistics Section of the Ministry of Agriculture in late October and data was analysed during the Mission's visit. The survey was conducted in nine accessible districts out of 12 in the country, the three inaccessible districts being Kailahun, Kono and Bombali.

In all the selected districts, a minimum of 5 chiefdoms, 2 villages in each chiefdom and three farmers in each village were selected at random. Thus, 270 farmers were selected for this rapid survey. Despite inadequacies in the sampling technique, the Mission considered the estimates to be reasonable and were supported by observations made during field visits.

The Mission estimated rice area in 1999 at about 225 000 hectares, about 21 percent below the 1998 estimate of 285 000 hectares. Despite very good rainfall, delayed transplanting and shortages of inputs resulted in a decline in yields of about 4 percent from the previous year. Thus, production of paddy is estimated as 248 220 tonnes for 1999, about 24.4 percent below the 1998 estimate of 328 310 tonnes. The 1999 paddy production is around 45 percent of the pre-war (1990) production and just about 60 percent of 1997 production when the security situation improved in many parts of the country. Planted areas, yields and production of paddy rice by regions in 1998 and 1999 are shown in Table 2. In the South-West region, where the security situation has improved, production has increased slightly over the previous year. However, in the North, North-West and part of Eastern region, where insecurity was high and remained inaccessible to most of the relief agencies, both area and yield decreased from the previous year.

Table 2: Area, Production and Yield of Paddy Rice, 1998 and 1999

Region
1998
1999
Area
(`000 ha)
Yield
(kg/ha)
Production
(`000 tonnes)
Area
(`000 ha)
Yield
(kg/ha)
Production
(`000 tonnes)
South West
42.30
1 065
45.07
40.35
1 165
47.00
Southern
68.13
1 076
73.30
55.47
1 186
65.78
Eastern
64.18
1 092
70.06
48.98
708
44.37
North Central
41.03
1 289
52.88
23.39
1 185
27.73
Northern
30.42
1 279
38.93
26.60
1 080
28.73
North West
37.21
1 238
46.08
28.95
1 232
32.77
Western
1.50
1 328
1 99
1.30
1 400
1.82
Total
284.77
1 153
328.31
225.04
1 103
248.22

Source: MAFE and Mission estimates.

The last FAO/WFP Mission report in 1996 indicated a perceptible change in crop production patterns as tuber crops were gaining a more prominent place. These crops included cassava and sweet potato whose production during the war period has increased by about 70 percent. Some NGOs are working for a greater diversification of consumption and are processing these products to increase their demand and provide better prices for them.

Other cereal crops are maize, millet and sorghum. Production of both millet and sorghum in earlier years was estimated at around 20 000 tonnes each. However, the reliability of these production estimates is questionable, particularly for area and yield. Discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture and others indicated that production of these crops has declined over the years. Production estimates of major food crops, along with paddy rice for 1999 are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Production of Major Foodcrops in 1999

Crop
(tonnes)
Paddy rice
248 220
Maize
8 760
Millet
4 700
Sorghum
16 500
Beniseed
1 900
Total cereals
280 080
Cassava
240 000
Sweet Potatoes
34 200
Total roots/tubers
274 200

4. FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION

4.1 Marketing and Distribution Arrangements

The civil war has almost entirely destroyed the marketing infrastructure and dealt a severe blow to all sectors of the economy. Distribution of whatever marginal surplus may be available in some localities almost completely halted. This resulted in severe food shortages in some areas and complete dependence on food aid from NGOs and international agencies. The roads to the hinterland were completely cut off and bridges and culverts on roads were destroyed. A large part of the country in the North West, Northern, North Central and Eastern regions became inaccessible and imported food or food aid could not reach most of the rural areas. In the absence of food aid, seeds (particularly rice seeds) were consumed in certain areas, severely affecting crop production activities for the following years.

4.2 Population

According to the 1985 population census, the population of Sierra Leone was estimated at 3.5 million people, with an annual growth rate of 2.3 percent. The FAO Mission of 1996 estimated the mid-1997 population at 4.6 million. According to the UN, 1.6 million people were displaced within the country in 1996 and 370 000 people became refugees in neighbouring countries. Though some of the refugees returned to their villages in peaceful periods of 1996 and early 1997, the situation worsened further after the escalation of the war in 1997/98. It is estimated that there are about 1.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and another 400 000 refugees in the neighbouring countries. There are 45,000 combatants from all the factions to be disarmed, while, according to some estimates, 2.6 million people (54 percent of the total population) live behind rebel lines.

Based on the projected population of 4.6 million for mid-1997 and a marginally lower growth rate of 2.2 percent per annum, the Mission projects the mid-2000 year population at 4.92 million.

4.3 Changes in Production/Comsumption Patterns

Over the war years, there has been a steady substitution of cereals with tuber crops, mostly cassava, as the latter require relatively low husbandry and are less vulnerable to looting. Per caput availability of tuber crops increased by 15 kg between 1991 and 1998 (see Figure 1 and Table 4). A fall in per capita real income has also contributed to reduced demand for cereals.

Figure1

Table 4. Availability of Tuber and Cereal Crops, 1991-98

Year
Population
(million)
Net availability
of tubers1
Per caput availability of tubers
(kg/year)
Per caput availability of cereals (kg/year)
1991
4.10
154.8
38.0
92.0
1992
4.13
142.9
35.0
92.4
1993
4.21
166.7
39.6
95.6
1994
4.31
196.0
45.5
86.6
1995
4.41
201.2
45.6
72.8
1996
4.51
214.8
47.6
78.8
1997
4.62
229.6
49.7
80.8
1998
4.72
251.8
53.3
63.1

1/ Net availability is taken as 70 percent of total production as 30 percent is considered to be lost.

Per caput consumption has declined not only for cereals but also for livestock products like meat, chicken and eggs. This has seriously affected household food security and nutrition.

CARE Sierra Leone has done some vulnerability assessment in 28 chiefdoms in Mroyamba district in the south, part of Bonthe and most of Tonkolili district in the north. The analysis revealed that seven chiefdoms in Tonkolili district were extremely vulnerable (Konika Sanda, Konika Barina, Tane, Kholifa Rawla, Kafe Samira, Kalasogia and Malal Mara). Another seven were classified as borderline to high risk. These included 3 chiefdoms (Kholifa Mabang, Yoni and Gobonokolenen) in Tonkolili district and 4 chiefdoms (Ribbi, Bumpeh, Kori and Fakunya) in Moyamba district.

The nutritional status of children was examined by the ACF (Action Contre la Faim) in five different locations, namely Bo Town, Bo Camp, Bo South (all in Bo district), Gbnokalenken Chiefdom of Tonkolili district and Garamamendi Chiefdom of Kenema district. The screening revealed that malnutrition was very high, at 55 percent, in Gbonkolenken chiefdom and high, at 27 percent, in the other chiefdom. It was very low at 3 percent in Bo Town and 10 percent in Bo Camp. A significant proportion of children were found to be severely malnourished in the locations surveyed. Thus, the magnitude of malnutrition is fairly high in rural and war affected areas of Sierra Leone.

5. CEREAL SUPPLY/DEMAND BALANCE 2000

Based on production estimates of various cereal crops in Table 3, and a conversion factor of 0.60 for paddy to milled rice for Sierra Leone, total cereal production for 1999 is estimated at 181 000 tonnes. Prolonged insecurity and poor performance of the agricultural sector, coupled with destruction of rural infrastructure, have forced farmers not to carry any stocks over the years. On the other hand, traders keep only short term trading stocks for a month or two, a lead time required to import more supplies. The Government is not in a position to maintain any stocks of cereals. Thus stock drawn down to augment food availability during 2000 is taken as nil. The estimates of total human consumption of cereals is based on a mid-2000 projected population of 4.92 million and an average annual per caput consumption of 95 kg, the average of the last five-year period 1995-99. Earlier estimates assumed 110 kg; the lower figure of 95 kg reflects both the increasing substitution with tubers and the large drop in per capita income.

Other uses are:

The cereal supply/demand balance sheet for 2000 (January-December) is given in Table 5.

Table 5. Sierra Leone: Cereal Balance Sheet for 2000 (tonnes)

Total domestic availability
181 000
- Production
181 000
- Stock draw-down
-
Total domestic utilization
510 000
- Food use
467 000
- Feed
2 000
- Seed, other uses and losses
41 000
Import requirement
329 000

These estimates should be regarded as provisional as they were based on incomplete data as large parts of the country could not be visited. The Mission recommends that as soon as the security situation improves throughout the country, a full-fledged FAO/WFP Mission should be mounted to carry out a comprehensive crop and food needs assessment.

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, (Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG)for further information if required.

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