According to countryaah, Sierra Leone’s economy is based primarily on agriculture and mining. Although the country is rich in natural resources, it is still one of the world’s poorest. A large part of the population lives on self-sustaining agriculture and work in the informal sector. The civil war in 1991–2002 was devastating for the country, including the economy, but growth has since been good. However, this has not benefited the growing population to any great extent. Contributing to the poor economic result is civil war, import costs and administrative inefficiency.
Agriculture is largely undeveloped and focused on self-sufficiency. The technological level is low and the use of sweat dominates. State-determined prices for agricultural products and high taxation of export crops have contributed to the lack of agricultural development. Less than 10 percent of farmers grow export crops (coffee, cocoa and palm trees). The most important consumption crop is rice, which is grown by 75 percent of the farmers. However, production is not enough for the country’s needs, and about 25 percent of consumption is imported.
The mining industry is the second most important commodity-producing sector and the most important source of export revenue. The most important minerals are diamonds, iron ore, bauxite and rutile. The sector was severely affected by the civil war in 1991–2002 and was also hit with financial, technical and administrative problems. Production has fluctuated strongly, and periodically large parts of the industry have ceased. Smuggling of gold and diamonds is significant. Sierra Leone is, after Australia, one of the world’s largest exporters of rutile. The country also has a large unexploited resource in the fish-rich waters off the country’s Atlantic coast. Commercial fishing ceased almost entirely during the Civil War. After the war, however, the importance of the industry has increased and fish is now an important export commodity. Foreign vessels’ predatory fishing affects both the fish stocks and the country’s economy in the form of lost income.
During the 1960s, a subsidized industry was built around import-substitution industries, such as breweries, mills and cigarette manufacturing. Lack of foreign currency, water and electricity as well as increased costs for imported inputs led to a decline in the 1980s, and during the civil war in 1991–2002 the industry was largely wasted. The most important industries are the production of palm oil, the brewing industry, the processing of agricultural products and the manufacture of textiles and furniture.
Since 1970, Sierra Leone has a near-permanent trade deficit. The most important export goods are diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee and fish. The main import goods are food, machinery, transport and fuel. The most important trading partners are China, Ivory Coast, Belgium and the United States.