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Significant improvement in household food security when harvests begin in September

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Sierra Leone
  • June 2016
Significant improvement in household food security when harvests begin in September

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The below-average 2015/16 off-season and main harvests in most parts of the country continues to negatively affect both household and market stock levels. Prices are rising to above-average levels as the May to August lean season begins, limiting food access and availability for poor households. From June to September, almost all districts will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. 

    • Due to normal climatic conditions and the lifting of most EVD related restrictions, the main season harvest of major staples including rice, cassava, and vegetables is expected to be at near average levels. This harvest, as well as improved market functioning, will allow most households to have improved food access and availability. Most areas will improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity from September to January.

    • Kailahun and Port Loko Districts were two of the hardest hit by the EVD crisis, experiencing complete quarantines and market shut downs in many chiefdoms in 2015. Low production and trade opportunities last season were more severe in these Districts and economic recovery has been slow. In Port Loko, the economy also suffered from two large mine operations shutting down. These districts will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity through at least January 2017.

    Current Situation


    Poorly distributed rainfall during April and May has persisted and led to growing moisture deficits in parts of Sierra Leone (NOAA). In Kambia, planting of upland rice and cassava started late in early June, as compared to May in a normal year. Farmers also reported that groundnut seeds failed to germinate from plantings in early May. According to some farmers in Kambia, this is due to reduced precipitation in May. In both the southern and eastern regions, however, planting of upland rice is in progress and agricultural officers in Kono district are reporting that planting started normally in early May.

    Palm oil processing and marketing is ongoing in Kambia and plantation preparation is ongoing in Kenema. Production for the 2015/16 season was below average because of poor plantation preparation in 2015, when EVD restriction were still in place.  In the Northern Region, marketing during the lean season will provide some additional income for producers at slightly below-average levels. Coffee and cocoa plantation preparation in the Eastern Region ended in May. The plantation area prepared was at average levels due to average labor supply and input support from NGO and government projects.  Early harvests will begin in July.

    Markets and Trade

    Market functioning across the country continues to improve to normal levels after the lifting of almost all Ebola-related restrictions in August 2015. The Sunday trading ban is still in effect and traders in rural areas report this is limiting additional income opportunities. Across the country, as the May to August lean season continues, household and market stocks are at below-average levels due to below-average harvests during the 2015/16 main and off-seasons. This is increasing both the demand for and prices of staple commodities, thus limiting poor household’s access to staple foods. Palm oil stock levels in the market continue to improve as compared to earlier this year as marketing of the fruits harvested and processed between December and March continues.  Market stocks are still below the five year average levels.

    The value of the Leone has been gradually depreciating for the past five years, but there has been a sharp decline in the midrate value of the Leone to the US dollar since 2015.  Since June 2015 the Leone has declined by 24.1 percent (Bank of Sierra Leone). This is mainly attributed to the closure of the two of the largest iron ore mines, both in Port Loko and Tonkolili Districts, in 2015 as a result of declining international iron ore prices as well as the difficulties of continuing production during the Ebola crisis.  In 2014, iron ore accounted for 64 percent of total exports making up almost 30 percent of GDP (MIT). Reduced agricultural production during the EVD period, particularly for coffee and cocoa cash crops from 2014 to 2016, also contributed to the weakening Leone.

    Market prices of staple commodities are increasing and at above-average levels as compared to 2015 due to seasonality, low production in 2015/16 season and the depreciation of the Leone. In the month of March 2016, the national average price of imported rice, sweet potato and cassava increased by 8, 11, and 46 percent respectively as compared to the past 3 years average (MAFFS).  According to traders in Kambia, imported rice and wheat flour increased by 55 and 19 percent, respectively, from May 2015 to May 2016. Above-average prices of local and imported commodities are further reducing the purchasing power of poor households and in turn access food during the lean season (mid-May to end of July).


    Current land preparation and planting activities for rice, cassava, vegetables, and pulses (pigeon pea and cowpea) are providing wage labor for some poor households. In general, however, above-average wage rates for farm labor is making it difficult for some better off producers to hire labor. Despite high wages, farm labor supply is still limited as poor farmers participate in a labor rotation arrangement to assist each other with land preparation activities. Farmers and officials report that farmers are spending more time on labor rotation this planting season as they clear land that was not planted last season. Additionally, there has been reports of youth migration to urban areas in order to pursue non-farm work which may be further reducing labor supply. The current wage rates at the national level range from Le 10,000 to Le 15,000 as compared normal, pre-EVD rates which ranged from Le 5,000 to Le 8,000.  

    For some livestock owners, the small ruminant disease peste des petits ruminants (PPR) has inflicted above-average losses of goats. Livestock owners in parts of Kambia, Moyamba and Bo districts have reported reduced income from the losses from January through May and some anticipate needing to sell healthy breed stock to support income through the lean season. The onset of the rainy season has helped livestock herders in Koinadugu, the main area of livestock production, to begin fattening and calving of their herds which they will continue to do through September.

    In urban areas such as Bo as well as Western Region, 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, cleaning, security  positions and petty trading,  is  on  the  rise  compared  to  the  last  two  years, contributing  to  improved  income  levels.


     The most likely scenario for June 2016 to January 2017 is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • Weather:  According to the 2016 rainfall forecasts issued by NOAA cumulative rainfall totals for the period of June to September 2016 are likely to be below average to average (Figure 1). Although rainfall may be below average, water requirements for all crops are expected to be met.
    • Production: Both staple and commodity crop harvests are expected to improve as compared to the 2015/16 season to near-normal levels. Production for cash crops such as cocoa (July to January), coffee (November to March) and palm fruit (September to December) are expected to be above 2015 levels due to increased areas of plantations being cleared and adopted improved management techniques. Cocoa farmers are now preparing to start the harvest of early cocoa in July when yields are expected to be near normal. The early coffee harvest will begin in November and will peak in February 2017.
    • Agriculture Income (Staple Crops): The minor harvest of cassava, maize, millet and sorghum (June to July) and of sweet potato (August/September) will likely provide near average income for some poor households through farm labor and petty trading.  The main harvest of rice, cassava, maize, and yams from September to January will provide near average incomes for most poor households from harvest work and petty trading.  In kind wages and harvest sales will allow better off households to hire more labor during the harvest season.
    • Agriculture Income (Commodity Crops): Cocoa plantation preparation, which started in April, will continue to generate income for some poor households. The harvesting of cocoa starting in July 2016 will likely contribute to the normal incomes through January 2017. The main harvest and processing of palm oil in the Northern region will go from September through January 2017.  Both harvests are expected to be near average, providing income opportunities for laborers and traders.  Peak coffee harvest will be in February, after the outlook period, coffee producing regions may take more time to see incomes fully recover.
    • Pastoral Income: With the near average onset of rains, pasture and animal fattening is progressing normally for the season. The Muslim holidays of Ramadan and Eid-al-Adha, in June and September respectively, are expected to improve pastoral incomes across the country.
    • Petty trading: It is likely that petty trading activities such as buying and selling of vegetables, spices, and small household goods, will improve to near normal, pre-EVD levels in almost all districts from September to January as incomes and food stocks recover following the 2016/17 harvest. Trading in Port Loko and Kailahun, which were most heavily impacted by EVD related trade restrictions, are expected to take longer to recover. 
    • Market Functioning (Trade Levels): It is likely that market functioning will continue to improve from September to January as almost all EVD related restrictions are lifted and as new harvests supply markets at normal levels. However, stock levels for local staple commodities (local rice, cassava, sweet potato) will remain low from June to September as a result of below average 2015/16 production and off season production.
    • Depreciation of the Leone: The closure of two large, iron ore mining companies in 2014 and 15 led to a decrease in export earnings causing a sharp depreciation of the national currency, the Leone. According to the Sierra Leone National Bank and international financial institutions, the Leone will continue to depreciate given that the mines are not expected to reopen and iron ore prices are not expected to significantly recover.
    • Prices: Market prices are expected to continue to increase to above-average levels through the lean season (June to August) as household and market food stocks reach their low points and demand rises. From September to January 2017, prices are expected to fall in rural areas as harvests come in, stocks are replenished and market demand decreases. Global rice prices are not expected to rise significantly from the 4 year average and rice imports are expected to follow average seasonal trends (FEWS NET). However, the continued depreciation of the local currency, the Leone, may put additional pressure on both imported and local rice prices and will prevent the significant reduction in the prices of staple foods typically seen during the harvest season. 
    • Ebola Cases: Since February 2016 when the last EVD confirmed case was reported in Kambia District, there has been no other reported new cases of EVD.  No new Ebola cases are expected in the Outlook period, allowing for the continued recovery of economic activities to near average levels.
    • Nutrition: The average national prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) from surveys conducted in 2010 (SMART), 2013 (DHS), and 2014 (SMART) is 6.9 percent, which is lower than the WHO 10 percent threshold.  Disaggregated by district the highest median prevalence rate was recorded in Pujehun District at 7.7 percent. These surveys were all conducted during the lean season between June and September. Given improvements in food availability and access in comparison to the last two years, it is expected that the prevalence of acute malnutrition will remain at these average levels through September and improve beyond these levels into the post- harvest season from October to January. 
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The below average off-season and main 2015/16 harvests in most part of the country continue to negatively affect both household and market stock levels during the lean season (June to August). This will force poor households to consume less preferred foods such as snails in the south-eastern region, religiously tabooed animals in the northern region and wild vegetable leaves that are not normally consumed. Poor households will reduce the quality and quantity of consumption as well as forgo basic non-food needs throughout the lean season. Almost all of the districts will remain in Stressed (IPC phase 2) food insecurity from June to September.

    The economy of Bo and Western Region are more diversified and less dependent on agricultural markets. Livelihood opportunities for manual and unskilled labour for poor households will continue to increase. The minor harvest of cassava and sweet potato (June to August) will provide additional food sources and income opportunities for poor households, particularly around Bo Town. This income and food availability will allow households to remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity in Western Region and Bo districts from June to September.

    The main harvest for the 2016/17 planting season (September to January) is expected to increase to a near-average level as farmers fully engage in community labor activities and cultivate more land as compared to last year. Almost all of the EVD restrictions have been lifted, allowing market functioning to continue to grow to a near average level allowing poor households better access to food. Most of the districts will move to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels of food insecurity from September to January 2017.  

    The effect of the EVD was felt most strongly in the districts of Kailahun, where the entire district was quarantined, and in Port Loko where the entire chiefdoms of Marampa, Kaffu Bullum and Bureh Kasseh Ma were quarantined. In Port Loko the closure of large iron ore companies has further reduced economic activity and income opportunities. Kailahun, which is in an isolated area in the country that is more focused on cash crops trade and recovery from market restrictions has been a longer process. Full recovery is expected after the peak coffee harvest in February 2017 as long as no other restrictions are put in place.  In both districts livelihood opportunities, income and food access remain depressed and they will continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels of food insecurity from June onto January 2017.



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



    Impact on food security outcomes


    A reemergence of reported cases of EVD

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

    Significantly below average and erratic rainfall throughout the season 

    Reduction in yield and significantly below average harvests could limit food availability.

    Increased levels of humanitarian assistance

    Increased programs for cash transfer, agricultural inputs, livelihood support and direct food aid during the lean season could improve food and income opportunities for poor households


    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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