The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

New agricultural frontiers in post-conflict Sierra Leone? Exploring institutional challenges for wetland management in the Eastern Province

Roy Maconachiea1 c1*

a1 Institute for Development Policy and Management (IDPM), School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Humanities Bridgeford Street Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, United Kingdom


Sierra Leone has recently emerged from a long period of political instability and civil war, and is ranked among the world's poorest countries. Thousands of displaced people are in the process of returning to their villages to rebuild their mainly farming-based livelihoods, and many are growing food crops for the first time in a decade. With pressure on food production increasing in rural areas, the inland valley swamps have been identified by the government as a vital resource for sustaining rural livelihoods and achieving food security through the production of rice and other commodities. However, previous government policies directed at enhanced wetland production have largely failed to achieve their goals, and have been criticised for neglecting the institutional challenges of development. Drawing on recent fieldwork carried out in two rural communities in the Eastern Province, this paper considers how institutional arrangements function in Sierra Leone's swamp wetlands, and explores how stresses associated with a post-conflict environment are shaping land-use decisions and mediating access to resources in new ways. The findings of the enquiry have implications for Sierra Leone's recently adopted commitment to decentralisation, a move that has, in theory, seen the state strengthen its position at the local level, and will allegedly create new spaces for increased interaction between state agencies, traditional leaders and communities. Two institutional challenges are examined – access to land and access to labour – that must be addressed if decentralised reforms to resource management are to be effective for wetland rice production. The analysis concludes by considering one recent initiative at the forefront of efforts to decentralise the Ministry of Agriculture, the ‘Agricultural Business Unit’ (ABU) initiative, to elucidate some of the challenges faced in post-conflict wetland rehabilitation.


c1 Email:


* This paper is based on research conducted in Sierra Leone between 2004 and 2007, made possible through funding provided by the Leverhulme Trust. The author would like to thank Elizabeth Fortin, Gavin Hilson, Emmanuel Nuesiri, Phil Woodhouse, Adrian Wood, the KNOTS Team at IDS, Sussex and the JMAS reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.