Agriculture in Sierra Leone

Accounting for over half of the nation’s GDP, agriculture in Sierra Leone is a major industry that is growing by a steady rate while two out of three people in the nation rely on their own subsistence agriculture for food.  This West African nation has a small area, just outside the ten smallest nations on the continent, with a population of only five and a half million persons.  While the nation is more prominently known for its mining operations, mote notably diamonds, its agriculture is the backbone of its economic productivity.

 Human activity in Sierra Leone stretches back thousands of years.  Its surrounding rain forests kept populations from expanding but provided a large quantity of food for its populace.  The favorable weather allows for crops to be grown year round while the abundance of rain permits water-intensive foods like rice; the amount of large animals living in the region gave hunters easy access to meat.  Advanced farming cultivation began about two thousand years ago with basic stone tools while iron tools reached the coasts around 900 AD.  By the introduction of Islamic and European influence around 1500, some farmers began growing cash crops like tobacco, rubber, and cotton, though most strictly grew food.

 Civil war during the 1990s disrupted production of food as rebels supported by neighboring Nigeria attempted to overthrow the elected President Kabbah.  Around fifty thousand people were estimated to be killed.  UN intervention ceased the fighting and by 2007, the country held peaceful elections, with Ernest Bai Komora, leader of opposition party All People’s Congress.  Two other main parties, the Sierra Leone People’s Party and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, fill out the nation’s parliament.  No other parties have gained significant support.

 No crop is more vital to Sierra Leone’s agriculture than rice, with eighty-five percent of farmers growing rice during the nation’s rainy season.  The nation consumes nearly 80 kilograms of rice per person each year.  The second most productive crop is cassava, a root crop with high-calorie density.  Palm trees are grown in the region for palm oil and sap; the sap is fermented into a palm wine.  The largest number of livestock raised are chickens with around five million raised, more than all other animals combined.  Cattle, sheep, goats, and ducks are also raised in significant quantities.  The civil war had a significant impact in the number of livestock grown, through numbers have rebounded in the decade since. 

 While there is very little temperature difference between the months due to the nation’s close location to the equator, the country has significant changes in rainfall from summer to winter.  The wet season of May to December allows for most of the water-intensive crops to be grown; drought-resilient crops are grown in the dry season of January to April. 

 Money flows into Sierra Leone from companies and non-profit interests, including fifty million dollars from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.  Corporate agricultural interests in the nation include the Socfin Agricultural Company, which recently purchased six and a half thousand hectares of land for rubber and palm oil crops.

Written by staff writer

October 2012

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