Agriculture in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a country located on the Western fringe of Africa, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, Republic of Guinea and Republic of Liberia The country is divided into Eastern, Northern and Southern regions with 12 districts. Sierra Leone covers 72,300 km2 of which 5.4 million hectares (74%) is potentially cultivatable land. The uplands agro-ecology represents approximately 80 percent of all arable land; this has low fertility and is suitable for a wide variety of food and cash crops. The rest are lowlands with better fertility status and the potential for high crop yields under sound management practices. This comprises 690,000 ha of inland valley swamps, 145,000 ha of naturally grassy drainage depressions (bolilands), 130,000 ha of riverain grassland and 20,000 ha of mangrove swamps.
Agriculture is the backbone of the Sierra Leonean economy, with the sector contributing between 55.2 percent in 2019 to 56.6 percent of GDP in 2020 and employing around two-thirds of the national labour force The country boasts fertile soils and its ample rainfall averages roughly 3,800mm per year, making it one of the most humid countries in Africa. The climate is generally equatorial with two distinct seasons; a wet season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. This climate supports a broad range of crops including rice, cassava and groundnuts, as well as livestock and cash crops, such as coffee, cocoa, and palm oil.
Small-scale subsistence farming currently dominates the sector. At the regional level, the Northern region records the highest proportion of agricultural households (24.5 per cent), followed by the East, the South and the West. The majority of agricultural households nationwide are in self-employment without employees (76.9 per cent). At the regional level, the Northern region again recorded the highest numbers of agricultural households in self-employment, follows this time by the Eastern region , the Southern region and the Western region. More than 85 per cent of agricultural households nationwide are engaged in crop production including food crops, tree crops and horticultural crops. Nearly three-quarters (73.6 per cent) are engaged in animal husbandry, involving the raising of different types of livestock including big ruminants (cattle), small ruminants (goats and sheep), poultry (chickens and ducks) and others. Key cash crops in Sierra Leone include : cocoa, coffee and palm oil.
Cacao and Coffee
In the 70s and 80s, cacao and coffee were mayor cash and export crops in Sierra Leone. Yield currently average at 410Kg/Ha for cacao and 390 Kg/Ha for coffee beans, low numbers even by West African standards. More cocoa is produced than coffee, with Kailahun district recording the largest amount: 16,458,990 kg. The Kailahun district production was 47.6 percent of total cocoa production and 14.9 per cent of overall tree crop production. This is followed by the other two Eastern districts Kenema and Kono.
Oil Palm is produced in many parts of Sierra Leone due to its favorable climate. Despite plantations being neglected, production of the crop has rebounded in recent years to around 195.000 MT annually. Due to aging, estates owned by the government consist predominantly of slowly yielding trees. Currently oil palm yields stand at approximately 1.5MT of Crude Palm Oil per hectare.
Of the total arable land under upland rice cultivation, 13.1 per cent of the
country’s 35 per cent is in the Northern region. Rice field area per household ranges from 0.25 ha to 5.5 ha with an average of 1.06 ha. After harvest most of the farmers leave rice bundles in the field to dry. Threshing and winnowing are invariably done by hand and further drying is on mud floors and tarmac roads.
Cassava is the second staple food crop in Sierra Leone after rice. Bonthe district has the most land used for cassava farming, followed by Port
Loko, Moyamba, Pujehun and Bo.
Many citrus plantation were destroyed during the civil war. The few plantations that survived cover only a total land area of 9,487 ha with 3,602 ha in the Northern region, 3,378 ha in the Eastern region, 2,329 ha in the Southern region and just 178 ha in the Western region. The total
land cover under citrus production is only 0.8 per cent of total land under tree crop plantations.
Other crops cultivated are potato, maize, groundnuts, sorghum and millet. Vegetables are cultivated at all area of the country but consumed only on local market and not exported.
The domestic production, as it stands today, is not sufficient to meet the needs of the growing Sierra Leonean population. Mainly semi-nomadic herders in the Northern part of the country keep cattle. Birth rates of livestock are low, mortality high and off take is only 7 percent, due mainly to feed deficiencies and uncontrolled parasites and diseases. Poultry are the mostly widely owned form of livestock and also the most numerous. Pigs are the least widely owned but nevertheless they are widely distributed and many are found in urban areas. Contrary to the free range system, substantial numbers of pigs are reared on intensive production systems. There are various levels of management and intensity of production. At the lowest is the smallholder semi-intensive production in which 2 or 3 sows are kept in simple houses with concrete floors and thatched roofs, and are fed largely or entirely from home grown feeds, notably cassava, and locally available by products. Fully commercial units rely on compound feeds and producers mill or mix their feeds for their own use, but not for sale.
An estimated 75 percent of rural households in Sierra Leone own sheep and/or goats and the average flock size are from 2 to 15 animals. The production system of sheep and goat is entirely traditional characterized by low input and low output levels. There is no commercial sector.
Forestry and honey making
According to the U.N. FAO, 38.1% or about 2,726,000 ha of Sierra Leone is forested, according to FAO. Of this 4.1% ( 113,000 ) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Sierra Leone had 15,000 ha of planted forest. Timber is produced for the domestic and export markets and includes Guarea cedrata, a cedar-scented, pink, mahogany-type wood, and the Lophira alata variety procera. Beekeeping becoming more popular in rural areas, especially in areas where cashew is cultivated. Cashew (Anacardium occidentale L.) is part of the Anacardiaceae family and it is a tree with two different kind of flowers: one male and one hermaphrodite. Self-pollination and cross-pollination therefore play an important role in the formation of the cashew seed. While wind plays little role, pollination largely depends on insects. Specifically, the honeybee (A. mellifera) proves to be one of the most efficient pollinators of cashew flowers.
Sierra Leone’s 506km coastline and 30,000km continental shelf boast a commercially viable stock of fish. The region is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds. The fisheries sector contributes approximately 8 percent of Sierra Leone’s GDP (according to World Bank figures and government of Sierra Leone statistics), and fish constitutes around 80 percent of animal protein consumed by Sierra Leoneans. The region boasts a viable commercial fish stock including shrimp, cephalopods, lobster, demersal and pelagic species. Most clupeid species are marine but some anadromous shads (Ilisha) and bonga (Ethmalosa) are adapted to withstand low salinities particularly in the rainy season. The following carangids occur in the waters of Sierra Leone: jacks, crevalles, scads, bumper, pompanos and blue runners. There are mostly schooling species distributed on the continental shelf but some occur in brackishwaters especially when young. The croakers, drums and meagres are the most important sciaenid species in Sierra Leone. This fish species group is primarily marine but also occurs seasonally in brackishwater areas. Most of the species inhabit sandy and muddy bottoms in coastal areas with large river flows.
The seabreams inhabit the continental shelf and slope. The small and young individuals occur in shallower waters forming aggregations whereas the adults are solitary. Many species are hermaphroditic (having both male and female gametes). Sometimes the majority of individuals are male at first maturity and the females appear later (protandric hermaphroditism). In some cases the females are more at first maturity and more males appear later (protogynic hermaphroditism). Since protogynic hermaphroditism is associated with efficient utilization of food resources and parental care, it might be a better strategy for exploited sparids. One of the important factors influencing the productivity of Sierra Leone waters and the extent of fishing activities is water movement. There is vertical oscillation of the thermocline and nutrients according to the oscillation of the equatorial current system. Additionally, there are effects of the equatorial undercurrent (Lomonosov Current) which is the most productive part of the equatorial area. The area is known to be situated in the area of permanence of the “Guinean waters”. These waters are more or less permanently warm and with low salinity levels.
The marine fisheries of Sierra Leone are divided into:
The artisanal fishery, operating in estuaries and inshore waters and extending from the shoreline to around 20-40m deep;
The industrial fishery, operating in the open deeper waters.