Food Insecurity in Sierra Leone

More than 40 percent of Sierra Leoneans experience food insecurity. This largely stems from the nation’s high poverty rate—53 percent of the population lives below the income poverty line—and the fact that 60 percent of the population performs low-paying subsistence agriculture work.

Efforts to address food insecurity in Sierra Leone, including those by the World Food Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Action Against Hunger, concentrate on combating these root causes and providing food to those in need.

Even though the food insecurity rate in Sierra Leone is still high, it has improved over the last several years, declining from 49.8 percent in 2015 and 43.7 percent in 2018. The percentage of households that are severely food insecure also decreased significantly, falling from 8.6 percent to 2.4 percent between 2015 and 2018. Still, approximately 3.2 million Sierra Leoneans continue to be food insecure and 170,000 are severely food insecure.

Furthermore, malnutrition in Sierra Leone is a persistent problem because of food insecurity. A 2018 survey found that 24 percent of households reported consuming food from less than three food groups in a week. This diet can have a dangerous impact, especially on children as malnutrition affects their physical health and making educational attainment more difficult.  Of note, 31.3 percent of children in Sierra Leone suffer from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition.

3 Organizations Combating Food Insecurity in Sierra Leone

  1. The World Food Programme
    The World Food Programme (WFP), active in Sierra Leone since 1968, works to provide aid to those experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as addressing some of the causes of persistent food insecurity in Sierra Leone. Some of the organization’s main goals are ensuring access to food for all, achieving lower malnutrition rates and helping smallholder farmers become more financially prosperous. To accomplish these goals, the WFP provides food assistance to those affected by disasters and emergencies, provides cash assistance to the chronically food-insecure and trains smallholder farmers to strengthen their market access and profits.One of the WFP’s most impactful programs is its school feeding program, which was launched in 2018 in Pujehun and Kamiba, two districts experiencing some of the worst food insecurity in the nation. A significant side effect of food insecurity in Sierra Leone is low schooling rates, especially for girls. To reduce the number of children a family needs to feed, parents sometimes arrange child marriages for their daughters. This effectively ends their education because girls who are married are rarely able to continue going to school.Providing meals at school helps encourage families to continue sending their children to school and helps reduce the associated cost for the family. It also ensures vital nutrition and can help reduce malnutrition and its effects, including stunting of growth. The Pujehun District has a stunting rate of 38 percent, one of the highest in the country, which reflects a significant need for a program like this.The school meals are not meant to be a substitute for home-cooked food, but they help ensure that children do not go hungry during the day and provide a consistent source of essential nutrients. The school feeding program reached more than 29,000 children, including 14,000 girls, in its first year.
  2. Action Against Hunger 
    Action Against Hunger has been active in Sierra Leone since 1991. Their programming is focused on improving sanitation, hygiene and water access, as well as food security. To decrease food insecurity in Sierra Leone, Action Against Hunger grows leguminous plants and vegetables to help diversify food and income for farmers. They also develop savings and credit groups to increase financial opportunities for smallholder farmers.In 2018, Action Against Hunger helped a total of 215,433 people, 8,000 of which benefited from food security and livelihood programs. They also strengthened 32 health facilities and helped improve nutrition for mothers and children under 5.
  3. The International Fund for Agricultural Development
    In March 2019, the government of Sierra Leone and the U.N. reached a $72.6 million deal to improve food security and rural income in the nation. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is providing a $5.9 million loan, a $5.9 million grant and allocating an additional $40.8 million to use for the deal between 2019 and 2021. The additional funds are being provided by the government of Sierra Leone and the private sector. This project seeks to tackle poverty and food insecurity in Sierra Leone by strengthening agricultural systems and empowering farmers.  Women and youth are hoped to make up at least 40 percent of the project in an effort to promote gender equality and provide opportunities for young people.IFAD will invest in agricultural mechanization, water management and irrigation, as well as create field schools for farmers and provide them with opportunities for greater financial security. The goal is to increase production and expand markets to raise smallholder farmers’ incomes, thereby tackling one of the root causes of food insecurity in the nation.

Sara Olk
Photo: Wikipedia