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Stressed food insecurity outcomes expected to continue through September

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Sierra Leone
  • February - September 2016
Stressed food insecurity outcomes expected to continue through September

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The volume of cross-border trade flows and transactions are below-average across most of the country. Rice and cash crop production for the 2015/16 season was lower than the 2014/15 season, and prices are currently above average. Poor households are facing diminished purchasing power and many are incapable of meeting their livelihood protection needs. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity or higher is expected for at least 20 percent of rural district populations.

    • A normal start to the next cropping season is expected and international forecasts indicate that there are high chances of average to below-average rainfall. Households are currently engaged in land preparation activities for rice and off-season crops. Employment opportunities for weeding and harvesting of minor crops is expected to improve household income and food access during the lean season.

    • Most poor households are still likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the start of the harvest in September. Acute food insecurity among a small portion of these households could deteriorate into Crisis (IPC Phase 3), as they start to face slight food gaps due to higher food prices once the lean season starts in May. Labor availability in the form of weeding and other activities is expected to be normal or above normal for the remainder of the year due to the end of several bans around public gathering. This should increase household incomes and improve food access for poor households.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    During the 2015 cropping season rainfall amounts and distribution was average and as part of recovery efforts government authorities distributed rice and maize seeds. Despite this, during FEWS NET’s recent field assessment, rice production was found to be below average this season. One factor that contributed to the below-average harvest this past season were the ongoing restrictions on public gathering during the land preparation period, from February to April 2015. In a normal year, households typically rely on group or communal farm workforces, however the ban limited worker access to labor both within and outside of communities. An Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) completed in June 2015 corroborated this finding, showing a decrease in agricultural production among farming households during the 2014 cropping season. The restrictions in 2015 halted assistance that community members could give to one another, subsequently reducing the area cropped and limiting income from labor. Since late 2015, the public gathering ban has been lifted and labor movement and access has improved. However, the Sunday market ban is still in place, and this continues to constrain the already limited livelihood options for households.

    Across most of the country, households are engaged in the harvesting and marketing various cash crops. Coffee is being processed and marketed in south and southeastern areas that rely on rainfed agriculture. The harvesting of palm oil has just begun in central and southern parts of the country and will continue over the next few months. Land preparation for rice, the main staple, and some minor food crops including sweet potatoes, maize, and millet started this month and is expected to continue through April.  This is also the time of the year when farm labor is an important source of income.

    Labor demand this period is much higher than it was last year when movement was restricted due to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak. Since several Ebola-related bans were lifted in late 2015, activities, group farming is now permitted. The increase in farm labor opportunities should improve income levels for labor-seeking poor households. Other income-generating activities such as petty trade and charcoal sales are available and providing households with incomes for basic food purchases.

    Market activities are still recovering from the magnitude of the Ebola-related shocks in 2014/15. Household food access is still constrained due to higher than normal rice prices. The national average price for rice has increased by approximately 10 percent and is currently at Le 4,000/kg.  Cross-border flows with traders from Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Senegal are still considerably below average due to the residual Ebola-related fears. This has resulted in lower market demand, contributing to below-average incomes for households that usually engage in these activities.

    Although current cocoa bean prices have increased, many cocoa farmers earned less income this season because prices in late 2015 were much lower than average. Middlemen with stored stocks of cocoa are mostly benefiting from the high cocoa prices. Unlike cocoa, the current supply of coffee is much higher than the previous 2014/15 season because of the good rainfall. During the 2014/15 cropping season coffee was sold at an average price of Le 8,000/kg, but is currently selling for much lower at Le 6,000/kg due to an increase in international coffee supplies.  

    In agro-pastoral areas in the north, conditions are dry and livestock are in poor condition. Traders have moved their cattle to better grazing land in lower-lying areas. In general, cattle are brought over from Guinea to be reared and sold in Koinadugu district, which is on the border. Livestock prices continue to be stable and demand for livestock products is normal for this time of the year. The national average price for beef is Le 30,800/kg. 

    The World Food Program (WFP) is currently implementing targeted supplementary feeding for about 15,000 children under five, as well as about 5,000 pregnant and lactating women in Kenema district. To assist EVD survivors in Kenema, approximately 155 people are receiving cash/voucher assistance in the amount of Le 265,000/month. In Kailahun district, approximately 201 survivors are receiving cash/voucher assistance. Additionally, Save the Children International are currently implementing a cash transfer program for about 6,500 households in nine chiefdoms in Kailahun district. Each household receives Le 135,000 per month.

    Among poor rural households, food crop sales still represent about half of their income, followed by petty trade and  palm oil related labor. However, since the outbreak the volume of regional exports and the degree of market activity has declined significantly, resulting in most poor households being incapable of meeting their livelihood protection needs. Most poor households across the country are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    The Food Security Outlook for February to September 2016 will be based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Off-season crop production: Between May and July, farmers will be harvesting several minor crops including okra, sweet potato, groundnut, maize and peppers, which were planted in January and February. This off-season production is a source of income for some poor households with income from labor. During the off-season harvest the supply of food crops in the markets usually increases, however poor household purchasing power will likely remain below-average during this period.

    Growing season for 2016/17: According to the ECMWF and NMME interntional climate forecasts, the the rainy season will start on time in Sierra Leone (April 2016). These forecasts indicate that rainfall this season will range from average to below-average. Usually, Sierra Leone receives a large amount of moisture each season, so the early forecast of below average rainfall is currently not expected to have a significant impact on agricultural production. As a result,  normal agricultural activities and normal income earning opportunities are expected for poor households during this period.

    Farm and non-farm labor incomes: With the lifting of Ebola-related bans, income from farm labor is expeted to be at near average levels during this outlook period. Other Income generating activities such as petty trading, temporary employment, and handicrafts will remain below-average during this period as a result of the slow economic recovery from the impact of EVD and lower than normal household purchasing power.

    Income from livestock sales and production: Between now and May, demand for livestock will remain relatively stable. During the months of June to July , demand will increase due to the month of Ramadan. As a result, livestock trader income levels will improve during these months. However, demand for livestock between August and September normally reduces and this trend is expected to occur this year.

    Market supplies and trade flow: Due to the lifting of most Ebola-related movement restrictions, markets will continue to try to recover between February and September. However, the activities will remain below average due to the continued Ebola-related ban on market activities on Sundays. During this period, normally traders from several neighboring countries come to Sierra Leone markets and Sundays is one of the most important marketing days. However, since the EVD outbreak the presence of foreign traders has declined significantly. As a result, cross border flows are expected to remain below average during this outlook period as well.

    Cereal prices: The prices for food crops will remain relatively stable and slightly above average through the month of March. Household purchasing power will be low. As the lean season begins in April, prices are expected to increase as they normally do during this period. By the start of the early harvests in September, prices are expected to follow their normal seasonal decline patterns. FEWS NET price projections for imported rice from February to September indicate that prices will likely be at the same levels as the two year average and slightly below 2014/15 market prices.

    Security Situation/Market ban: According to the recent World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola situation Report, there are no new EVD cases as of February 17th. Between now and September, the number of new cases is not expected to reach the level of previous years due to continued surveillance efforts. FEWS NET is assuming that Ebola-related restrictions to Sunday market activities will continue during the outlook period, but that no additional bans will be put in place during this period.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In the February to April period, most households are engaging in land preparation activities for rice and minor food crops including maize, millet, and sweet potatoes. Demand for labor in the form of weeding and other activities is expected to be normal or above average for the remainder of the year due to the end of several bans. Labor supply is also expected to be normal or above average due to the lower than normal household incomes and below-average production during the second half of 2015. During most of the outlook period, the majority of poor households will be relying on market purchases in order to meet their basic food needs. Since income earning opportunities and crop production were lower than normal during the Ebola outbreak, household access to food purchases is still limited due to reduced purchasing power which has been further affected by higher than average food prices.  Poor households across most of the country will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the next harvest in September. Significantly below-average cross border trade flow and labor limitations in 2015 due to Ebola-related bans reduced household access to food and income during the early portion of this consumption period. As a result, most poor households have fewer resources to purchase essential supplies and will likely prioritize spending on immediate food needs over non-food needs.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1. Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    An increase in reported cases of EVD

    Ebola-related bans that were lifted in late 2015 may be reinstated, which would limit labor opportunities and food access.

    Increased cross-border trade activities and an end to the Sunday market ban

    This will improve household participation in livelihood activities, improving household purchasing power and food access.

    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current acute food insecurity outcomes, February 2016

    Figure 2

    Current acute food insecurity outcomes, February 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figures 1. Price projections for imported rice, Kailahun district

    Figure 3

    Figures 1. Price projections for imported rice, Kailahun district

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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