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Improvement in Household Food Security as harvesting progresses

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Sierra Leone
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Improvement in Household Food Security as harvesting progresses

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Harvesting of main season crops, including rice, cassava, sweet potato, vegetables, and cocoa, are in progress and providing improved food availability and income for poor households across the country. All of the districts, including Port Loko and Kailahun will improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity by January 2017 when both commodity and food crop harvests are complete.

    • In Kailahun and Port Loko districts, the residual shocks of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak have led to a slow economic recovery. In addition to being two of the worst affected districts, the closure of two iron ore mines in Port Loko District and heavy rains that atypically disrupted transport and commodity crop trade in Kailahun have further slowed recovery. These districts will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through January 2017.

    • Full economic recovery from EVD related shocks is expected by the end of the main 2016/17 food and commodity crop harvests across the country. From February to May 2017, it is expected that off-season production of rice, vegetables, cassava, and sweet potato will be average to above-average across the country, improving food consumption. Additionally peak cocoa, coffee and palm oil production and marketing will occur during this period, further improving incomes. 


    Current Situation

    Seasonal Progress and Production

    Since June, seasonal rainfall in Sierra Leone has been above average (> 150 percent of average, according to NOAA).   Some localized areas experienced atypical levels of flooding, but overall destruction was from rains were at lower levels than the previous season and there were few reports of damage to crops or forage in affected areas.

    Early main season harvests that started in September marked the end of the lean season. Harvests of cassava, upland rice, and vegetables including okra, cucumber, garden egg, African eggplants and vegetable leaves are on-going and will continue through January 2017. Harvest levels of food crops are reported to be average to above-average following the removal of almost all EVD restrictions and increasing government and NGO support to farmers.  Inland Valley Swamp (IVS) rice cultivation (June to January) is ongoing at the weeding stage, with main harvests expected to begin in late November. There has been an above-average increase in the acreage of IVS rice planted across the country this season due to efforts to shift farmers from upland to IVS rice production in order to reduce deforestation involved in clearing upland fields.

    Additionally, since June, there has been minor harvesting and processing of improved and wild palm fruits as plantation rehabilitation of both varieties of fruit trees is ongoing in all of the regions. In the eastern region, some farmers and traders reported that early harvesting of cocoa in late July started at below-average levels due to heavy rainfall that caused atypical black pod disease infestation. However, the situation has improved, and since mid-September, there have been reports of a significant increase in harvest of the crop.

    Markets and Trade

    The lifting of almost all of the EVD-related restrictions in August 2015 has resulted in the continued improvement of market functioning across the country. There are some reports from traders and local media that opinion is split among vendors about whether to maintain the ban on Sunday market sales. Poor traders, whose daily income from sales is tied to their access to food and non-food items, believe it should be lifted.

    Both household and market level stocks of locally produced foods has increased since August due to current harvesting of upland rice, tubers, and vegetables, which are reducing market dependence for rural households. Market stock levels of imported food stuff, such as rice, onions, and vegetable oil, remain stable across the country. However, current atypical poor road conditions in parts of Kailahun, Koinadugu, and Kono districts, due to above-average rains is slowing the movement of agricultural commodities from surplus to deficit areas, thus limiting access to food for some poor households in these areas. In Kambia District, an atypical increase in the price of petrol is also limiting the flow of local agricultural commodities. The price of a liter of petrol went up from Le 3,750 in May to Le 7,000 in September and there are reports from the District that there is high levels of petrol smuggling to neighboring Guinea, where the cost of a liter is even higher.

    The typical, seasonal increase in food commodity prices during the lean season (May to July) was exacerbated this year by both the depreciation of the local currency and below-average 2015/16 agricultural production. The depreciation of the Leone has continued. From January to September it declined by 13.5 percent against the US dollar and compared to the five-year average, and it is has declined by 40 percent (Bank of Sierra Leone, BSL). In August and September in Kailahun District, the prices of plantains, fish, and palm oil went down by 3, 6.6, and 45 percent, respectively according to Save the Children market price data. The drop was likely attributed to the seasonal increased household stock levels of local agricultural commodities from ongoing harvest and also the increase in artisanal fishing in Moyamba and Bonthe districts. However, compared to September 2015, the prices of plantains and fish went up by 122 and 20 percent, respectively, while that of palm oil went down by 2.5 percent. These general increase in price compared to the previous year is likely related to annual inflation and the depreciation of the Leone.    


    Current harvest related activities are providing wage labor for some poor households, however labor supply and demand have not normalized to pre-EVD shock levels. Above-average wage rates for farm labor, as well as limited agricultural income related to the EVD shock over the last two seasons, has continued to limit the capacity of some well-off farmers to hire farm labor. Current wage rates for harvesting of upland crops, transplanting and weeding of IVS rice on plantations have reached as high as Le 15,000 compared to a maximum of Le 7,000 in the pre-EVD period.  There are also reports that youth migration and livelihood shifts away from agriculture have contributed to a decreased agricultural labor supply.  

    Pastoralists, especially in the northern region (Koinadugu, Bombali, and Kambia districts), experienced a normal increase in income due to the Muslim festive celebration of Eid-al-Mubarak in early September, benefitting from from higher livestock sales and increasing their purchasing power to a normal level compared to the pre-EVD era. Income from petty trade is also resuming to a normal level due to sales of tubers, vegetables, and palm oil. In the eastern region income from logging is seasonally low following the rains, while artisanal fishing communities in the coastal regions are gradually increasing their hauls as the rainy season ends.  Income opportunities across many livelihoods is expected to recover as the rains fully end in November.

    In the eastern region of Sierra Leone, work related to the cultivation and sales of cash crops is the main livelihood for poor households. The retail price of coffee and cocoa is largely determined by international market prices so household income from sales fluctuates accordingly. Data from the World Bank, shows the September international price of cocoa went down by two percent compared to the four-year average and 12 percent from the one year average. Despite these declines, improved harvest prospects and production quality following technical assistance programs (WWH), will likely allow cocoa producers to maintain average incomes as compared to the pre- EVD period.  For coffee producers, income is expected remain average to above-average as the price of robusta coffee in September went up by three percent compared to the four-year average and 18 percent compared to the one year average.


    The Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 will be based on the following national-level assumptions:

    Seasonal Progress: Rainfall will likely follow normal seasonal patterns through the outlook period, continuing heavily through October and receding through December when the dry season is expected to start. Soil water retention is expected to be adequate in IVS areas to allow for second cropping of IVS rice in parts of Bombali, Kambia, Port Loko, Bo, Moyamba, and Pujehun. Also, according to data from USGS, adequate soil water will likely support off-season production of vegetables and tubers from November through April 2017 across the country.

    Main Season Production: Early harvesting of upland rice, which started in some parts of Bonthe and Moyamba districts at the end of August, and the main harvest, which started in late September, are expected to be average. The harvesting of cassava, especially in parts of Port Loko, Bombali, Kambia, Bo, Pujehun, and Moyamba districts, which started in August is expected to continue through January 2017 at average levels.

    Off-Season Production: Off-season production of vegetables, cassava, sweet potato, and maize is expected to start in January, and harvests (March to May) are expected to be at above-average levels as government support, favorable climatic conditions, and full recovery from EVD shocks allow households to expand and improve production.

    Cash Crop Production: The harvesting of cocoa, which started in July in Kailahun, Kenema and Kono, is expected to reach its peak in November and continue through January 2017 at above-average levels. The main season harvest of coffee has begun early harvests and will continue through February 2017 at average levels. The main season harvest of palm fruits (March to May) is expected to be at slightly above-average levels. 

    Market Functioning:  Market functioning will be at average levels throughout the scenario period as most EVD-related bans have been lifted, and trade flow improves to normal, pre-shock levels in most parts of the country. Market food stock levels are already increasing following the start of local, main season harvests and stock levels of imported food commodities are expected to remain stable, as border trade to and from Guinea and Liberia has improved to average levels.

    Prices: As the main harvesting of food crops progresses at average levels, it is expected that prices of locally produced food stuffs will continue to decline during the period October to January 2017. Prices are expected to remain relatively stable from February to May 2017 due to good harvests prospects, but will likely remain elevated due to depreciation and inflation trends.

    Depreciation: The value of the local currency, the Leone, which started to depreciate significantly against the USD in 2015, is not expected to recover during the scenario period. Despite some seasonally typical stabilization of the currency during the holiday season in November and December, further depreciation beyond that period is likely given the lack of revenue opportunities available to the government and austerity policies that will likely be put in place.

    Agricultural Income (food crops): Income from agricultural labor is expected to continue to increase in October due to the harvesting of upland rice (short variety), cassava, vegetables, and pulses. Well-off farmers with bigger plantations will employ some poor household members at higher levels then the last two years. Poor households across the country are expected to have improved income for off-season cultivation (November to February) and harvesting (March). Income for farm labor related to land preparation for 2017 upland rice (February to May) will recover to average levels for poor households as the area cultivated recovers to pre-EVD crisis levels.

    Agricultural Income (commodity crop): The harvesting of cocoa in Kailahun, Kenema, and Kono is ongoing through January 2017 and is expected to provide average agricultural labor income for poor households. Also in these areas, coffee plantations are hiring labor for on-going maintenance (under-brushing) and harvesting. Income from coffee plantation work is expected to remain below average; however, due to a reduction in the acreage as a result of the drop in international market prices for the commodity. Minor harvesting and processing of palm oil and cashews are also expected to generate income for poor households.

    Income from Fishing: Although artisanal fishing households in parts of Port Loko, Moyamba, Bonthe, and Pujehun will experience a seasonal increase in activity and income from October through January due to the onset of the dry season, income from February through April 2017 is expected to be slightly below-average. Fisherman attribute this decline to increased equipment costs and a continuing trend of reduced catches related to overfishing.

    Pastoral Income: Income for pastoralist households is expected to increase significantly compared to the past two-year average as the economy recovers from EVD related shocks and the country celebrates the holidays in December and April. Demand for cattle and goats, which is typically high during the holidays, is expected to fully recover to pre-crisis levels.

    Petty Trading: Since August, income from petty trading for poor households has been seasonally increasing in a trend that will most likely continue through May 2017 due to good harvest and income prospects for most poor households across the country that will keep demand at average levels.

    Ebola Cases: Since the last confirmed case of EVD was reported in February 2016, there have been no new cases of the disease. Due to the continued surveillance activities by the Ebola Operation Center in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, it is most likely that there will be no serious EVD outbreaks during the outlook period.

    Nutrition: National nutrition surveys in the past five years, 2010 (SMART), 2013 (DHS), and 2014 (SMART), were conducted during the lean season from June to August. According to these studies, the average national prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) was 6.9 percent and lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) GAM threshold of 10 percent. From October to May 2017, with the harvesting of food crops, main season and off-season, and increased number of health programs targetting mothers and children, it is expected that the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition will remain lower then reported lean season rates recorded in previous years.


    Food consumption and livelihoods will be normal in almost of the districts due to normal and in some cases above-average harvests of food crops and increased household and market stock levels. Normal petty trading activities across the country and cash crop cultivation in the Eastern regions has increased households’ income both seasonally and as compared to the last two seasons.  Based on this current situation, all of the districts, with the exception of Kailahun and Port Loko, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    Kailahun and Port Loko districts will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity from October to January 2017. Economic recovery in these two districts has been slower than other districts due to both EVD and macroeconomic related shocks. In Port Loko the closure of two iron ore mines has affected income earning opportunities in the District.  Despite above-average upland production (rice, tubers, vegetables), households are using income to pay back outstanding debts incurred during the lean season. Some flooding and displacement has also been reported by MAFFS in the district which has affected assets and production for some households.  Food access and income opportunities remain limited for many chiefdoms in Port Loko District. In Kailahun District, which depends mainly on cash crops, near-average production of upland rice and other food crops will improve food consumption to some degree in October.  Full harvests of cash crops, however, are not expected until January, while trade and livelihoods affected by above-average rains are slowly recovering as the dry season sets in, in November.  Below-average incomes for most poor households in the area are expected from October to January allowing most households to meet their minimum basic food needs, but not their non-food needs. As a result, Kailahun District will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity from October and January 2017.

    During the period February to May 2017, it is expected that all of the districts will attain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. Normal main 2016/17 harvests, increased incomes from the sale of food and cash crops, improved trade flows, especially in Kailahun District, will all contribute to sustained access to food. Also, the expected above-average off-season production of IVS rice, cassava, vegetables, and sweet potato will adequately sustain household and market stock levels across the country through May. 

    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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