Sierra Leone has made notable progress since the end of its civil war in 2002, yet many people still live below the poverty line, and unemployment, especially among young people, is rife. Around 3.5 million Sierra Leoneans – roughly two-thirds of the country – rely on agriculture, but most just grow enough to feed their families.
The Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP) is a Government plan, supported by FAO, to help farmers grow more and varied crops and process and market more of what they produce, putting farmers – and the country – on a path to greater prosperity.
Schools without walls
FAO Sierra Leone continues to support farmer field schools, where farmers – many of them women widowed during the war or young people whose education was disrupted – learn improved cropping techniques and best practices as well as financial management, health and nutrition. These schools are helping re-establish trust within communities torn apart by war.
The setting up of agricultural business centres nationwide – places where farmers can buy seeds and fertilizers, rent labour-saving equipment and process, store and market what they harvest – is at the heart of the Government’s SCP. Local farmer-based organizations, many of which started out as farmer field schools, are being supported to run these centres on a cost-recovery basis. With new opportunities in farming, as well as in shop keeping and mechanization, the centres are set to kick-start local economies.
Farming as a viable business
By selling unprocessed paddy rice and fresh cassava tubers, farmers in Sierra Leone have been losing out on profits they could make from milled rice as well as gari (cassava meal) and fufu (boiled and pounded cassava) – popular local foods. FAO Sierra Leone is supporting the Government to equip the agricultural business centres with rice mills, cassava graters and drying floors so that farmers can boost the value and consumer appeal of their goods. Training in group governance and collective marketing, combined with better access to financial services and markets, will help farmers move beyond subsistence farming.
Early warning on food and nutrition security
Sierra Leone is vulnerable to floods, pest infestations and plant disease, which could reverse gains made since the end of the civil war. FAO is supporting the Government to build the capacity of local district councils to develop and put into use an early warning system for food and nutrition security.