Sierra Leone, while a resource rich country, is classified as a low-income, food-deficit country, with 70 percent of the population below the poverty line and 35 percent undernourished. At the same time, less than 7% of the rural population has access to electricity. Electricity production is considerably below the levels required to meet requirements for socio-economic development of the country, and is largely based on expensive imported fossil fuels and a few large hydropower sources. An estimated 90% of the population depends mainly on fuelwood for cooking and kerosene for lighting, which have negative consequences to the environment and to the quality of life, especially for the rural poor.
Deforestation is a major issue in Sierra Leone, with an estimated 3,000 hectares per year being cleared, and over 87% of the original forest area already converted. Traditional wood energy is still the primary energy source (97% of the total energy consumption). Bioenergy development can provide an alternative energy source, but can also present additional competition for land, thus putting greater pressure on forests.
There has been growing interest in bioenergy development in Sierra Leone as one way to stimulate agricultural investment in order to contribute to yield improvements, income generation, and capacity building. There is also growing interest in modern bioenergy production for local electricity and transport use, as an alternative to expensive imported fossil fuels. Many investors are currently pursuing opportunities in Sierra Leone, related to bioenergy feedstock production (e.g. sugarcane and palm oil). While Sierra Leone has developed a Second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper detailing “The Agenda for Change” (2008), and a National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan (NSADP, 2009), there is no specific plan or policy regarding bioenergy.
BEFS WORK IN SIERRA LEONE
The Ministry of Energy (MoE) formally requested the technical support of FAO to assess the potential for sustainable bioenergy development in the country through the implementation of the Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Approach. As a first step, FAO focused on consulting key stakeholders to understand the main concerns and challenges for bioenergy development in Sierra Leone; and to explain and discuss how FAO could support Sierra Leone through the BEFS Approach.
In 2011, the Government of Sierra Leone in coordination with FAO established a technical multidisciplinary working group, the Bioenergy and Food Security Working Group (BEFS WG), with the primary objective of addressing bioenergy challenges and supporting dialogue on sustainable bioenergy development. The Bioenergy and Food Security Working Group (BEFS-WG) is chaired by the Ministry of Energy and co-chaired by Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Forestry and also includes representatives from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development; the Ministry of Land Country Planning and Environment; the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Trade and Industry; the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development; the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency of Sierra Leone, and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.
One urgent need identified by the BEFS-WG, was a way to screen investment proposals on the basis of their overall sustainability and contribution to enhancing food security, and a way to monitor their continued compliance with key sustainability criteria. In this regard, the BEFS-WG, with support from FAO, developed draft Guidelines for Sustainable Agricultural and Bioenergy Investment. The primary objective of the Guidelines for Sustainable Agricultural and Bioenergy Investment is to inform investors, the Government, civil society and communities about all criteria that are important in ensuring the sustainability of agricultural and bioenergy investments in Sierra Leone. The Guidelines have been formulated considering international sustainability standards approved through multi-stakeholder processes; with the objective to guarantee that globally agreed best practices are adopted in Sierra Leone. The Guidelines address all private and public investments in land related agricultural production and processing, with the exemption of micro enterprises that do not meet the established thresholds. The process and procedures defined depend on the size of the investment, as does the methodology for the rating system, with some criteria applying only to bioenergy investments.
The Guidelines have been developed based on a review of the existing regulatory framework and global best practices, but most importantly through extensive consultations with Sierra Leone stakeholders. Members of the BEFS-WG met with over 500 representatives of 90 communities located around five agricultural investments representing a variety of sizes, crops, business models, and length of activities. In addition, feedback and input were sought from select stakeholders including civil society organizations; investors and companies operating in the agriculture/bioenergy sector; donor institutions such as those represented by the UN Country Team; and FAO experts.
The Government of Sierra Leone has expressed a strong interest in formalizing the Guidelines by passing them through Cabinet.