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The Commercialisation of Agriculture in Sierra Leone: Options for the Legal and Regulatory Framework

Beatrice Chaytor

Table of Contents



  1. Sierra Leone has abundant natural resources, good rainfall and vast acres of land suitable for a variety of agricultural products. Yet Sierra Leone has ranked bottom of the Human Development Index for the past four years and is seen by some of its development partners as a fragile State, whose legacy of war continues to cast a shadow over its future.

  1. That said, there are signs that there is growing political will for key sectors of the economy such as agriculture to play an increasing role in lifting the majority of the population (and predominantly in rural areas) out of the grinding poverty that has been their lot for decades. Agriculture is a prominent theme in Sierra Leone’s PRSP and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) has a vision for the further development of the agricultural sector seeking to make agriculture the “engine for socio-economic growth in Sierra Leone”. Donor intervention in the sector is increasing and there are efforts by both NGOs and private sector in cultivation, quality standards, marketing and export of agricultural commodities. All this bodes well for Sierra Leone’s agricultural development.

  1. However, since the 1970s, agricultural development has not been pursued in a comprehensive manner, and the policy and institutional support to it has been piecemeal. There are a number of initiatives on agriculture; however there is a distinct lack of an overall coherent policy framework to guide all these initiatives. Some policies are arbitrary or contradictory as will be shown below. Experiences over access to land for large scale agricultural development have been inconsistent and fraught with difficulty. Financing for the private sector, including agriculture enterprises, over the years has been dwindling and is now costly and short term, or non-existent. Moreover, Sierra Leone is missing out on some existing opportunities for increased regional and international trade through lack of compliance with sanitary and other quality standards, especially in key crops such as cocoa and coffee.

  1. Sierra Leone is now faced with a rapidly globalising world which currently is in the midst of a major economic crisis. Global value chains dominate international trade networks, by turn integrating or marginalising economies. All this will require a complete paradigm shift in the way the country thinks about agriculture, its role in social and economic progress, and the opportunities for human and technological advancement. The focus for agriculture in Sierra Leone should be on the development of productive capacities which generates capital accumulation, technological change, structural change, employment creation and poverty reduction. This is not the responsibility of one Ministry alone. It requires a concerted national effort.

  1. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) with the support of development partners is designing a National Sustainable Agriculture Development Plan (NSADP). The Plan is being developed in the context of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). There is general recognition that regional and international processes may have implications for the country’s agricultural sector, and moreover, that population growth, environmental and economic factors are likely to have a significant impact on the growth of the sector in Sierra Leone. Tax and fiscal policy, the judicial system, financial sector policies, land use planning, tourism development, trade policy, forestry regulations and science and technology issues all have implications for the sustainable development of agriculture.

Purpose of the Legal Options Paper

  1. The GoSL has recognised that past laws and by-laws have impacted on the extent of investment in agriculture in the country. In the context of the development of the NSADP, this paper seeks to contribute key policy conclusions and recommendations for moving the agricultural sector towards a more commercial orientation. The terms of reference are set out in Annex 3 to the paper. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 takes a brief look at the role of agriculture in Sierra Leone’s socio-economy, identifying a broad agricultural policy. In Section 3, the paper reviews the current tax and investment incentives relating to the agriculture sector. Taking a holistic approach, the paper considers complementary measures in Section 4 that would be necessary for commercialising agriculture in Sierra Leone. Section 5 considers the role of institutional structures such as farmer based organisations in developing the agricultural sector. Land tenure issues are examined in Section 6 and Section 7 provides perspectives from the regional and international context. In each substantive section, policy recommendations are presented as pointers towards the final key policy recommendations set out in Section 8 which will feed into the NSADP. The paper does not seek to set out a definitive legal and regulatory framework for agriculture, but presents selected options which may be considered in the elaboration of such a framework in the NSADP.


  1. Agriculture is a key economic sector in Sierra Leone accounting for around 44 per cent of GDP in 2007.1 During the decade of civil unrest and conflict (1991-2002), agricultural activities were disrupted throughout Sierra Leone. For decades, despite fluctuations in output, labour-intensive subsistence agriculture has maintained its dominant role in the economy. The sector is predominately rain-fed; the main food crops are rice, cassava, sweet potato, sorghum, millet, and benniseed (small oval seeds of the sesame plant). Agricultural activity is carried out by nearly two thirds of the population in mainly small, family farms (with women as the predominant labour force), which use traditional methods with few inputs and a low degree of mechanisation.2 Farmers depend on the Government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for their supply of seeds; the surface area planted is largely determined by the assistance capacity of these agencies.

  1. In the past, Sierra Leone was a net exporter of a number of agricultural commodities including cocoa, coffee, ginger, palm kernels, piassava, rubber, and rice. Presently, the situation is the reverse, with Sierra Leone a net importer of rice and some other food crops, and some parts of the country are still dependent on food aid.

  1. However, domestic food production has steadily increased and estimates show that the share of households with adequate food consumption has increased from 56% in 2005 to 71% in the 2007.3 The level of rice self-sufficiency in the country increased from 57.4% to 71% between 2002 and 2007.4 The production of roots and tubers (mainly cassava and sweet potato) is currently far in excess of the national requirement for fresh consumption. In general, the production of the country’s major food crops (rice, cassava, sweet potato and groundnut), livestock (cattle, goat and sheep) and domestic fish rose from 2002 to 2007.5 In terms of exports, cocoa now has a growing presence in Sierra Leone’s international trade statistics, due to recent efforts to improve quality and increase levels of production. The total value of agricultural exports in 2007 was US$13.67 million, a modest increase from US$ 12.8million in 2006.6 Of this figure, cocoa accounted for US$ 11.36 million of agricultural export earnings in 2007. However, agricultural exports fell to US$6.4 million in the first half of 2008 from US$ 8.6 million in the same period in 2007.

  1. Sierra Leone’s Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) undertaken in 2005-2006 reviewed agriculture, agro-industry and forestry as key themes for the development of Sierra Leone’s competitiveness and integration into the global trading system.7 It found that Sierra Leone could once again become competitive in certain agricultural commodities. Moreover, the DTIS notes that the development of agricultural exports will be critical in determining the growth of rural livelihoods and moving farming communities into the market economy.8
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