Sierra Leone's economy is predominantly agricultural, with about half of its workers engaged in subsistence farming. The principal food crops are rice, cassava, corn, millet, and peanuts. The leading cash crops, most of which are exported, are coffee, cocoa, palm kernels, and palm oil. Poultry, cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats are raised. The fishing industry is also important.
The country has an important mining industry, which is largely controlled by foreign companies. The main minerals extracted are diamonds (the country's major source of hard currency), iron ore, gold, bauxite, and rutile (titanium ore). However, the mining industry, like other areas of the economy, was severely affected by civil strife. Since 2009 a number of offshore oil discoveries have been made. The country's few manufactures include refined petroleum and basic consumer goods. There is commercial ship repairing. Sierra Leone has limited rail and highway networks, which mostly serve the central and western parts of the country. Freetown has excellent port facilities; smaller ports are located at Bonthe (on Sherbro Island) and Pepel (near Freetown).
The cost of Sierra Leone's imports is considerably higher than its earnings from exports. The principal imports are foodstuffs, machinery, transportation equipment, fuels, and chemicals; the chief exports are diamonds and other minerals, cocoa, coffee, and fish. Diamond smuggling has been a problem since the 1960s, and during the civil war much of the diamond-mining area fell into the hands of rebel groups. Sierra Leone's leading trade partners are Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Côte d'Ivoire.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.