A report launched Friday by the government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown a fragile state of food security in the West African country.
It shows more than half of the population -- over 3.5 million people, are food insecure, without access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food.
Of these, about 600,000 are severely food insecure, eating significantly less food and less varied and nutritious food, and unable to cope with new shocks such as drought, floods and fluctuating food prices. The number of severely food insecure people has increased by 60 percent since 2010, the report revealed.
The report is the culmination of a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) of over 34,000 households across Sierra Leone's 149 chiefdoms and 18 urban wards, making it the largest food security assessment of its kind in the country.
In his keynote speech at the launch ceremony, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Monty Jones said the government was committed to doing what it takes to transform the agriculture sector into an engine for socio-economic growth.
"The findings of the CFSVA will assist my ministry to design, target and implement programmes that will improve agriculture production and productivity, enhance commercial agriculture, create employment and enhance skills of farmers in a number of areas," he said.
"We will encourage private sector investment and involvement to improve access to inputs and markets for our farmers. The government and development partners have a key role in designing sound agricultural policies and programmes to effectively meet the priorities of the Government's National Ebola Recovery Strategy," he said.
The report also said that out of 149 chiefdoms and 18 urban wards surveyed, 110 chiefdoms had food insecurity levels above the national average of 50 percent.
While the Ebola outbreak accounted for the decline in food security in some districts, in the majority of districts, food insecurity is a chronic problem, caused by structural factors that affect the food production system and limit the ability of households to produce or buy enough food, according to the report.
"The results confirm that drivers of food insecurity are low agricultural productivity, poverty and a lack of resilience, poor road and market accessibility, gender inequality and a lack of income generation diversification," said Nyabenyi Tipo, FAO Representative in Sierra Leone.
"Sierra Leone now has unprecedented insight into its food security situation, with data available at the chiefdom level for the first time. This allows the humanitarian and development community to zero in on the most vulnerable, allowing us to use our resources more efficiently to improve food security, strengthen livelihoods and build resilience to recurrent shocks", said Peter Scott-Bowden, WFP Country Director in Sierra Leone.
WFP and FAO are supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to bridge the gap between local food production and national demand. The recommendations of the CFSVA underscore the urgent need for an increased investment in sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods.