As the staple food, rice has always commanded a high domestic demand. Despite the local demand, rice produced in Sierra Leone is also exported to Guinea. This export increases the deficit for domestic consumption, giving rise to annual importation of 120,000 to 150,000 tons of rice to supplement local consumption. Annual rice consumption is estimated at about 500,000 metric tons, which means that the country has a production deficit of about 200,000 metric tons valued at approximately $99 million for imported rice.
Annual rice consumption in Sierra Leone – among the region’s highest per capita – amounts to some 550,000 metric tons. While self-sufficient in rice in the 1950s, and a rice exporter as recently as in the 1970s, Sierra Leone now imports 30 percent of this staple food. Our climate is generally favourable toward agriculture, and our 5.4 million hectares of Bolilands, mangroves, inland valley swamps, and riverine grasslands are very suitable for growing rice. Yet only one-fourth of these fertile, diverse lowlands are under cultivation.
The small scale farmers in Sierra Leone are generally resource poor with only the hoe, axe and cutlass as the main implements while labour is mainly supplied by family members thereby severely limiting. From 1960 to 1975 production of rice has increased through expansion of land area and to some extent an increase in yield. In 1975 Sierra Leone is said to have experienced self-sufficiency in rice. Records of over 600,000 tons of paddy are reported at the end of the seventies. The lowest production (198,000 tons) was recorded at the peak of the civil war to in 1999.
Rice has been selected as the initial cash crop because there is strong domestic demand for it along with consumer preference for ‘broken rice’ rather than imported ‘polished’ rice. New Rice for Africa (“NERICA”) is an interspecific cultivar of rice developed by the Africa Rice Center (Africa Rice) to improve the yield of African rice varieties. Rice is the major crop accounting for 75% of agricultural GDP. Rice output has recovered to 400,000 tons in 2003, representing 84% of pre-war production.