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West Africa Rising: Sierra Leone looks to 'smallholders' to solve agricultural woes

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West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Even as it works to attract big-money investments from multinational mining and oil companies, Sierra Leone – a poor West African nation still recovering from a decade of civil war – is turning its attention to a much less flashy group of economic actors: 'smallholder' farmers.

Drawing on funds from a broad swath of donors, the country’s government is shepherding a multi-year $400 million project that aims to boost the productivity and incomes of its smallholders, subsistence growers who eke out a living on plots that average a mere four acres.

“Agriculture supports over 70 percent of the population in this country… but the people aren’t doing it at any profitable level,” says Sheikh Massaquoi, a lecturer in agricultural economics at Sierra Leone’s Njala University. The problem, he says, comes down to the fact that “the capital is lacking and the technology is lacking.”

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