Sierra Leone is an extremely vulnerable country. Most of the population live below the poverty line, its economy is strongly dependent on donors and agriculture is its largest economic sector. A contentious issue at the moment is that farmland is being leased to foreign companies. It is a practice that pertains to almost a fifth of all farmland, and its scope is increasing. Land that has been in the hands of the local people for decades, and who have always grown their own food on it, is being taken away from them. Two thirds of the population depend on subsistance farming.
In 2002 a protracted and debilitating civil war came to an end. However, since then the recovery has been slow. Extreme poverty in Sierra Leone goes hand-in-hand with extensive unemployment. And less than 10 percent of the population have work. Most young people work for nothing and their lack of perspective, just like the wide-scale leasing of land, is a constant source of tension.
A shortage of basic services such as good healthcare is obvious. Mortality statistics for mothers and children are very high and the inequality between men and women manifests itself in various ways. Women, for example, have limited access to and control over sources of support, and (sexual) violence against women, especially young girls, is rife. Marriages with young girls and teenage pregnancies involve health risks and mean the girls have to leave school at a young age.
Cordaid in Sierra Leone
It is crucially important that women and children be given more security and better rights. In conjunction with its local partners, Cordaid is providing legal support and is lobbying for more female influence on decision-making about security. To improve the health and welfare of women and children, we work for better healthcare and education, with an emphasis on the area of sexuality and pregnancy, as well as guaranteeing social security, for example through promoting birth registration. Cordaid is also helping small-scale (female) farmers to be entrepreneurs and to increase their income. Where land is leased to third parties, it may lead to the loss of employment and income. Cordaid is helping farmers to organize themselves and to ensure they can participate in decision-making processes pertaining to land use and the distribution of income.
Cordaid wants to extend microcredit loans to poor entrepreneurs so they get the chance to start up their own companies and earn a living. Thanks to the repayments and interest paid on these microcredit loans, more and more people are getting the chance to invest. In other words: sustainable growth. However, the few microfinance institutions that there are in the country are too weak, meaning that only two percent of poor people can make use of such financial services. This is why Cordaid is helping these lenders to become professional, independent organizations.