Introduction to the Natural Resource Environment of Sierra Leone

Who would have thought that with all the various natural resources that Sierra Leone has, it would be ranked the 183 countries out of 189 countries in the human development index, which is used to measure the progress of a nation (Human Development Reports, 2020)? Sierra Leone is known as one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa endowed with vast natural resources like minerals, including Diamond, Iron-ore, rutile, and others. Whenever someone would say they are from Sierra Leone, many people would say, Oh, the country with diamonds. However, these are not the only natural resources that Sierra Leone is known for. Sierra Leone also has coastal and marine resources because the Government is peninsular and borders the Atlantic Ocean in the West. Wait! You might think that is all the natural resource sector has to offer. More Sierra Leone also has one of the most valuable natural resources, fertile land that has excellent potential for Agricultural growth when utilized effectively. Resources like minerals are non-renewable, which means they cannot be replenished after being consumed. The country has an indefinite shape of a diamond on the map, which many people think is because of the country diamonds. When we were young, we heard a story of the blood diamonds used to fund the war in the count when growing. This is the scenario referred to as the resource curse; these resources used in the country’s development, rebels used them to buy ammunition during the civil war that started in 1991. As much as the Government has moved past those dark times, the mismanagement of natural resources is still negatively affecting the people. With the fertile land that Sierra Leone has, it still struggles to ensure food self-sufficiency for its people.

The Impacts of the Natural Resource Sector in Sierra Leone 

The natural resource sector is the most relied on for economic and human development. Thus the Minning sector is relied on for the country’s growth, in addition, the Agricultural sector is also a key factor for the country’s development. 

Mining Sector Agricultural Sector
The mineral sector contributed 0.7% to the country’s GDP in 2018, which constituted 65%of export earnings.The Agriculture sector also significantly contributes to the workforce; about 60% of the population is employed. 
This sector also contributes 20% to the Government’s annual revenue and employs about 3% of the total population (International Trade Administration,2020).Also, 40% of the population’s income comes from farming activities. It contributes a total of 56% to the Country’s GDP (STATISTICS SIERRA LEONE (SSL) Sierra Leone 2015 Population and Housing Census Thematic Report on agriculture, 2017). 

The importance of these two sectors cannot be emphasized enough, especially in sustainable growth and development. Despite these impressive contributions of the two industries over the years, they have not been fully achieving their full potentials. This poses whether Sierra Leone has a natural resource curse to be a blessing to the nation. This is a question for discussion that would probe debates on whether they positively impact people’s lives.

Current Challenges within the Mining and Agricultural Sector in Sierra Leone

Negative consequences were an eleven-year civil war-ravaged Sierra Leone in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In was widespread diamond smuggling in exchange for rifles and ammunition during this time, leading to the nickname “blood diamonds” for this magnificent nation’s jewels. Still, this war ended in 2002, leaving the country destabilized. The people hope that after the war, Sierra Leone will return to its previous glory where there will be food sufficiency and proper management of our minerals, but to their dismay, this is not the reality. The country’s mining and Agricultural sector still faces many challenges and has struggled to manage its natural resources properly.

  1. In the mining sector, between 50 to 90 percent of diamonds and gold have been smuggled out of the country due to the high number of illicit mining regions; these gemstones are more numerous and can be mined (Sierra Leone 2016 EITI Report, 2018). 
  2. This could result from weak regulations and policies and inadequate implementation. This situation has reduced the mining businesses in the country, and the ones in the country have records of poor corporate social responsibility in the communities in which they operate. 
  3. Sierra Leone is on the threshold of an extraordinary period of economic expansion, fueled mainly through large-scale iron ore mining income. Despite this, it continues to suffer numerous governance and development issues. Significant mining revenues have yet to discernible influence on government spending on development initiatives, particularly in improving service delivery. (Fanthorpe & Gabelle, 2013) 
  4. There is also the issue of the environmental impact of mining activities in the country. The construction of mining reservoirs has resulted in flooding of alluvial lowlands, deforestation, and the accumulation of tailings and stockpiles over mined-out areas of the lease. (Akiwumi & Butler, 2008) Many of these occurrences are happening in the country as rapid deforestation is taking place not only for mining activities but also for timber exportation.

The problems are not just confined to the  mining sector but also in the Agricultural industry, which is also critical to Sierra Leone’s economic growth, which has been plagued by challenges such as 

  1. Land grabs by small-scale farmers have also resulted in a vast illegal agricultural trade to the border countries Guinea and Liberia. 
  2. There is also the issue of limited use of machines and technology that will upscale the production of crops. Only naming some of the challenges, there are also significant ones such as low investment in the agricultural sector, insufficient policies and regulations, poor road connectivity, and others. Sierra Leone has suffered unavoidable repercussions due to its failure to manage its natural resources adequately, such are. Some of these have resulted in a significant drop in the country’s export rate, particularly for agricultural goods. That is not all; the rise in the price of farm products in Freetown’s capital city has been a significant source of concern over the years.

Possible Solutions to these Challenges to ensure Economic Development

These challenges should not be considered norms because many actions can be taken to combat them both in Minning and Agricultural sectors. As we previously stated, the Government of Sierra Leone has a vital role in ensuring that these resources are managed so the country can rip dividends from it that would help boost the economy. The regulations and policies in the Agriculture and Minning sector need to revise to fit with the current trend, and the effective implementation of these policies needs to be enacted. Since the Government has its role to play, the citizens of Sierra Leone also need to take ownership of these resources and know that it is also their responsibility to help the Government manage these resources. 

 Like many other African countries, Sierra Leone operates in a linear economy, which takes, make, and waste approach to using Natural resources. The circular concept emphasizes a more rational use of resources, which is a logical reaction to the existing linear model’s “Take, Make, Waste” approach. According to Lacy & Rutqvist, 2016, there is an eight-billion-tonne disparity between supply and demand for restricted resources. Adopting the circular principles in the natural resource sector will ensure rational extraction and use of constrained resources like minerals and others with a negative footprint.

Circular Economic Principles in Natural Resource Management

With all the challenges, Sierra Leone still has what it takes to make a rapid positive change to improve its citizens’ economy and living conditions. We would like to see a prosperous Sierra Leone that would make international headlines like Rwanda is doing presently.  

We all have a part to play in ensuring that this becomes a reality. In doing that, we have taken ownership and responsibility for the changes in the sector by holding the Government accountable and engaging the various sectors to voice concerns. 

Reference List

Akiwumi, F. A., & Butler, D. R. (2008). Mining and environmental change in Sierra Leone, West Africa: A remote sensing and hydrogeomorphological study. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 142(1), 309–318.


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Jong, S. de, Gaast, M. van der, Kraak, J., Bergema, R., & Usanov, A. (2016). The circular economy and developing countries: A data analysis of the impact of a circular economy on resource-dependent developing nations. The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

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