FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices


Sierra Leone committed to revitalising agriculture

6 March 2011

The Government of Sierra Leone got a big boost in its fight against poverty and hunger when it was awarded a $50 million grant for its “Smallholder Commercialisation Programme” in June 2010 from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP), a multi-donor funding mechanism.  

Having emerged from a brutal civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone – one of the poorest countries in the world – hopes to spark economic growth by ramping up efforts to increase the commercialisation of its agriculture sector and promote farming as a business among its smallholder farmers.

Around two-thirds of the country’s population earns a living from agriculture, but most just grow enough to feed their families. The Government has made agriculture, along with energy and healthcare, one of its top priorities and underscored this commitment by increasing public investment to its agriculture sector by 10 percent.   

Collaboration is key  

The Government of Sierra Leone has also had notable success in turning a modestly funded programme – one aimed at helping farmers move beyond subsistence farming – into a multimillion dollar one in a relatively short period of time.  

When food prices began to soar in 2008, the Government of Sierra Leone worked closely with a broad range of stakeholders, including FAO, WFP, IFAD and international NGOs, to design a national agriculture response programme.  

They mapped out short-term safety net activities to help “keep poor farmers from sliding back into hunger and debt during the lean periods, while rehabilitating and expanding essential infrastructure like small-scale irrigation systems, feeder roads and storage facilities,” said Kevin Gallagher, former FAO Representative in Sierra Leone.  

They also developed longer-term responses centred around crop production, processing and marketing that built on the country’s overall food security programme, known as “Operation Feed the Nation”. FAO contributed $500,000 through its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) to help get the national agriculture response programme off the ground. 

In mid-2009, the European Union, working closely with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, partnered with FAO to carry out a €10 million project through its European Union Food Facility as a rapid response to the food price crisis. The two-year project is working to intensify small farmers’ productivity and to improve their access to agricultural support services. 

FAO also supported the development of a national sustainable agriculture development programme, in partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which formed the basis of a 20-year CAADP Compact.  

This, in turn, served as a springboard for a new national food security programme, which is a presidential initiative and the basis for the country’s successful bid for $50 million in GAFSP funding. 

The widely-endorsed, $403 million smallholder commercialisation programme will span five years and cover six different areas:  smallholder production and commercialisation; small-scale irrigation; access to financial services; rehabilitation of feeder roads to improve market access; social safety nets; and coordination and management.  

Slideshow on Sierra Leone: moving beyond subsistence farming