Household food security exists when all members always have physical and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and health lifei . In contrast, food insecurity is a situation of uncertainty or limited availability and access to nutritionally adequate, safe and socially acceptable diets, often underscoredby poverty, population growth and environmental and climate related issues that affect food production and distribution.
In Sierra Leone, domestic production by smallholderfarmers,most of whompractice below subsistence agriculture, is insufficient to feed the country’s population of 8 million people. Consequently, Sierra Leone imports about 80percent of food consumed. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was projected that 425,000 tonnes of cereal would likely be imported during the 2019/2020 marketing yearii, with these needs likely to have further increased given the negative impact of COVID-19 and land border closures on food supply chains.
Given this situation, in Sierra Leone most households, including those engaged in farming, rely on market purchases to meet their food needs. In recent years, food prices have continued to rise and fluctuate as the value of the local currency (Leones) declines. Fears of COVID-19 have negatively impacted on agriculture and livelihood activities, exacerbating an already challenging economic situation. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and WFP price monitoring show how the prices of the staples rice and cassava prices rose by 8 percent and 17 percent respectively during the first quarter of 2020iii . COVID-19 impacts followed climate shocks in 2019, specifically heavy and erratic rainfall patterns that reduced agricultural production due to seed failure and crop damage, reducing food availability and access and causing upward pressure on food prices.
On 24 March 2020, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio declared a 12-month national state of public health emergency for a period of 12 months. On 27 March 2020, Sierra Leone closed its land borders with neighbouring Guinea and Liberia, decreasing regional trade and the inflow of agricultural goods. On 31 March 2020, Sierra Leone registered its index case of COVID-19.On 10 April 2020, the Government instituted an inter-district ban which impeded the flow of agricultural trade. Measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have had negative indirect impacts.
Economic and farming activities have been reduced by a series of 3-day lockdowns and reduced business hours. As of 19 August, Sierra Leone has confirmed 1,959 cases of COVID-19.
It is against this background that MAF with support from the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the Food Security Working Group (FSWG) decided to implement the E-FSMS assessmentto better understand the impact of COVID-19 on food security and vulnerability. It is hoped that the E-FSMS will also provide key empirical data that decision makers can use to design, plan and target emergency and recovery initiatives to safeguard the food security of the most vulnerable at this unprecedented time.