Ebola outbreak threatens West African food security with severe inflation and labour shortages: FAO

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Severe price inflations for foodstuffs in Ebola-affected communities, says FAO
Severe price inflations for foodstuffs in Ebola-affected communities, says FAO

Related tags Food and agriculture organization Agriculture Food and agriculture organisation

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has launched an appeal for $30m (€23,72m) to support food supply resilience and recovery in the three African countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, where long-term impacts on food security are a major concern.

The organisation explained that the fund would support activities over the next 12 months, and that the main challenges remained stopping the spread of the disease through social mobilisation, training and awareness-raising. 

But head of FAO’s Dakar-based Sub-regional Resilience Hub Vincent Martin said: “Our priorities are also strengthening co-ordination to reinforce food security and nutrition clusters, as well as boosting incomes and agricultural production to safeguard livelihoods.” 

A combination of often severe price inflation and reduced incomes was in many cases having a dramatic effect on the purchasing power of households, FAO said. 

In the most affected rural region of Liberia, for example, the price of foodstuffs reportedly increased by at least 30% in August 2014 alone. 

“Households in many of the affected areas are unable to produce – or failing to sell – their products because restrictions apply,”​ said Martin. 

Labour shortages and fear of group work 

Research suggests that up to 47% of those questioned in Sierra Leone thought that Ebola was considerably disrupting farming. 

In communities affected by the disease, labour shortages were being experienced, said FAO. Reasons included the unwillingness of people to work in groups as they used to. Farmers could not mobilise enough labour for activities such as weeding, crop protection and even harvesting. There had been reports of families abandoning their farms and moving to areas perceived as being ‘safe’ from Ebola. 

FAO said it did not have figures for the amount of land abandoned or the effect on harvest volumes. 

Imports can't fill gap 

Longer-term, one concern was the ability of imports to plug the gap left by domestic production. 

In southeastern Guinea, the area of the country most affected by Ebola and a major provider of food including rice, compensating for the 35% decline in production through imports (already 20% of national rice consumption) might be limited by supply chain capacity, said FAO. Specific challenges included traffic at Conakry port and the rising cost of shipping freight. 

Elsewhere, imports were critically important even before the outbreak. “So far, rice, sugar and oil are still being imported to the affected countries,”​ said Martin. “But a ship embargo would lead to a critical shortfall in these commodities, knowing that – for example – Liberia imports 66% of the rice it consumes.” 

Alongside the risks of decreasing agricultural production and local purchasing power, FAO said that the closure of cross-border trade could have a serious impact on economic activity in the region. 

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