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FAO warning: Ebola outbreak threatens cereal production in West Africa

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By Kacey Culliney+

03-Sep-2014
Last updated on 03-Sep-2014 at 12:51 GMT

'FAO, together with respective government authorities and other stakeholders, is supporting the overall response plan and identifying appropriate mechanisms to assist agricultural production,' it says Photo Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett
'FAO, together with respective government authorities and other stakeholders, is supporting the overall response plan and identifying appropriate mechanisms to assist agricultural production,' it says Photo Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak has threatened upcoming cereal harvests across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as it issues a ‘grave food security’ warning.

Labor shortages on farms would hit production of maize, millet, sorghum and rice hard, the FAO said via its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) on September 2.

Harvests across most of West Africa had initially been forecast to be above average thanks to healthy rainfalls during the 2014 cropping season before Ebola hit the region.

“With the peak of the crop harvesting, mainly cereals due in a few weeks’ time, the likely labor shortages on farms would have severe implications for food and cash crop production in the affected areas, thus jeopardizing the food security of large numbers of people.”

“…The areas with high incidences of EVD are among the most productive regions of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Therefore, the outbreak of EVD, together with the restrictions on the movement of people and the supply of labor, has led to serious concerns on production prospects."

The FAO was identifying measures that could help agricultural production, including harvesting and post-harvest activities, storage and transport of product and sales of produce.

Price increases to come

Cereal trade had been disrupted because of border closures hitting Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia particularly hard as they were all net cereal importers.

“The closure of some border crossings and the isolation of border areas where the three countries intersect, as well as reduced trade from seaports; the main conduit for large-scale commercial imports, are resulting in tighter supplies and sharply increasing food prices.”

For example, cassava prices in Monrovia’s Redlight Market had soared 150% within the first two weeks of August.

The depreciation of national currencies in Sierra Leone and Liberia in recent months was also expected to exert further upward price pressure on imported food commodities, the FAO said.

“Measures to revive internal trade are essential to ease supply constraints and mitigate further price increases."

Ebola impact

A total of 3,052 cases of EVD had been recorded in West Africa as of August 29, 2014, causing 1,546 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Updates are available HERE .

“Set against the back-drop of already high levels of poverty and limited social service capacities, the impact of the EVD outbreak is having acute repercussions on the food security of affected populations. Reduced food trade, consequent rising prices and expected reductions in domestic harvests are likely to further undermine the fragile state of food security,” the FAO said.

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