Programme Index Listing

Sierra Leone
Main implementer
Adam Smith International (ASI)
2013 - 2017
Total budget
USD $13 million
Annual budget
USD $4 million

Project description / objective

Sierra Leone Opportunities for Business Action (SOBA) is a UK Aid funded private sector development programme that uses a market systems approach to facilitate pro-poor economic growth in Sierra Leone.

The programme collaborates with private sector businesses in three primary areas - agriculture, renewable energy, professional services and entrepreneurship markets - to trial and scale innovative and inclusive business practices that reduce poverty and improve economic opportunities for poor women and men. 

Market system focus

1. Agricultural inputs and services

Agricultural productivity across Sierra Leone is significantly limited by poor availability, access, and usage of inputs. There are shortages of good quality fertiliser; absence of good quality, locally appropriate seeds and crop protection inputs; and very limited availability of information and advice for farmers tailored to their local conditions and crops.

2. Poultry and maize

At the start of SOBA’s work in late 2015 only about 10 per cent of total local egg consumption and less than 25 per cent of local poultry meat consumption was supplied by domestic poultry production. At the time, Sierra Leone imported around 14 million eggs per month. Sierra Leone’s poultry sector is nascent.

3. Food and consumer goods processing and trade

According to the World Bank, imports of consumable food were valued at USD $135.6 million in 2015.

As Sierra Leone’s 7.2 million population, and income, continues to grow, demands for these goods will too. Failing to meet this demand with locally-processed foods is an important missed opportunity for Sierra Leone.

Many raw materials – sesame, sorghum, rice, pigeon peas, palm oil, to name a few – are all produced and traded by farmers in Sierra Leone.

4. Renewable energy: Solar Home Systems

More than 85 per cent of Sierra Leone’s approximately 7 million people lack access to electricity.

Towns and communities outside of the country’s capital, Freetown, are disproportionately negatively affected. To compensate, most households and businesses rely on expensive alternatives: low-quality battery-powered lights and diesel generators.

On average, Sierra Leonean consumers spend SLL 240,000 (USD $32) per year for their primary lighting source. For low-income consumers, such expenditures can amount to 30-50 per cent of their disposable income.

5. Entrepreneurship markets and professional services (iLab)

The cost of doing business in an unstable environment that has experienced many internal and external shocks has resulted in an entrepreneurial culture in Sierra Leone that is highly risk-averse and discourages sharing between business owners. There is a salient mismatch between the supply and the demand for professional services within Sierra Leone’s private sector.

To achieve scale in this last phase of programming, SOBA needed to address gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and support realignment of professional services towards SMEs.

Programme interventions

1. Agricultural inputs and services

Intervention 1
Strengthen management and operational capacity of distributors, enabling them to expand to reach small farmers.

  • Grow distributors’ organisational capacity to pursue more complex distribution strategies targeted to farmers, namely in areas of inventory management; accounting and financial planning; marketing and branding; and human capital

Intervention 2
Improve access to quality inputs through expanded and professionalised agro-dealer networks.

  • Develop and launch new distribution networks and strategies – such as agents and retail outlets – targeted to small farmers
  • Upskill agro-dealer performance
  • Collaborate with the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and other stakeholders to develop an alternative approach to aid that underpins market growth rather than displacing it

Intervention 3
Improve access to agricultural advisory required to improve input application and generate increased yields.

  • Support distributors to launch agronomic departments, hiring skilled agronomists that provide training to farmers and dealers and advise on product/services offering
  • Support distributors to utilise demonstration plots to showcase Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) alongside new products
  • Improve agro-dealers’ understanding of input products and application, enabling them to pass information onto farmers

Intervention 4
Increase the range of agricultural input products and services available for farmers.

  • Leverage the improvements in organisational capacity and growing distribution networks to attract interest from international input suppliers to bring new products to Sierra Leone and push improved agronomic information and advisory
  • Launch new, improved inputs better fit for Sierra Leone’s small farmers

2. Poultry and maize

Intervention 1
Improve overall productivity (egg output per bird) through better farm and production practices, including financial and monitoring controls, biosecurity and bird rearing practices.

  • Provide technical guidance to improve farm production practices (biosecurity, monitoring, farm set-up) in order to decrease bird mortality and raise productivity
  • Improve farm financial and business management practices - setting up accounts, controls and other monitoring tools that enable data-driven farm management and improve growth

Intervention 2
Improve the reliability of feed and lower-cost feed alternatives for poultry farmers.

  • Trial alternative feed options, including regionally-sourced options and new compositions
  • Facilitate the emergence of a third-party feed processor

Intervention 3
Increase maize production and improve trade relationships between maize farmers, traders and feed and farm buyers.

  • Improve trade practices and value-added relationships, signalling the market opportunity as well as willingness to build trusted trade relationships (scales, shellers, contracts, buyer workshops)
  • Trial and launch hybrid maize seed variety - alongside the advisory required to manage application, aimed at improving overall production 

Intervention 4
Facilitate the emergence of key supporting services: Day-Old-Chicks and Veterinary Services/Medicines.

  • Attract new entrants to the sector, utilizing investment and business cases to encourage third party suppliers to emerge and support early business professionalisation and customer reach
  • Collaborate with ad hoc service providers (typically farms) to formalise their intermediary roles

3. Food and consumer goods processing and trade

Intervention 1
Improve business management and production efficiency.

  • Improve fundamental business and financial management systems that underpin performance and growth
  • Foster peer learning and networking among businesses through the Food & Consumer Goods Processing Cohort (iLab)
  • Improve factory layout and processing flow as well as health and hygiene standards

Intervention 2
Improve understanding and alignment to customers.

  • Improve customer understanding and fit, including introduction of affordable market appraisal, customer feedback, progressive market research, rapid product prototyping and sales and marketing strategies
  • Shift Sierra Leonean perception and appreciation of locally-processed goods, including Bo Soap and Made in Sierra Leone brands and activity
  • Trial packaging solutions that improve presentation, safety and appeal of local products and foster locally-available packaging solutions

Intervention 3
Strengthen and improve raw materials sourcing and supply chain management practices.

  • Target improvements in supply chain management - sourcing strategies, networking and supplier relationships that offer investment and value to farmers and ensure higher quality and more predictable output for buyers

4. Renewable energy: Solar Home Systems

Intervention 1

Facilitate the development of a competitive business enabling environment via implementation of energy reforms outlined in the Sierra Leone Energy Access Campaign Compact. 

  • Support Sierra Leone Energy Revolution launch, including Energy Africa Compact design, to outline pathway for private sector-led market growth
  • Cement and streamline operationalisation of fiscal incentives outlined in the Compact - eliminating import duty waiver and sales tax for quality solar products
  • Strengthen the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL) to lead private sector renewable industry advocacy and collaboration

Intervention 2
Improve solar uptake, growing access to and affordability of quality household solar products through improved business performance.

  • Identify and collaborate with well-positioned and motivated local solar distributors to redefine competitive norms and restructure markets
  • Increase solar brand and product awareness and accelerate sales to low-income consumers through innovative route-to-market marketing and sales strategies
  • Improve fit for, and foster linkages between, solar firms and business support service providers (mobile payment, transport and logistics, marketing)

Intervention 3
Increase investment in Sierra Leone’s solar market.

  • Showcase the Sierra Leone investment opportunity, leveraging SOBA-developed investment tools and expertise to forge strategic engagements with international solar suppliers and financiers
  • Demonstrate investment opportunity across the Mano River sub-region to attract large-scale solar suppliers and smaller, ‘hungrier’ competitors to enter the market

5. Entrepreneurship markets and professional services (iLab)

Intervention 1
Weave networks.

  • Grow network density and foster new nodes that enable collaboration and faster information flow between businesses, service providers, and relevant stakeholders that are positioned to enable scale-up and replication of the successful innovations generated under the programme

Intervention 2
Stimulate information flow.

  • Within these networks and nodes - showcase innovations; highlight high performers and role models; and delineate new opportunities that invite replication and encourage market entrance

Intervention 3
Strengthen the Professional Services industry.

  • Durably support second mover replication and businesses’ growth sustainability

Intervention 4
Improve service provider appreciation of, and fit for, Small and Growing Businesses (SGBs) in Sierra Leone by:

  • Developing services that appropriately target and service SGBs
  • Reducing costs and improving service through talent acquisition and development processes

Intervention 5
Increase SGB’s value perceptions of service providers by:

  • Developing role models to showcase the value of marketing integration/use, proper book-keeping and financial analysis
  • Trialing new, transparent offerings and showcasing value 

Intervention 6
Improve networking, information and engagement between SGBs and service providers by:

  • Reducing customer acquisition costs by aiding the development of co-working spaces / business centers ('Business Clinics') where interested SGBs can easily connect with experts
  • Increasing the flow of communication and pace of response and innovation through association events and communication tools (WhatsApp groups)

Notable results (systemic change, poverty impact)

  • 47,100 poor women and men with increased income 
  • £3,077,000 cumulative net attributable income 
  • £4,680,000 additional private sector investment leveraged
  • Between July and December 2016 Sierra Leone experienced the highest relative increase in sales volumes than any other country in the world, performing a +750 per cent compared to the prior semester of 2016 (GOGLA - Global Off-Grid Lighting Association) 

[uploaded February 2018]

Related resource

Farmer-oriented disruptions in the agricultural inputs and services sector in Sierra Leone

SOBA case study drawing on programme insights and monitoring and results measurement data.

Gendered social norms for programme design

A case study on the importance of identifying gendered social norms for more effective and sustainable programming.