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The Women at the Forefront of Sierra Leone’s Agricultural Revival

Sierra Leone relies heavily on agriculture, which employs more than 60 percent of the population and accounts for almost half of the gross domestic product. Women represent about 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s agricultural workforce. But farmers typically rely on shifting, upland agriculture, which results in low yields, food loss and environmental damage. Earlier, farmers in Matagelema would cut down trees without de-stumping them, burn the land, and “broadcast” the seeds in a scattershot method. The flaws in that agricultural system have contributed to a shortage of food in Sierra Leone – worsened by inflation, COVID-19 pandemic and climate change – grow from 49 percent in 2010 to only 57 percent in 2020, according to Food Security and Nutrition Working Group data. In 2020, about 150 women in Matagelema formed a women’s association and moved to work on inland valley swamps, an overlooked yet abundant ecosystem that has the potential for very high agricultural yields. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the yield in Matagelema’s swamps is 2 metric tonnes of rice per hectare – more than triple the 0.6 metric tonnes average for uplands.