DATE: 19 June 1997

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

The recent political upheaval in Sierra Leone threatens to aggravate the already precarious food security situation in the country and has dashed the hope and optimism for fast recovery engendered by the aborted peace process. Following the upheaval, the security situation remains very volatile, international aid workers have been evacuated and rehabilitation projects have been put on hold. Up to 20 000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, mostly to Guinea and The Gambia. Repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from neighbouring countries has been stopped.

The food supply situation is tightening in the main towns. The price of rice has tripled in Freetown and the supply of food and water is deteriorating. Only one-fifth of shops and markets have re-opened since the upheaval. Humanitarian agencies plan to start limited food distributions to vulnerable people in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni. Cross-border operations from Cote d'Ivoire or Guinea are also envisaged to provide food to affected persons in rural areas. Despite the looting, about 21 000 tons of relief food is reported to be available in the country. In late 1996, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission estimated paddy production at about 391 000 tons which was 10 percent above the previous year. Production of root crops was also projected to increase to an estimated 328 000 tons, 7 percent above the previous year. Cereal import requirement for 1997 had been estimated at 260 000 tons and the food aid requirement at 80 000 tons. Cereal food aid requirements to support resettlement/rehabilitation activities implemented by WFP and CRS had been estimated at 60 500 tons. With the current upheaval, import and food aid requirements will increase significantly.

Insecurity is severely hampering agricultural activities, especially the planting of the main crops which normally takes place in April to June. Rains started in early April in the centre and the east. Rainfall increased and became abundant over the entire country in early May, allowing the planting of rice and land preparation for millet, sorghum and maize. However, the fighting and subsequent insecurity will adversely affect the 1997 food production. Contrary to previous expectations following the return to peace, planted areas are likely to be sharply reduced as some farmers will abandon their farms while others are discouraged from cultivating larger areas. For rice, which is the main cereal, seedbeds have already been planted but transplanting still needs to be done. For millet and sorghum, land preparation was underway and sowing was about to start. With regard to cassava, the impact may be less as this crop can remain stored in the ground. For all planted crops, the reduction of activity in the fields during the growing cycle will reduce yields. Insecurity will also affect the distribution of inputs. Thus, despite the implementation of rehabilitation programmes until mid May, the prospects for the 1997 food production have deteriorated and the country will continue to rely heavily on food aid to meet its consumption needs. The situation will be closely monitored by FAO/GIEWS.

This alert is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): [email protected]) for further information if required.

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