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Improving Nutrition and Food Self-Sufficiency in Sierra Leone Using a Market-Based Approach

For people in Sierra Leone to have sustainable access to affordable nutritious foods that prevent malnutrition and improve community health.

Photo of Lori Herz

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Lehigh University

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

World Hope International (large NGO)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Sierra Leone

What country is your selected Place located in?

Sierra Leone

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Allieu Bangura, Musa Tholley, and Zachary Lawless are members of the World Hope International (WHI) team. Allieu, who was born and raised in Sierra Leone, has been the Director of Health and Nutrition at WHI in Makeni, Sierra Leone for over two years. This work is important to him because improving the food systems in Sierra Leone is the key to improving health and nutrition. Musa, also a native of Sierra Leone, is the Agricultural Program Manager at WHI in Makeni. He has a strong educational background and extensive experience in both agriculture and rural development. Zachary, the Director of Development at WHI in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, brings over ten years of business development to the project. He is committed to designing projects that meet the needs of vulnerable populations in developing countries in hopes that transformative, sustainable, and holistic development can be attained.

 Khanjan Mehta and Lori Herz are faculty members at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. Khanjan came to Lehigh from Pennsylvania State University, where he was the Founding Director of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship Program.  He is currently the Vice Provost of Creative Inquiry at Lehigh. For over six years, he has been collaborating with World Hope International in Sierra Leone, where he has successfully designed and commercialized affordable greenhouses to enable year-round horticulture and improve local food security. His passions are to create learning environments and ecosystems where students, faculty, and external partners come together to recognize problems and opportunities, and effect constructive and sustainable change. Lori, a Professor of Practice in Bioengineering, is relatively new to the area of nutrition. She aims to use her engineering background to improve global health. Since 2018, she has been working with Lehigh students to formulate nutrient-dense foods from locally sourced ingredients for children in Sierra Leone. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, Guinea, and Liberia (Fig 1). Major events that shaped its early history include the establishment of a slavery trading post in Freetown in the 17th century and the resettlement of freed slaves in the 19th century.  More recently, the civil war (1991-2002) resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and displaced about one-third of the population. Democracy was reestablished after the war, and since that time, the government has focused on improving education, health, and infrastructure.  These efforts were challenged by the Ebola epidemic of 2014-16, which claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

The two most prevalent ethnic groups are the Mende and Temne, make up two-thirds of the population, while smaller ethnic groups make up most of the remaining third. The population is 79% Muslim and 21% Christian.  While English is the official language, its use is limited to those who are educated. Krio is understood by 95% of the population and is widely spoken. The other main vernacular languages are Mende and Temne. Sierra Leone has a youthful and growing population due to the high fertility rate of nearly 5 children per woman. About 60% of the population is under the age of 25 (Fig 2). The life expectancy at birth is 59 yrs and people suffer from high rates of maternal and infant mortality. The urban/rural ratio is 43%/57%.

Sierra Leone is in the tropics, making it hot the entire year. Due to the African monsoon, the winter is dry and the summer is rainy.  Rainfall is substantial, typically 200-300 cm/yr. The eastern and northern area of the country are plateau regions with some mountains and forests.  The center region, making up about half the country, contains lowland plains, with forests and farmland, while the coast has lowland plains and mangrove forests.  (Fig 3)

Since over half the land is farmed, agriculture is one of the leading industries in Sierra Leone, making up 61% of the GDP and 61% of the labor force.  The primary crops include rice, coffee, cocoa, palm oil, peanuts, and cashews, while the main livestock are poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs, and fish. Despite the prevalence of agriculture, nearly half the population is food insecure and diets tend to be overly dependent upon rice and cassava. Other commonly consumed foods include fruits, vegetables, groundnuts, fish, and beans, but consumption of these nutrient-rich foods depends on their affordability and if the foods are in-season.  People grow much of their own food, but they often sell their crops because they need the income.  People typically buy their rice, most of which is imported, as well as other food, at the local markets and from street vendors. Young women in the household do most of the cooking, often making a stew containing rice and seasoning, which feeds the entire family.

Due to the lack of diet diversity and poverty, many suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, which results morbidity, stunting, and poor general health.  The people of Sierra Leone hope to have nutritious, affordable food for their families and for the country to have a self-sustaining food supply and food chain.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Malnutrition is one of the leading causes of child morbidity in Sierra Leone, and micronutrient deficiencies in zinc, iron, vitamin A, and iodine have led to stunting in 38% of children. Moreover, about 80% of the country's food is imported. These conditions result from a combination of factors, as described below. 

  • Diet: People eat mostly rice and cassava, which are rich in calories, but lack the nutrients needed for a diverse diet and good health. Nutritious foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and fish, are eaten less frequently because they are more expensive and are not always available year-round. Due to the abundance of rice, people face the double challenge of malnutrition and obesity, which is likely to increase through 2050.
  • Economics: The average income is less than $2/day and 70% of its people live in poverty. Additionally, it is common practice to take out high interest loans to purchase rice when food supplies run low. As people incur debt, they reduce the amount spent on more nutritious foods. Due to these Economic constraints, Diets are impacted.
  • Environment: Nearly 25% of the land is arable, but this asset is threatened by climate change, which has already led to increases in flooding and in the average annual temperature (0.8◦C since 1960), and is likely to impact agriculture. For example, increased rain and humidity make crops more susceptible to pests. Such changes may decrease the food supply, resulting in higher demand and, therefore, higher prices. Therefore, Environmental challenges connect to Economics and Diet.
  • Culture: Gender inequality, caused by practices tied to Culture, Economics, and Diet, makes young women and children especially vulnerable to malnutrition. For example, food distribution during meals is hierarchical. A young woman prepares the household meals, feeds her husband and parents-in-law first, giving them the largest portions, while she and her children eat last. Additionally, men often have primary control of family finances. Though men may give their wives money, they are often limited to purchasing rice.  
  • Technology: Over 80% of the population of Sierra Leone lacks electricity, meaning that most homes lack refrigeration for long-term food storage. Moreover, farmers cannot afford the fertilizers, pesticides, and basic machinery needed for a productive farm. Additionally, women are often unable to obtain credit to purchase these items, giving them less access to important technologies, reducing their potential income, and making them unable to afford nutritious foods for their families. This example shows the links between Technology, Culture, Economics, and Diet
  • Policy: Sierra Leone lacks much of the infrastructure available in developed countries. For example, the road system is poor, making transportation expensive. Also, the government has agencies with policies designed to support health, nutrition, and agriculture, but many of the proposed benefits do not reach the people. For example, there is a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, but it lacks a well-resourced extension system to train farmers in better practices. Therefore, challenges in Technology also relate to Policy and Economics.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We are developing nutrient-rich foods from locally sourced ingredients, as well as agricultural and food production systems that increase crop diversity, yield, and/or product shelf life. We are aiming to implement what we develop by creating small business opportunities for Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs, especially women, to produce and sell these products. For example, one of the nutritious foods we have developed is a sweet potato cake, which we are planning to produce in bakeries, for sale directly to individuals or to street vendors, who, in turn, will have more products to sell. One example of a production system we designed is a small-scale greenhouse, enabling crop diversity and lengthening the growing season. Small business owners can manufacture greenhouses and sell them to farmers, who will then have access to a better farming system.

This project addresses many of the challenges described previously.  This work is a partnership between Lehigh University and World Hope International (WHI).  Lehigh faculty and students do most of the development work, while WHI, an NGO with a facility in Makeni, Sierra Leone, has extensive experience in project implementation, strong connections to the government ministries, as well as deep ties in the local community.  With these strengths, WHI can help overcome the challenges related to Policy, especially regarding the lack of infrastructure, through partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Ministry of Health and Sanitation (Directorate of Food and Nutrition).

Innovative agricultural systems, such as the greenhouse, provide an available, affordable Technology to improve the quality and quantity of what farmers can produce. The greenhouse also alleviates some of the Environmental challenges, by protecting the crops and cultivars from pests, as well as fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. The products and systems we are developing have Economic benefits because they create business opportunities for those who sell the products. In the case of the greenhouse project, farmers also reap Economic benefits, as they have a more productive farm and more goods to sell. Additionally, Diets will improve, since there will be an increase in the number of available nutritious foods. Just as significantly, those who benefit from the Economic improvements will be more able to afford the broad range of foods needed for a healthy Diet.  Finally, we are targeting women for working in the bakeries, manufacturing greenhouses, etc., to provide them with more Economic opportunities and financial independence. This will help overcome some of the Cultural barriers that prevent young women and children from getting the nutrition they need for a healthy Diet.

Sierra Leone faces many challenges, but we expect that our approach will help alleviate these challenges and help the country have improved nutrition, food security, and overall health.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Our vision for 2050 is for Sierra Leone to produce 50% of its food supply, an increase from the 2020 level of 20%. 50% in 2050! We envision an abundance of businesses across the country started by Sierra Leoneans, including many women. These ventures, which are well integrated into the food chain, began in the 2010’s with support from researchers, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, and required significant levels of funding, training, and education. By 2050, they are operating as self-sustaining systems. Some businesses enhance the food system by manufacturing products that improve farming methods. For example, the companies that make and sell greenhouses help farmers increase operational efficiency and produce crops that are resistant to the impacts of climate change. The new agricultural techniques developed and implemented by 2050 result in farms that produce a wide range of fruits and vegetables year round. Moreover, women farmers have more time to pursue part-time employment and earn extra income to support their families. Other companies produce equipment, such as inexpensive dehydrators, which extend the shelf life of produce. While many people in 2050 have refrigerators, those still lacking electricity use dehydrators. There are also bakeries and factories that produce a wide variety of affordable foods that are dense in micronutrients (Vitamin A, iron, zinc, iodine), formulated with locally sourced ingredients. Some foods, like cakes made from orange-flesh sweet potatoes, corn, and eggs, are appealing to young children and are a common snack, while bouillon cubes containing cassava leaves, carrots, and turmeric are used to make healthy, savory stews for the entire family. With better diets, Sierra Leoneans, especially young women and children, have low rates of malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and stunting in 2050, and enjoy good overall health.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our 2050 vision for Sierra Leone is for its people to be food secure, for malnutrition to be an artifact of the past, and for the country to produce 50% of its food supply. 50% in 2050! We plan to work toward this vision by enabling the development, production, and marketing of nutritious, affordable foods, using locally sourced ingredients, accessible technologies, and environmentally-sensitive practices. This will improve diets, provide employment opportunities, elevate the status of women, and ultimately, become self-sustaining. We have two focus areas: (1) development of food products and (2) advancement of agricultural and production systems. This work is a collaboration between Lehigh University and World Hope International (WHI), an NGO with a site in Makeni, Sierra Leone. The emphasis on food products emerged from discussions with the National Director of Nutrition.

(1) Development of food products

Vision: We envision a Sierra Leone where people throughout the country have access to a wide range of affordable, nutritious foods.  One of our goals is to produce many (20+) foods that satisfy the daily requirements for the micronutrients that are typically lacking in Sierra Leonean diets (Vitamin A, iron, zinc, iodine), and are appealing to both children and adults. These foods will be produced using ingredients that are grown in-country, such as fish, fruits, and vegetables, but are not eaten in sufficiently high quantities. While supplementation of these products is currently needed, we would like to reduce or eliminate supplementation. At first, the products will be made in existing bakeries and, as the venture grows, new bakeries, or perhaps small factories, would be built.  The foods will be sold in bakeries, in markets, and by street vendors, all of which are part of routine food shopping in Sierra Leone.

Step 1: In 2018, a team of Lehigh students began developing foods that are rich in the micronutrients that are often deficient in children. So far, they developed two foods, a porridge made of sweet potato, peanut butter, and banana, as well as a sweet potato-based cake. All the ingredients, excluding supplements, are available at local markets, and the total cost of all ingredients is less than $0.10 per serving. The students then made the products at the Bettah Bakery, a partnership between WHI and the National Church, designed to empower women in the community and provide them with additional income. With logistical support and translators from WHI, the students field tested the products in Makeni, Sierra Leone in August 2019, during which over 400 mothers and their children sampled the products. The feedback was positive overall, with over 95% of the participants responding favorably to the products. Our goal is for the cakes, porridge, and other new products to be made in bakeries and sold by street vendors and in markets, creating additional employment opportunities.

Next steps

*Transition to orange-flesh sweet potatoes:  Most sweet potatoes currently eaten in Sierra Leone are white or pale yellow varieties, which contain minimal amounts of Vitamin A, rather than the orange-flesh sweet potatoes, which are rich in Vitamin A. Through work by Helen Keller International and the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute in Makeni, more farmers are growing orange-flesh sweet potatoes, which will increase their availability in the markets. This will enable their use in our new foods, eventually eliminating the need for Vitamin A supplementation. To ensure this transition, we will need to partner with farmers and encourage them to grow the healthier varieties.

*Develop more foods: While we have piloted the project with cakes and porridge, we envision developing a wider variety of products. One of the proposed products is a nutritious bouillon cube, as people already use bouillon cubes to prepare a daily stew for the household, but the current versions contain no nutritional value. We aim to develop a bouillon cube from ingredients such as cassava leaves, carrots, and turmeric, making it flavorful and nutritious. 

*Promotion: When the products become available, it will be important to market the products educate people about their benefits.  This will be done in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, which has agricultural extension officers who could support this effort.

 (2) Advancement of agricultural and production systems 

Vision: Our vision for 2050 is the presence of agricultural and production systems that provide the means for growing, making, preserving, and storing foods that enable the people of Sierra Leone to have the nutritious, diverse diets necessary for good overall health. We aim to enhance the methods used to produce such foods, including the use of affordable, accessible, low-maintenance technologies that can be produced with materials in-country.  Moreover, the systems will create economic opportunities for the people who grow, produce, and sell the foods. The production systems will include the food products described previously, as well as current and future crops.

Step 1: Through a collaboration between Pennsylvania State University (USA) and WHI, the GRO Greenhouses project began in 2014 as an agro-enterprise for entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone to build inexpensive greenhouses and sell them to farmers. A 33 sq. m greenhouse costs $500 to build and each unit, along with seeds and training, is sold for $833.The use of greenhouses provide opportunities for farmers to grow and sell a broader range of vegetables that are nutritious and less susceptible to seasonal variations, making them available year-round. We aim to target women, as both the manufacturers of the greenhouses, and the farmers who purchase them. A few examples crops grown and/or cultivated thus far include carrots, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, okra, and tomatoes. Over 90 greenhouses have been built and over 80 have been sold.

Step 2: Mushroom Production Systems is a joint project between Lehigh University and WHI started in 2016 in Cambodia, and, more recently, in Sierra Leone. The mushrooms grow inside a structure similar to a greenhouse, using rice husks and other farm waste as substrates for growth. Like the greenhouses, this is an agro-enterprise that benefits both entrepreneurs and farmers. By introducing a new cash crop, diet diversity and access to nutritious foods will increase.  A group of Lehigh students, with support from WHI, have built prototypes of the mushroom houses.

Next steps

*Continue work on GRO Greenhouses and Mushroom Production Systems. 

*Utilize more bakeries - While the sweet potato cakes and porridge were produced at the WHI bakery, we will need to partner with other bakeries to expand operations. This will provide employment opportunities in Sierra Leone, but will require extensive training, as measuring correct quantities of ingredients is critical for ensuring the proper nutrient content and preventing overdosing, especially if supplements are required.

*Develop new storage methods: One of the challenges is that, since so few people in Sierra Leone have electricity, most people lack refrigeration and the ability for long-term storage. Having a means to increase shelf life, such as availability of dried fish, fruits, and vegetables would enable people to have access to these nutritious foods year-round. One example of a new technology that would achieve this a  dehydrator.

Addressing themes and challenges

Our vision is to increase diet diversity and improve nutrition through the development and distribution of nutrient rich, locally sourced foods made using novel, yet accessible and affordable, production methods using a market-based approach. Each of the ventures proposed here has the potential to become a self-sustaining system. For example, the GRO greenhouses can be used to cultivate orange flesh sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A, which will then be used to produce nutrient rich foods, like the cakes and porridge in bakeries. The products will then be sold in bakeries or in local markets, or by street vendors, to the mothers who shop and cook for their families. The use of greenhouses provides a simple, yet impactful method of Technology for growing crops and minimizes Environmental challenges by improving pest control and increasing the growing season.  The number of available Economic opportunities increase through the greenhouse and bakery businesses, as well as for the street vendors who sell the products. As a result of available, affordable foods, Diets improve, reducing malnutrition and improving overall health. Moreover, when women participate in these ventures, the Culture improves, as women’s financial status is elevated and they have more decision making power in what they purchase to feed their families.

There are challenges to achieving the vision. Each project requires an investment of time and resources to supply the necessary materials and facilities, and to educate and train the people in the methods and approaches we are recommending. Despite the numerous challenges, Sierra Leone has assets and positive trends that make the vision feasible. Specifically, Sierra Leone is a small country with a lot of arable land and a stable democracy, making implementation easier. Improvements over the past decade, such as increased education and literacy rates, more Internet access, and a reduced dependence on food imports, suggest that people will be more able and amenable to changes in production, farming, and dietary customs. Moreover, as mentioned previously, WHI works closely with government agencies. Collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (Directorate of Food and Nutrition) can support training and education, and facilitate getting the products and systems to the people. Such changes, as well as partnerships with researchers, NGOs, and the government, will help us move toward 50% in 2050.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

To develop our refined Vision, we recognized the need for a deeper understanding of the causes of food insecurity in Sierra Leone and how they are interconnected with the challenges in agriculture that exist in every step of the food value chain (FVC). As such, we continued to develop our Vision in terms of the dietary changes needed, but we went into more depth in addressing the problems in the agriculture production, storage, and processing stages of the FVC. As a result, the food system we envision places an emphasis on maximizing yield and mitigating waste using practical technologies that have already been demonstrated in developing countries. We also needed more information on the infrastructure improvements and policies that are needed to realize our Vision. We obtained additional knowledge in these areas through our own background research, as well as through engagement with partners and stakeholders, which gave us the insight we needed to refine our Vision.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

We sought partnerships with government and university leaders to gain new perspectives on current challenges, generate more ideas for improving the food system, and determine their aspirations for Sierra Leone. Our two partners are:

1. National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA): NaCSA is an agency that supports the work of other government ministries. They are engaged in numerous community-based sustainable development programs that aim to alleviate poverty. One of their focus areas is providing social and economic opportunities. We received valuable input from Jonathan Williams, a NaCSA Agri Business Officer.

2. University of Makeni (UNIMAK): UNIMAK established programs in Agriculture and Food Science in 2012. Their faculty and students currently work with local farmers through fieldwork and internships, enabling them to learn from each other. We received extensive feedback from Dr. Joseph Tholley, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at UNIMAK.

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

Our team member, Allieu Bangura, along with other WHI staff members, identified and interviewed and/or surveyed our stakeholders. The stakeholders with whom we engaged and the information we obtained from them are described below. Most of the questions focused on their challenges, how they would utilize more resources, and their aspirations for the future.

Farmers: We interviewed three farmers (three women, ages 39, 34, and 45). First, we asked each farmer what they grow. The next questions focused on what equipment they want and how they would upgrade their farms.

Baker: We interviewed one baker (man, age 27, head baker). We asked him to describe his job and the products he makes. The remaining questions were similar to those posed to the farmers, including what resources are needed to improve his job.

Nurse: We interviewed one nurse (woman, age 28). She has a keen “ground level” understanding of the impact of poor nutrition and food insecurity. As such, we sought her input on the types of programs she believes would improve diets, and how they should be implemented.

Ministry of Health & Sanitation: We received information from one employee, the Director of Food & Nutrition, including 2020 data on food insecurity, increases in food costs, and recommendations for problem mitigation.

Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry (MOA): This agency has programs in rice self-sufficiency, crop diversification, and agricultural technology. We asked one MOA representative for examples of accessible agricultural technologies that would help farmers, what is needed to improve productivity, and what programs should be developed, if adequate resources were available.

Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO): One representative from the FAO, a Food Security Specialist, provided us with information on how the World Food Programme was provided food and monetary assistance people facing food insecurity due to the covid-19 pandemic.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Lehigh and WHI launched the GRO Greenhouse and Mushroom Production programs, and we are currently developing micronutrient rich food products, as described in our initial submission. In addition to our efforts, a handful of similar projects have also addressed improving productivity and fostering entrepreneurship. Programs like these are signals that demonstrate the possibility of achieving our Vision. For example, Solidaridad, which works toward the sustainable production of commodities, has implemented cocoa, palm oil, cashew, and coffee production throughout West Africa. They train smallholder farmers in techniques such as intercropping, which enables yearlong harvesting and increases crop yield. Similarly, Helen Keller International (HKI) teaches farmers to cultivate orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which are richer in Vitamin A and have higher yields than the more common pale potatoes. Both Solidaridad and HKI show that practical changes and training can dramatically impact people’s livelihoods and well-being. On a larger scale, Africa Felix Juice is a commercial fruit juice processing plant that is Sierra Leone’s first export oriented manufacturing company since the end of the civil war in 2012.

Many trends that have influenced our Vision pertain to the long-term problems of poor agricultural productivity and high rates of malnutrition.  Agriculture is one of the leading industries in Sierra Leone, making up 61% of the GDP and 61% of the labor force. Despite its prevalence, a lack of productivity results in a reliance on imports, as well as food insecurity, which increased from 34% in 2019 to 47.7% in 2020.  Food insecurity and poor diets have serious health implications, and contribute to malnutrition, wasting, stunting, and, paradoxically, overweight. According to UNICEF, the rates of underweight and overweight among children under five in 2019 were 13.6% and 4.5%, respectively, and have not improved in recent years. In the same age group, the prevalence of stunting is 31%.

Though the recent trends in agriculture and nutrition are unfavorable, there have been positive trends in education. This is meaningful, since education at all levels is essential for improving health and income. Basic education is free and compulsory, which has led to increases in student enrollment of at least 3% per year at all levels, as well as growth in higher education and vocational education. Despite the gains in education, its quality is often substandard. This leads to our last signal. To improve education and innovation, the government established a Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and a Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation in 2018. Both agencies are led by Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, a Sierra Leonean educated at Harvard and MIT. We hope is a signal of growth in these areas.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

My name is Jenneh Samura and I am 40 years old. I live in a house near Makeni, Sierra Leone with my husband Obrahim, his mother Nouhou, and our three kids. Kadie is 12, Mariatu is 14, and Hassan is 16. Every morning I make breakfast for the family, typically eggs, toast, and fruit. I have to remind Nouhou to take her diabetes medication. Today I have a conference with Kadie’s teacher to discuss her struggles with reading.

I work at a bakery in Makeni that makes a wide variety of bread and cakes. My favorite treat to bake are the muffins made with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes from a nearby farm. I loved eating those when I was a girl! The women at the shop have become good friends and I can talk to them about my troubles with Kadie and Nouhou. I also check the quality of the ingredients that the farmers and other suppliers have delivered to the shop. I had the opportunity to take a class where I learned about nutrition and how to measure supplements. The class also inspired me to try new recipes at the shop. My boss, Georgieta, owns three bakeries. Since she started as a baker, like me, she is truly inspirational. She took some business courses, and each time she planned to open a new shop, she got a business loan from the bank. I hope to be promoted to manager soon. Maybe I should ask Georgieta to show me how to balance the books.

When I get home, Obrahim and Mariatu have already started making dinner. Tonight we’re having stew with rice, fish, greens, and fortified bouillon. I hope they remember to make enough for leftovers. Obrahim and I need to discuss the finances. Our electric bill has gone up, Nouhou needs medicine, and it's time to buy schools supplies. Also, Hassan plans to go to the votech school, so I hope he can get a job to help with expenses. At night, I think about how I work hard to provide nutritious food for the community while also earning enough money to ensure my kids have more opportunities than I did.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Nearly 25% of the land Sierra Leone is arable, but this valuable asset is threatened by climate change, erratic rainfall, natural disasters, and disease. Climate change has already led to an increase in the average annual temperature (by 0.8 degC/yr since 1960), and is projected to increase by 1.0 degC to 2.6 degC by 2060. There have also been more floods, as well as changes in the amount of rainfall, over the past 60 years. While these phenomena may or may not be caused by climate change, they demonstrate the need for a resilient food system in which locally produced food is available year-round. This is especially relevant, due to recent events such as the outbreak of Ebola virus in 2014-16, mudslides in 2017, and, most recently, the covid-19 pandemic, which threatens the food supply chain due to a three-month stoppage of flights into Sierra Leone.

Therefore, the food system for the future must be adaptable to climate change and resilient to disaster. This can be achieved through agricultural practices that are inexpensive, require minimal technology and are easy to implement. For example, greenhouses provide a controlled environment for cultivating crops that are sensitive to the fluctuations in temperature and seasonal rainfall. Lehigh and WHI’s GRO Greenhouse project is an agro-enterprise for entrepreneurs to build inexpensive greenhouses and sell them to farmers. A 33 sq. m greenhouse costs $500 to build and each unit, along with seeds and training, is sold for $833.The use of greenhouses provide opportunities for farmers to grow and sell a broader range of vegetables that are nutritious and less susceptible to seasonal variations. A few examples of crops cultivated thus far include carrots, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, okra, and tomatoes.  Increasing the number and availability of crops grown in Sierra Leone throughout the year improves the adaptability of the food system to climate change and adverse events, improving its resiliency.  Thus far, over 90 greenhouses have been built and over 80 have been sold. When the use of greenhouses is combined with drip irrigation, in which individual plants are watered via gravity through a network of tubes or pipes, water usage is reduced by over 30%. This practice makes the crops less vulnerable to the unpredictable variations in rainfall.

Additional methods for boosting agricultural productivity, and resiliency include circular farming and an Integrated Agricultural Approach (IAA). In circular farming, waste from one process becomes a raw material for another process. One example of this is Lehigh and WHI’s mushroom production system, in which outputs from rice farming are used to cultivate mushrooms, and the waste from mushroom production fertilizes the soil used to grow other crops. Similarly, IAA is a method recommended by our partner, Dr. Tholley at the University of Makeni, in which agricultural practices are organized to maximize productivity, fully utilizing a farm’s resources throughout the production cycle. For example, pig dung is used to feed fish, the fish pond fertilizes and irrigates the swamp downstream to produce rice, and the rice bran feeds the pigs, thus completing the circle. In the IAA, there is no waste.

Lastly, afforestation and natural resource conservation can enhance resiliency. Dr. Tholley noted that afforestation with fruit trees and/or non-food trees can restore the land, improve soil quality and potentially reduce climate change. Jonathan Williams, our partner at the National Commission for Social Action, stressed the need for conservation with respect to sustainable water management and maximizing water use in agriculture. This can be achieved through the conservation and rehabilitation of water catchments and watersheds. Moreover, he recommended the restoration of inland valley swamps (IVS), as well as the use of “Boli lands”. IVS can increase productivity of rice and vegetables, but the practice was abandoned after the civil war. The Boli lands are floodplains in the interior of the country that are suitable for the cultivation of rice, sugar, palm oil, cassava, and cashews.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

The problems of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, stunting, and, paradoxically, overweight, are prevalent in Sierra Leone in 2020, largely due to poor diet and food insecurity. Diets tend to be overly dependent upon rice and cassava, which have minimal nutritional value. High rice consumption also contributes to chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. While popular foods such as fruits, vegetables, groundnuts, fish, and beans are more nutritious, consumption of these items depends on their affordability and if the foods are in-season. Food insecurity increased from 34% in 2019 to 47.7% in 2020. Food insecurity and poor diets have serious health implications, and contribute to the problems previously described. According a UNICEF report, the rates of underweight and overweight among children under five years of age in Sierra Leone in 2019 were 13.6% and 4.5%, respectively. In the same age group, the prevalence of stunting is 31%. In 2016 in Sierra Leone, 44.8% of women and 76.3% of children under five years of age suffered from an anemia, while 2.1% of mothers and 17.4% of children suffered from vitamin A deficiency.

Our food system addresses numerous problems pertaining to nutrition. Through improvements in agricultural productivity, access to electricity, better education, and a growing middle class, people in 2050 have access to affordable, nutritious food. People are able to eat fruits, vegetables, and beans on a daily basis year-round. Moreover, the consumption of animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, goat, and/or fish several days per week has further helped reduce iron deficiency. In addition to improved diet diversity, many foods in 2050 are healthier than they were a generation ago due to the cultivation of crops that are more diverse and nutrient dense. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which are high in Vitamin A, replaced the less nutritious pale yellow varieties. Since electricity is available throughout the entire country, most people have refrigerators and freezers in their homes, allowing for long-term storage of food. Perishable items, such as produce and meat, can be stored for weeks or months at a time.

In 2050, many shops throughout the country sell nutrient-rich prepared foods produced in Sierra Leone using mostly local ingredients. Over the past thirty years, dozens of these foods have appeared throughout the country. A few examples are muffins, porridge, and bouillon cubes. The muffins, which are enjoyed by children (and adults), are made from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, cornmeal, palm oil, and eggs. Developed by a team from Lehigh and WHI in 2019, they are formulated to contain micronutrients, specifically Vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine. Once the producers switched from pale to orange potatoes in the 2020’s, supplementing the muffins with Vitamin A became unnecessary. The porridge is prepared with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peanut butter, and bananas, and is fed to children ranging from six months to two or three years of age. Like the muffins, they are formulated with micronutrients that meet dietary needs. Mothers no longer spend long hours preparing a homemade porridge, nor do they purchase the expensive imported products. As a final example of a healthy prepared food, bouillon cubes are used to make savory stews with rice, beans, vegetables, and meat for the entire family. While there are many varieties of bouillon cubes, they often contain locally grown ingredients such as cassava leaves, moringa, turmeric, and/or garlic. They have replaced the old bouillon cubes, which were high in salt and low in nutrition, contributing to hypertension in adults. In 2050, rice remains a staple in Sierra Leonean diets, since people still hold onto the belief that “a meal is not complete unless it includes rice”. However, rice is eaten in much smaller quantities, which has led to reductions in diseases such as overweight, diabetes, metabolic, and metabolic syndrome.

Our food system is designed to improve diet and nutrition, such that Sierra Leoneans, especially young women and children, no longer suffer from food security. As a result, there will be substantially lower rates of malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and stunting, enabling the people to enjoy good overall health.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

The jobs essential to creating and sustaining our food system are in farming, engineering technology, food production, education, and in government. While these jobs exist in 2020, we anticipate they will be more lucrative in 2050. Moreover, they will require more skills, and sometimes more education. Additionally, there are opportunities to become business owners, since we are anticipating a culture of entrepreneurship to develop. Creating job opportunities is especially critical due to the high rate of youth unemployment and poverty. Specifically, 60% of youth are structurally unemployed and 80% earn less than $2/day.

Farmers: Smallholders continue to be the engine of agriculture in 2050, but they are productive and profitable due to improved farming practices, affordability of equipment, business acumen, and access to credit. The new generation of farmers have often graduated from a vocational school, where they studied current agricultural methods and, sometimes, business fundamentals. Additionally, farmers learn new techniques from a vocational school or extension service. Farmers can group together, either informally or as a cooperative, to afford equipment costs or rental fees. Many items are still expensive, but can be purchased on credit.

Engineering technicians/mechanics: People with mechanical skills build, maintain, and repair the equipment used in agricultural production. Technicians train at a vocational school, where, like the agricultural student, they may opt to study business. They typically start their careers working for a business owner, who sells or rents equipment to farmers. Many aspire to own their own store or design equipment. With the help of a small business loan, they can open their own shop.  

Food producers: Sole proprietor businesses produce the nutritious foods available throughout Sierra Leone. Depending on their need, owners typically have between 5 and 20 employees. Most of the training is on-the-job, so some secondary education is sufficient. Some employees have taken basic courses in business or nutrition, and can help develop new foods, supervise junior employees, and manage the finances. They may start their job as a baker in a shop and work their way up, or they are entrepreneurs who see an opportunity. Either way, they start their business via a small business loan.

Primary/secondary teachers: At all levels, nutrition is part of the curriculum. In primary schools, students learn about the importance of a healthy diet. Teachers work with the students to grow vegetables in the school garden, which deepens their connection to the land. In junior secondary school, girls and boys learn how to make healthy meals using methods of cooking that preserve nutrients. In senior secondary school, students have the option to take courses in agriculture and advanced nutrition.

Vocational instructors/college faculty: Teachers at this level provide instruction to young adults in modern agricultural practices, training the next generation of farmers, technicians, and food scientists. Additionally, these instructors provide guidance to older farmers through workshops or short courses, teaching them techniques to increase the productivity and sustainability of their farms.

Agricultural extension employees: As government employees, the members of the extension system support farmers in their designated districts. Like vocational school or college faculty, they teach new methods to farmers. They also provide guidance to farmers when the need arises.

The jobs described above are attainable, especially given Sierra Leone’s declaration of free and compulsory education, which has led to increases in student enrollment of at least 3% per year between 2004 and 2017. The increases were greater for girls than for boys, which bodes well for future gender equity in the workforce. For women who have not had the benefit of education, additional training is needed to improve their employment prospects. One successful model for training marginalized women  is Barefoot Women, an organization that teaches illiterate women to install and repair solar panels. The 250+ women who have been trained so far have installed solar panels in schools, offices, and hospitals in regions that previously lacked electricity, making the program a win-win.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

We aim to transform the current food system and enhance the status of women, while maintaining traditions of agriculture, diet, and food production. Achieving these goals will require education by teachers, healthcare workers, and community leaders. Finally, we aim to develop a new culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship among Sierra Leoneans so that they can identify and pursue opportunities in agriculture and food production.

Agriculture: Farming is one of the leading industries in Sierra Leone, making up 61% of the GDP and 61% of the labor force. However, many of today’s youth perceive farming as unprofitable, and, therefore, move to the cities to seek employment. Because of urban migration, the population in urban regions increased from 35% in 2001 to nearly 40% in 2015.This trend is expected to continue, given that 60% of Sierra Leone’s population is under the age of 25. Our partner at the University of Makeni, Dr. Tholley, noted that when youth migrate to cities and mining areas, employment opportunities are still limited, and women often resort to prostitution and men often ride motorbikes (okadas). Our food system aims to create more job opportunities for agricultural producers and processers, engineering technicians and mechanics, and vocational instructors, as described in Question 8. This will maintain the tradition of agriculture by making it attractive to future generations once again.

Diet and food production: As described in Question 7, our Vision includes the production of foods that are not only rich in micronutrients, but are the types of foods that are familiar to Sierra Leoneans and are made from commonly eaten ingredients. For example, the muffins, porridge, and bouillon cubes we are developing are similar to the foods people already eat. They are also made from everyday items such as sweet potatoes, peanuts, cornmeal, etc. They will be produced and sold in the types of bakeries, small shops, and markets that are currently found in Sierra Leone.

In 2020, women are farmers and food producers in Sierra Leone, but they tend to have fewer opportunities and less financial power than the men do. Our food system for 2050 maintains the tradition and culture of women’s roles in these jobs, but provides them with more opportunities to increase their status and earning ability. For example, the Betteh Bakery in Makeni, where breads and our muffins are made, employs many women who would otherwise be unemployed. Other programs that target women, as mentioned by Jonathan Williams, our National Commission for Social Action partner, include the development of improved chicken and small ruminants, fish farming, home gardening, and household food preservation and processing.

Implementing changes to the current system requires changing the educational and cultural mindsets, but this requires support from teachers, healthcare workers, and community leaders. As described in Question 8, primary school teachers are key for teaching children about nutrition and gardening, which can strengthen their connection to the land. Additionally, nurses and community health workers, who are trusted members of the community, can educate children and adults about nutrition and they can recommend the newer foods that are available. Lastly, we can leverage the community leaders, who are people of influence, and encourage them to promote healthy eating.

Lastly, we aim to create and enable a new culture of entrepreneurship and enterprise. While many of the new jobs in agricultural and food production will be for “workers”, there will also be numerous new business opportunities. We hope that the new businesses that form early on, as our Vision is implemented, will foster an emerging interest in business ownership and innovation, and, therefore, make our new food system one that is self-sustaining.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Productive agricultural operations are essential for producing high crop yields, while effective processing and storage systems are needed to ensure product quality, preserve shelf life and product stability, and help increase the value of the products sold on the market. However, productivity in Sierra Leone is often hindered by poor farming practices, lack of access to mechanization and technologies, as well as inadequate infrastructure. As a result, crop yields tend to be low while waste is high. In developing countries, the portion lost after harvesting has been estimated to be between 10% and 40%, with the leading causes being premature harvesting, unsafe handling and processing, poor storage facilities, and lack of processing capabilities. Additionally, Sierra Leone has limited road and energy infrastructure. Their national road system is below the average in Africa, making it onerous for farmers to transport materials and products. For example, only 9% of its roads are paved and 30% of companies recently reported that transport is a major constraint to growth. Additionally, just over 13% of the overall population and 1% of the people in rural areas have access to electricity, which is a major hurdle to mechanization.

Our food system aims to address these challenges using a broad range of practical, existing technologies that are accessible in Sierra Leone. To narrow the scope of this effort, we are focusing on the production, postharvest processing, and storage components of the food value chain. All three farmers we interviewed, as well as our partners, emphasized the need for equipment in these links of the chain, especially the need for mechanical equipment. Critical equipment is as follows:

Production: The environmental benefits of greenhouses and drip irrigation were discussed in Question 6, but these methods also improve crop yield and productivity by extending the growing seasons and reducing exposure to pests and harsh weather. Additional pieces of vital equipment include ploughs, seeders, harrows, water bailers, and tractors, to name a few.

Storage: Storage equipment is needed for seeds, as well as for postharvest products, to protect items from pests and moisture, which frequently leads to spoilage. Our partner from National Commission for Social Action indicated the need for better seed storage, management, and quality. A simple solution for preventing seed spoilage and damage is storage in hermetically sealed bags, which are relatively inexpensive. Storage systems for harvested grain include plastic drums, metal silos, polyethylene bags, and refrigerators, all of which involve minimal technology and are easy to use.

Processing: Our stakeholders and partners have identified numerous types of processing equipment needed on smallholder farms, including threshers, mills, dryers, heaters, and packaging machines. Solar dryers are advantageous because they are affordable, provide protection from contaminants such as dirt and insects, and do not rely on electricity. Direct solar dryers dry food by direct exposure to solar radiation through a transparent material that covers the structure. While direct dryers cannot control temperature, this disadvantage can be overcome by using an indirect solar dryer, in which another surface, called a collector, will absorb the solar radiation and convert it to heat. Air is then passed over the collector to dry the items.

There is also a need for trucks and better transportation. Jonathan Williams, our partner at the National Commission for Social Action suggested distributing road maintenance equipment among communities to repair the feeder roads that connect the farms to markets. Alternatively, culverts could be constructed, providing a path between farms and the market. Implementation of these ideas would enable sellers to reach the market, where they can earn more than they would by selling their products at the gate of their farm.

Finally, farmers need access to energy to have a productive, profitable farm. Without access to electricity, they need generators to operate much of the mechanical equipment previously described. However, Sierra Leone is on a trajectory to increase energy access. For example, thirteen solar PV minigrids were installed in 2013. Additionally, the government launched Energy Revolution and Power for All in 2016, which aim to increase access to solar power and accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. They are also planning to connect twenty villages and eight towns to the grid by 2023.

In summary, our plan calls for many practical, existing technologies that will improve productivity and reduce waste. While some are simple to use, but implementation of others will require training by extension services or local schools. Moreover, some of the equipment used does not require energy access, though nation-wide access to electricity is needed to fully realize Sierra Leone’s agricultural potential.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

To achieve our Vision, the government of Sierra Leone needs to implement concrete policies to improve the following systems: (1) land ownership, (2) financial services, (3) infrastructure, (4) agricultural extension system, and (5) education.

Land ownership: Though farming is the livelihood for many Sierra Leoneans, the availability of land is limited due to the current land tenure system. For example, paramount chiefs are viewed as the “custodians of the land”, and typically manage family-owned land.  While the current system limits land access and earning power for all people, women are particularly impacted by the present structure. Over 90% of the paramount chiefs are men, yet nearly 62% of agricultural workers are women.

Financial services: Jonathan Williams, our partner from NaCSA, provided us with extensive information about Sierra Leonean’s lack of access to financial services, especially in the rural regions. Commercial banks are risk averse and do not routinely lend to smallholder farmers or small micro-enterprises (SME). Most banks are willing to lend only against assets that serve as collateral, such as land, which can be sold or liquidated in case of default. However, due to the land ownership structure, as just described, farmers cannot use their land as collateral, and most farmers and SME’s can only offer their inventories, which are perceived as high risk for default. As a result, credit providers are wary of lending to producers and processors in Sierra Leone. Additionally, banks may impose fixed repayment schedules to which the farmers cannot adhere. There have been signs of improvement, however. Access to financial services has increased somewhat due to the recent establishment of Apex Bank, which has 51 financial services associations and 17 community banks. However, more improvements are still needed. Potential solutions include establishing connections between of savings groups or cooperatives with Apex Bank, forming and strengthening Community Savings and Loan Associations, and launching a warehouse receipt system, which allows farmers for SME’s to use their inventories as collateral.

Infrastructure: As described in Question 10, limitations in transportation and energy access currently hinder agricultural productivity. Specifically, the poor road network connecting farms to markets reduces farmers’ ability to sell their goods, thereby lowering their income potential. Moreover, lack of energy access prevents the use of much of the mechanical equipment needed to have a productive farm. Additional infrastructure improvements are also needed in information and communications technology (ICT). While there are 84.6 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 people, only 10.7% of households have internet access and less than 4% have a computer. The government has plans in the next several years to increase broadband penetration and upgrade ICT in the country’s rural regions. Our stakeholder in the Ministry of Agriculture suggested the use of an e-voucher system, which enables businesses to create and distribute vouchers to promote their products. However, for this system to work, extensive internet access is essential.

Agricultural extension system: As described in Question 10, numerous technologies are needed to improve agricultural productivity in Sierra Leone. However, for the equipment and methods to be effective, training and education are required. While the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has an extension system that supports farmers, it lacks the resources to perform the services that are needed throughout the country. This weakness is recognized and one the country’s short-term goals is to expand the extension system, though the specific plans for design and implementation have not yet been clearly defined.

Education: Progress been made in education, including significant increases in enrollment at all levels, primary through higher education, and the establishment of colleges and technical schools. However, many of these schools lack the facilities, infrastructure, and instructor training needed to offer a quality education that provides students the ability to compete in a 21st century environment. Our partner at the University of Makeni noted that his department needs laboratory buildings and equipment, trained personnel, improved strains of crops and animal livestock, as well as machinery and equipment. These shortcomings are recognized and are targets for improvement, per the country’s Economic Development plan for 2019-2023. Most of the plans involve better teacher training and dedicating funds to education, though few other necessary actions are specified. However, the government established a Ministry of Technical and Higher Education and a Directorate for Science, Technology, and Innovation in 2018, as noted in Question 4. This clearly signals the government’s recognition that education and innovation are key to Sierra Leoneans’ economic success. 

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Practical technologies that enhance agricultural and food production, storage, and processing are the cornerstone of our food system. Some of these technologies are affordable (pest resistant storage vessels, solar dryers), while others are more expensive and require energy (refrigerators, mills), but all the methods in our food system of the future have already been developed and utilized in low resource settings. Several of the techniques that increase productivity, such as greenhouses with drip irrigation, also have an environmental impact in that they make farms more adaptable to climate change and more resilient when faced with unpredictable events such as mudslides and disease outbreaks. While the new technologies are somewhat affordable, new policies are still needed to fully realize our food system for 2050. Specifically, access to credit, farmer-friendly lending policies, and land ownership are necessary for people to purchase the equipment needed to improve their farm’s productivity. Policies that improve the roads can boost income even more, since farmers need navigable roads to bring their products to the market. As farms become more productive, diets also improve. Newly utilized technologies help improve diet diversity by increasing the variety, quantity, and quality of food available, as well as extending the growing seasons. Moreover, food insecurity declines as agricultural productivity grows, due to less of a reliance on imported food. Diets also improve since people can access foods that are formulated to contain essential micronutrients, like orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, porridge, and bouillon cubes. These items are easily integrated into people’s diets, since they are made from local ingredients and are already part of the culture. With better nutrition and diet diversity, rates of malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and stunting decrease, leading to better overall health.

New technologies positively impact the economy by helping to create new jobs in the agriculture and food industries, including more opportunities for women. This includes jobs for farmers, food producers, as well as people with the mechanical skills needed to manufacture and repair equipment. Additionally, there is a need for the vocational instructors and extension system employees who train current and future farmers in technologies that increase productivity and improve the environment. With new opportunities, we hope to maintain the cultural tradition of agriculture in Sierra Leone and reverse the trend of urban migration. While preserving some traditions, we also hope to foster a new culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

While our Vision produces many benefits in each of the six themes, we also recognize that there are trade-offs that need to be made.

  • Growth of technology will impact the economy and the environment. With improvements in technology, older farmers, or poorer farmers, will fall behind in the new economy. Without access to new equipment and more modern practices, they will be less productive, as well as unable to transport their goods to market or promote their products to customers via the internet. The use of technology will also impact the environment. While our Vision includes resource conservation and optimization, adding more mechanical processes, through the use of trucks, tractors, mills, etc., will result in a larger carbon footprint. With both of these examples, however, the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • The economy will impact diets. As people become more prosperous, they will have more money to buy food. While they will be able afford the nutritious food that is grown and produced locally, people with more disposable income have a tendency to eat more junk food and/or eat in restaurants. This is not a desired outcome, but it is a strong possibility based on worldwide historical evidence. We hope this effect can be minimized through nutrition education. This will requirement involvement from primary and secondary school teachers, nurses and community health workers, as well as leaders in the community.
  • Changes in policy will impact the culture. In Sierra Leone, most of the agricultural land is community owned, but controlled by traditional rulers, or “paramount chiefs”, who are viewed as custodians of the land. In this role, they administer the land on behalf of their communities, though it is the entire community’s responsibility to preserve the land for future generations. However, for farmers who practice subsistence agriculture, most of whom are women, typically lack titles to the land they farm. Though individuals or corporations are legally allowed to acquire land, they are often deterred by the current land tenure system. While policies have been changing to improve land access and use it for farming, the improvements are slow. Moreover, dramatic changes would disrupt the traditional culture.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Three years is a short timeframe, so we are operating under the assumption that Sierra Leone’s infrastructure (roads, energy, financial services, communications) will not improve significantly during this time. Therefore, we will focus our efforts on implementing practical agricultural technologies, reducing stunting, and creating demand for healthier foods. Our specific three-year milestones are to:

1. Implement four practical technologies in the Bombali District: Given the late stage of our production projects (greenhouses, mushrooms), we plan to begin with low-cost methods that improve storage and processing, thereby reducing postharvest losses. The specific technologies are hermetically sealed bags for seed storage, plastic drums or polyethylene bags for product storage, threshers, and dryers. The Bombali District has been chosen because it is the location of WHI and the University of Makeni, who have the personnel available to train the farmers. We will provide farmers with funding to purchase the items. We will also ensure that women farmers are participants in the program.

2. Reduce nation’s stunting rate by 5%:  We aim to achieve this through the development and launch of three affordable products (muffins, porridge, bouillon cubes) that are dense in the micronutrients often lacking in diets. After three years, all three products will be available in stores in every district in Sierra Leone. Since we have working recipes for two of the three products and bakeries are available, this is an achievable goal.

3. Create demand for healthier food: Teachers already provide instruction to children about healthy eating in school, and community health workers currently educate young mothers in nutrition. However, through community efforts, such as demonstrations of new products at NGO’s, in schools, or at community events, we can create a demand for these aspirational foods.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

By 2030, we would like to have set up one Integrated Agricultural System and one Integrated Food Production System in the Bombali District that would serve as pilot systems for our Vision. The agricultural system will include the farmers, as well as tradesmen, whose skills are needed to build, maintain, and repair equipment. The other players in this system are an agricultural college and/or vocational school, extension system employees, and a financing agency. The food production system has many of the same roles as the agriculture system, except that the food producers are the central figures. The other roles in the food production system include a vocational school and a financing agency.

To create the pilot agricultural system by 2030, it will be necessary to implement many of the practical technologies that improve agricultural productivity. We will also work with farmers to help organize them into cooperatives, which will enable them to share resources. Moreover, to create both systems it will be essential to work with educational institutions to help them develop programs or strengthen existing programs in agriculture, trades, and business. These programs will train the next generation of farmers and entrepreneurs. The same institutions can also provide short courses for people already in the workforce. We will also seek the expertise of the National Commission for Social Action, a government entity that facilitates programs for alleviating poverty and economic opportunities. The success of our pilot systems is contingent upon access to financing, which has been a challenge, but has shown signs of improvement in recent years.

Once the pilot systems are set up in the Bombali District, they will serve as model systems that could then be replicated throughout the country, and make our Vision a reality by 2050.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

We would be deeply honored and humbled if we were selected as a Prize recipient. The problems of food insecurity and poor agricultural productivity in Sierra Leone are complex, and require significant investment in capital and human resources to solve entirely. However, the Prize can have a major impact at the level of smallholder farms and food producers. If awarded the Prize, we would use it to purchase agricultural equipment and materials for increasing productivity and resiliency, fund training programs, and provide seed money for entrepreneurs who can manufacture and/or repair equipment, or want to start or grow a business in food production. Our efforts would be focused in the Bombali District of Sierra Leone, as this is the location of WHI and UNIMAK.

1. Purchase agricultural equipment & materials: All the farmers we interviewed reported the need for equipment such as harvesters, mills, threshers, and dryers. Also, given the high level of postharvest losses, having effective bags and drums for seed and crop storage can have a major impact on loss reduction. Therefore, we would use Prize funds to purchase these items for local farmers.

2. Develop training programs: Training farmers to use the new equipment and materials is essential. We can leverage existing programs at UNIMAK, where faculty and students already interact with farmers. We would strengthen these programs such that farmers can learn practical methods that improve productivity (greenhouses) and resource conservation (circular farming). The Prize could help fund internships for UNIMAK students, who would then gain real-world experience in agriculture and instruct farmers in newer technologies.

3. Enable entrepreneurship: With new agricultural equipment, there is a need for people who can manufacture and repair the equipment. Moreover, the foods we are developing will need to be produced in bakeries and shops. Therefore, Prize funds would be used to seed these small businesses.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

  • Sierra Leoneans want to be food secure, self-sufficient, and have a healthy and well-nourished population. We hope our Vision helps Sierra Leone achieve its dream!
  • In many low-income countries, food insecurity and poor diet are inextricably linked to agriculture. By using affordable, practical technologies that improve productivity, maximize resources, and reduce waste, farmers can become more prosperous. These practices also increase resiliency, reduce reliance on imports, lower food insecurity, and lead to better nutrition.
  • Our Vision maintains tradition, while making positive changes in the culture. In our Vision, farming will continue to be a livelihood for many Sierra Leoneans. We are also developing nutrient-rich foods, but ones that are already familiar and made from local ingredients. Therefore, these foods will be easy to integrate into people’s diets. However, we hope our Vision will help transform the culture by creating new opportunities in agriculture and food production. Better jobs in these fields have the potential to reduce youth unemployment and urban migration, and on a more fundamental level, help generate a new culture of entrepreneurship, which will make the system self-sustaining.
  • Lastly, the input and ideas from our stakeholders and in-country subject matter experts were invaluable. They live in the region, have a deep understanding of challenges, and have excellent ideas. Just as importantly, they want to have a voice in defining their future.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

The two key figures in our integrated system are farmers and food producers. The other players are (1) vocational schools, which provide technical and business training, (2) the extension service, which helps farmers implement new methods, and (3) the banks that provide financial services. New opportunities have stimulated a culture of entrepreneurship, while access to electricity and the internet enables efficient operation. In 2050, families enjoy nutritious and locally produced food.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Adefolami Agunbiade

Hello Lori,

Fantastic vision application. Respect the sacrifice it must have taken to come work in Africa. I'm a bit curious about the 33sqm greenhouses you mentioned were available for $833 dollars. Is it a locally assembled greenhouse or did you have to ship them in from the US? If locally available, do you have schematics available that you can share?

Food Innovation Nervecenter

Photo of Lori Herz

Hello, Adefolami,

Thank you for the message and for the compliment! The greenhouses are manufactured and assembled locally. For more information, please see the following website:
The man in the video is Khanjan Mehta, one of my colleagues at Lehigh University, initiated the GRO Greenhouse project. It is now primarily run by World Hope International (WHI), an NGO based in the United States that operations in Makeni, Sierra Leone.
I will reach out to my collaborators at WHI to see if we are able to share the designs with you.

Best regards,

P.S. In all honesty, I have been to Sierra Leone just once, in 2018. Khanjan, as well has the WHI folks, are in Sierra Leone frequently and they are the ones who are sacrificing their time and energy.

Photo of Lori Herz

Hello, Adefolami,
It turns out that the construction manual is available online. Please go to:

Photo of Adefolami Agunbiade

Hello Lori,

I checked out the construction manual. Definitely will build several of those greenhouses though not too sure the glazing will withstand the winds we have here.

Thanks for reaching out on LinkedIn. Turns out you are a 'god' in an area I have interests: biotechnology and precision biology. Hope you don't mind but I've got tonnes of questions

1. As professor of practice in bioengineering, how would you advise any team looking to set up bioengineering labs in a country where the expertise is lacking.

2. I took a couple of courses in biochemistry before my degree in medicine. If I wanted to get into biotech, precision biology, fermentation and culturing cellular meat, how would you advise I proceed?

3. In your vision you mentioned a nutrient rich sweet potato cake baked with bananas. Was it from local sweet potatoes grown in Sierra Leone or did you have introduce genetically altered variants?

4. Beyond this vision prize, I think it would be an honour to work with you on biotech projects across Africa, particularly Nigeria. Thanks to 5g, remote experimentation and automated labs, I'm sure we can manage something. Reading through the resources provided by FSVP has made me desire to build laboratories for genetic food research and probably factories for production at scale. If you wouldn't mind providing insight and guidance to our team on how to proceed. What most donor agencies need to realize is this : donating practical knowledge, and helping third world communities set up practical labs, farms and factories is more valuable than giving gifts of financial aide alone.

For me, meeting and collaborating in the long run with distinguished industry experts here in the prize process IS THE REAL PRIZE. Would appreciate if you could ponder on my requests and propositions.


Photo of Lori Herz

Hi Adefolami,

I would love to collaborate with you! Please see my response to John Adeseewo about the sweet potatoes used for our cakes. I have to be honest with you, though - most of my experience is in pharmaceutical development and manufacturing and not in the food science or food biotech space. I've only been working on the nutrition project for about a year and a half. However, I'd be happy to collaborate with you to the best of my ability. I can be reached via email:

Best regards,

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