Sierra Leone - Country Commercial Guide
Agriculture Sector

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-09-14


The agriculture sector, including livestock and forestry, is a critical component of the economy. It employs about two-thirds of the labor force and, according to the World Bank, is more than 60 percent of GDP. The country is endowed with a favorable agricultural environment comprising arable land, abundant rainfall, a temperate climate, and several rivers with significant irrigation potential that could support the production of enough food to meet local consumption and for export.

It is reported that 80 percent of foodstuffs consumed in the country are imported. Yet of the estimated 5.4 million hectares of fertile arable land, 75 percent remains uncultivated. The land is suitable for the cultivation of a wide range of crops including rice (the country’s staple food), cassava, maize, millet, cashew, rubber, ginger, vegetables, fruits, and sugarcane; cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, and oil palm; and the rearing of livestock. The sector is dominated by smallholder subsistence farmers utilizing local traditional tools with outdated methods and limited farm inputs.  However, a few commercial agricultural companies operate in the production of biofuels and energy, palm oil, timber, rice, sorghum, growing, and canning pineapples, manufacturing juice concentrates, and agri-machinery contracting services.

Rice is the popular staple food for Sierra Leoneans, and its cultivation employs the majority of the rural population. Though consumed daily by almost every household, the country has not been able to produce enough rice to meet local demand This has increased its dependence on imported rice as the country spends over $240 million on its importation annually. Improving domestic rice production to reduce import fees and create jobs is a central pillar in the country’s national development plan and a key element in the strategies to enhance rice self-sufficiency, stimulate economic growth and increase rural income.

The country is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, with more than 500 kilometers of coastline and a continental shelf of 30,000 square kilometers fed by seven major rivers. The region boasts a viable commercial fish stock including shrimp, cephalopods, lobster, demersal and pelagic species. Fishery contributes over 10 percent to GDP and provides an estimated 80 percent of animal protein, with direct employment for more than 100,000 persons and indirect employment to some 500,000 persons along the coastlines. Yet, it is challenged by poor governance and management regimes, weak infrastructure and fishery support services, overfishing, and is severely impacted by illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, with the main culprits being foreign fleets whose illegal activities are confined within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Policy actions outlined in the MTNDP ( include diversifying the agriculture, fisheries, and tourism sectors. The government is therefore revisiting the policies and legal framework governing these sectors to make them more attractive. To achieve sustainable and diversified food production, the government is focused on increasing the amount of arable land and introducing intensive mechanized methods in agriculture. Priority actions include a Le8 trillion ($800 million) National Agricultural Transformation Strategy 2019-2023, which plans to double production of rice, forestry, and livestock. The plan also aims to increase the budgetary allocation to 10 percent to align with the Maputo Accord, and attract external investment. Over $200 million in funding which has been sourced from the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the European Union, and other international organizations. The government further plans to encourage mining firms to invest in agriculture in support of their mining communities and encourage banks to lend for agricultural purposes.

In the marine sector, the government is promoting appropriate commercial fishing practices, combating IUU through effective monitoring using surveillance patrols, and providing the necessary infrastructure in fisheries. In 2021, the government signed a $55 million partnership agreement with the Government of China for the construction of an industrial fish harbor complex with transshipment facilities. The complex will also provide cold storage facilities, bonded stores, ice sales, purchase of fish and fishery products for export, and the maintenance of fishing and patrol vessels. A $3.2 million partnership agreement to improve fish smoke ovens, and water, sanitation, and hygiene has also been signed.

Leading Sub-sectors

Rice, oil palm, cocoa, coffee, cassava, groundnut, vegetables, fruits, and livestock are the leading sub-sectors. Local production of rice, the staple food, is only a very small fraction of what is consumed annually, and the government is looking for investors to boost production and reduce the large annual imports, exhausting the limited foreign exchange. The cultivation of cassava provides for the industrial production of flour and reduces the need for its importation. U.S investors can venture into the rehabilitation of existing cocoa or coffee plantations or establish new plantations. The supply of agricultural inputs like fertilizer, improved seeds, agrochemicals, animal feeds, and veterinary inputs is another important sector. Partnerships with local farmers to expand cultivation, establish adequate storage and preservation facilities, and value-added chains are aspects that will eliminate post-harvest wastages of especially perishable crops such as vegetables and fruits. Domestic production is not sufficient to meet the local demand for protein, and livestock production in cattle, sheep, goat, pig, and poultry farming has a large market all year round. Production of animal feed may provide a promising opportunity for investment, as well as the export from the United States of component ingredients such as soybean and fishmeal.


One of the major constraints facing the agricultural and fishery sectors is the use of modern technology and mechanized equipment in the cultivation of crops and the processing and preservation of fish catch. Supplying labor-saving agricultural equipment like tractors, power tillers, plows, and harvesters are opportunities for U.S. exporters and investors. The topography generally offers potential for irrigation and cultivation can have up to three cycles in a year, particularly for rice. As mentioned above, land issues and community opposition have presented major obstacles to direct investment in primary production. A useful rule of thumb to follow is that if a commercial investment depends on government or other concessions for its economic viability, it is likely not a sound investment.

Adding value to agricultural and fishery products through processing and manufacturing presents an opportunity for U.S. investors for both domestic and the international markets. Other cross-cutting areas like agrologistics and packaging are required for local manufactures for the international market. Investment opportunities also exist in fish processing and value addition, with significant economic potential for high-valued exportable fish including snapper, grouper, catfish, barracuda, tuna, cuttlefish, squid, lobsters, and herring. In investing in fisheries and processing, investors should be particularly attentive to the negative environmental impacts and the community opposition they may engender.