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Imported food a threat to domestic agriculture?

Map of Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone - war crimes accused must have lawyer (IRIN )

Food imports are keeping Sierra Leone from realising agricultural self-sufficiency and meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating hunger by 2015, experts say. In a country where 80 percent of food is imported, mostly from the USA and Europe, the local agricultural industry is feeble and local farmers struggle to compete.

“Sierra Leone faces a huge dependency on food importation, irrespective of the country’s potential for agricultural production,” Tennyson Williams, country director for the non-governmental organisation (NGO) ActionAid, told IRIN.

According to ActionAid, of the 780,000 hectares of available farmland in Sierra Leone, only 15 percent is being used for food production. The National Farmers’ Association of Sierra Leone has called on the government to help improve capacity to produce food locally.

ActionAid says a reduction of hunger in Sierra Leone can be brought about only by an increase in national agricultural productivity. The answer to hunger eradication lies in increased support for local farmers and not in “support of multinational companies; promotion of trade liberalisation and opening up countries for dumping of farm products from highly subsided farmers from the north”, the group says. 

Wasted potential

According to Williams, the potential for local production is far greater than what is being realised at present. “With sufficient support and training, local agriculture could feed those going hungry in Sierra Leone,” he said. “The importing of food is cutting away at valuable livelihoods. If agricultural capacity was increased, it would create jobs, income and increased access to food.”

Williams said local crops are of higher quality than those being imported from Europe and North America. “Local rice is much better than imported rice; it is higher in nutritional value and more disease resistant. Yet the country continues to eat rice from outside its borders.” Rice and chickens make up the bulk of food imports.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 80 percent of Sierra Leoneans live in poverty and most households do not have access to sufficient food.

ActionAid’s HungerFree Sierra Leone campaign, launched in the first week of July as part of a global effort to force governments to keep their pledges to cut world hunger in half by 2015, recommends that countries be given support to help them boost domestic agriculture.

''...The nation's farmers are the country's food security...''

The World Food Programme (WFP) also supports local capacity building efforts. WFP regional public affairs officer for West Africa, Marcus Prior, said: “WFP, whilst prioritizing deliveries for people who would otherwise go to bed hungry, is also working with farmers to help rehabilitate agricultural land and infrastructure as part of our efforts to contribute to the immediate as well as more long term recovery of the country…The nation’s farmers are the country’s food security.”

Unmet goals

In 2002 Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah pledged to eradicate hunger in the country by 2007, saying in a statement: “I committed myself to do everything within my powers to ensure that within the next five years, no Sierra Leonean should go to bed hungry.”

Now, in 2007, Sierra Leone is not even near meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating hunger by 2015. “The country’s agricultural sector is too underdeveloped to reach this goal by 2015. It will take major policy changes, local participation and time, but we are still advocating progress,” said Williams.

Sierra Leone, which has recently emerged from a devastating civil war, has a rapidly growing population of over six million people.

According to ActionAid, 852 million people around the world suffer from chronic hunger.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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