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Food security is gradually improving in some urban districts

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Sierra Leone
  • May 2016
Food security is gradually improving in some urban districts

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Market and household stock levels will continue to decline faster than normal through the end of the lean season in July as a result of below-average 2015/16 production. Additionally, Sunday market bans across the country are continuing to limit economic activity. Although early rice harvests are expected to improve food availability somewhat, most areas of the country will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through September 2016.

    • Market functionality continues to gradually improve. The majority of public gathering restrictions have been lifted and households are producing off-season crops including vegetables, mangoes, cassava, and palm oil to generate additional income. Additionally, the electricity grid is experiencing fewer outages as the system’s payment model completed updates. This has led to further improvements in urban livelihood activities that were limited during the Ebola crisis. Bo and Western Area Rural and Urban Districts have improved to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    • Land preparations for cash and staple crops for the upcoming 2016/17 agricultural season is ongoing, however reports indicate household incomes from these activities remain somewhat below average. Average to below-average rainfall is forecasted for this season. Given plans for normal distributions of inputs by the Ministry of Agriculture, this year’s crop production is expected to improve compared to the 2015/16 season.


    The 2016 rainy season started on time, although some parts of southern and eastern Sierra Leone experienced abnormal dryness in April. There were additional reports of abnormal drying conditions in some Inland Valley Swamp (IVS) areas in Kambia and Port Loko. This combined with above- average grasshopper attacks in Moyamba, Tonkolili, Kambia and Bonthe is impacting cassava and vegetable production.   Farmers are reporting a slightly below-average off-season vegetable production for crops, including okra, pepper, onions, cassava, and sweet potato. This is providing below-average agricultural labor income for some poor households. Looking forward, NOAA and ACMAD forecasts for the rainy season show an increased probability of average to slightly below-average rainfall during the remainder of the season (May through September). 

    Harvesting of oil palm fruits, which are processed into palm oil, is currently ongoing with normal stocks at local markets.  For other cash crops, such as cocoa and coffee, plantations are being prepared for the new 2016/17 production season with reports of good agronomy practices including pruning, shade management, replacement of old trees and nutrient application. Upland preparation for the 2016/17 main season’s rice production is also ongoing in all districts, while lowland areas are expected to begin second cropping cycles this month. In Bo, IVS rice production has contributed to economic recovery and improved food security outcomes. The government plans to deliver adequate agriculture inputs across the country and if there are no delays, this year’s crop production is expected to improve compared to 2015/16.

    Forage for livestock rearing remains normal to slightly below-average with reports of current dry conditions affecting pastures during the normal pastoral low season in March/April. Income for livestock traders and agro-pastoralists, who are mostly based in Koinadugu, has been above average with high Easter demand in late March. Animal demand will remain average to above-average from May to September 2016, with anticipated demand due to the Muslim holidays of Ramadan in June and July and Eid al-Adha in September.

    Market functioning continues to improve gradually as the effects of Ebola-related shocks begin to subside. Sunday markets remain closed, but other restrictions on movement and markets have been lifted. However, stocks of major staples (local rice, cassava, and groundnut) continue to be atypically low as a result of below-average 2015 production. Continued below average purchasing power for poor households is also having a negative effect on demand for local staples. Lowland cassava is being harvested and processed into gari at below-average levels in some parts of Kambia. Large portions of the gari, however, are being sold to Guinean traders at the Bamoi market compared to during the Ebola period, indicating a general improvement of trade flows heading into the main production season. 

    Market prices for some staple commodities are generally higher compared to April 2015 levels. For example, in Kambia and Kailahun, the average prices of local rice rose 12 and 11 percent respectively and imported rice rose 18 and 17 percent, respectively in April as compared to the previous year. Prices of agricultural commodities are normally higher at this time of the year as a result of seasonality, but are also elevated this year due to below average 2015/16 production. Additionally, Sierra Leone’s currency, the Leone, has been depreciating against the dollar with the Bank of Sierra Leone showing a 20 percent decrease in value as of March 2016 as compared to the previous year. As the lean season begins, prices for staples are expected to continue to rise as household stock levels are exhausted and demand increases. 

    As the electricity grid completed a full shift to a pre-paid and metered system in the last year, fewer outages are happening in urban areas as compared to previous years. This combined with generally improving economic conditions are allowing for the establishment of new businesses, which in turn is increasing livelihood opportunities for poor households. Casual labor employment, such as load carrying, clearing, and security positions, is on the rise compared to the last two years, contributing to improved income levels and food access through market purchases in Freetown and the Western Area District as a whole. 


    The current situation is in line with the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the period of February to September 2016. 


    Generally, access to food is gradually improving as compared to last year due to the lifting of movement restrictions in August of 2015, including bans on public meetings, gatherings, and entertainment activities. However, Sunday market bans will continue to limit economic activity and income generating activities will remain below average in rural areas as a result of slow economic recovery from the impact of EVD. Above average prices, decreasing food stocks on markets, and low purchasing power will in turn limit food access and availability for many poor households, who will forego essential non-food expenditures to meet their food needs. Much of the country will remain in Stress (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity through at least September 2016 when the next harvest is expected to begin. 

    In urban areas, gradually recovering markets and resource access will lead to overall improvements for livelihoods. Markets are expected to continue to recover during the outlook period with the lifting of most EVD-related restrictions. Trade and sales of off-season harvests are improving income generating opportunities and businesses that have been closed through the Ebola crisis are opening once again, especially as the electricity grid completes a system update. The Districts of Bo and Western Area Rural and Urban Districts are thus improving to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity through September.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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