Reduce Rural Poverty

Social Protection: Key to eradicate rural poverty and food insecurity in Sierra Leone

Published: 28/01/2020

(Freetown, Sierra Leone) At an international conference held in Freetown from 21 to 23 January, FAO laid out the case for investing in social protection programmes and promoting strong articulation between the social protection and agricultural sectors in order to reduce poverty, combat hunger and food insecurity, and promote the economic inclusion of the rural poor.

The conference was convened by the Vice-President’s Office through the National Social Protection Secretariat (NSPS) and the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA), a semi-autonomous government agency responsible for delivering cash and other social relief programmes to poor and vulnerable Sierra Leoneans.

The stated aim of the conference was to deepen the government’s understanding of the benefits associated with investing in appropriate systems for delivering social protection, and to promote intersectoral collaboration to improve the performance and impact of social protection programmes.

As a means to achieving these goals, the government reached out to UN agencies, development partners and experts from other countries, with the aim of harnessing and learning from the international experience in designing, financing and implementing innovative and effective initiatives to address poverty and food insecurity.

The opening session counted with the presence of the UN Resident Coordinator, the FAO Country Representative and other Heads of Agencies, highlighting the international community’s support to Sierra Leone’s efforts to heal the wounds from the past and promote “growth with equity for the poor”, which was the theme of the conference.

In his opening statement, the Vice-President remarked that because of its young and rapidly growing population, Sierra Leone is poised to reap the benefits of its demographic transition, but only if it invests heavily in developing its human capital and raising its productivity. The Vice-President went on to highlight that the Government's Medium Term Development Plan has made social protection a key priority for the next five years, and the participation of Ministers and government authorities at the highest level, along with the presence of Sierra Leone’s Paramount Chiefs, Mayors and Local Councillors, and representatives from civil society, also served to underscore the country’s strong commitment to protecting and promoting the economic inclusion of its most vulnerable citizens.

In terms of human development, Sierra Leone stands near the bottom of the world ranking of countries. The majority of its population depend on subsistence farming for their livelihood, and high levels of structural unemployment and under-employment thwart the hopes of the 70% of Sierra Leoneans who are younger than 35 years. At 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and also suffers from alarmingly high levels of hunger and chronic malnutrition.

To address these urgent problems, in 2013 the Government launched the Social Safety Net programme that reaches about 30,000 households, the majority of whom are women, in 9 districts. The programme is to be eventually scaled up to all 14 districts across the country. Another 15,000 households received cash transfers during the Ebola humanitarian crisis in 2015, and more recently in response to the 2017 mudslides around Freetown. Concurrently with these efforts, Sierra Leone is implementing a school-fee waiver scheme as part of its Free Quality Education initiative, launched a school feeding programme in all public primary schools in 2016 and has pledged to embark on the implementation of the Free Health Care initiative.

In their presentations, FAO speakers Alejandro Grinspun (ESP) and Sara Abdoulayi (RAF) pointed to evidence from Africa and elsewhere, showing that even chronically poor households have productive potential that can be unleashed if properly supported – by social protection programmes that allow them to meet their basic consumption needs, protect their assets during crises, and save and invest in productive assets and higher-return activities. But agricultural programmes and services are equally important. They seldom reach the poorer farmers, who thus remain cut off from inputs, markets and opportunities that can help them diversify their income and build more resilient and sustainable livelihoods. FAO is uniquely placed to broker dialogue and stronger coordination between the social and the productive sectors in favour of poor smallholder farm households. As FAO Country Representative Tipo Nyanbenyi put it, “this is an opportune time to promote closer alignment between Sierra Leone’s ministries and bridge the traditional divide between social assistance policies targeting the poorest and productive policies for the better-off, more commercially minded farmers.”

Flanked by the Minister of State, Office of the Vice-President, and other high level authorities, the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Francis Kaikai, used the closing session of the conference to launch the new National Social Protection Policy, along with the Fiscal Space Analysis for Social Protection and the Social Transfer Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. However, despite the country’s recent efforts, just about 20 per cent of Sierra Leone’s extreme poor are currently being reached by social protection. The conference in Freetown has generated great momentum, which must now be turned into action and results on the ground.

More information:
FAO’s Social Protection website

Alejandro Grinspun
Senior Economist, Social Protection
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Email: [email protected]

Sara Abdoulayi
Social Protection Officer, Regional Office for Africa
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Email: [email protected]