Article written

  • on 23.12.2014
  • at 03:51 PM
  • by evelina

Ebola: Food security, the Forgotten Crisis in West Africa 0

According to two UN agencies, the number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could raise from 500,000 to one million by March 2015, unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production.

“Even though the impact on this year’s West Africa production appears relatively limited, the risk of a significant drop in cultivation is very high for the next season”, FAO’s Director of emergency operations, Dominique Burgeon told Afronline, on the sidelines of the Network for Prevention of Food Crises meeting in Brussels.

“The FAO is very worried about the consequences the Ebola crisis is having on food security and the whole agricultural sector”, he stressed.

A joint report, published last week by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), shows that while estimated crop losses appear relatively modest at the national level, rice production has fallen by 4 percent in Guinea, 8 percent in Sierra Leone and 12 percent in Liberia.

As highlighted by the report, sharp disparities in production have emerged between areas with high infection rates and other regions in the three worst-hit countries; in Liberia’s Lofa district, production dropped by 20 percent and in the hardest hit parts of Sierra Leone, it dropped by 17 percent.

In addition, border closures and other restrictions are seriously hindering producers’ movements and affecting sub regional trade, in particular transport and sale of agricultural products from rural areas to consumption areas.

“For example some products such as pineapples and potatoes, originating from North Guinea and normally sold in the Senegalese markets, can’t be exported anymore and this results in scarcity of supplies in Senegal and losses of revenues in Guiney”, Burgeon pointed out.

Therefore, agricultural prices are falling in production areas, while food is becoming scarce and expensive in the cities and farmers are forced to use their savings for their urgent needs, instead of buying grains or fertilizer.

“Farmers also lack basic information on preventive measures and often stay away from work in the fields, for fear of contagion, and in that sense it is fundamental to work on rebuilding their trust”, he added.

But what can the international community do in order to stem the plague?

“At the moment the priority is to contain the spread of the disease,” Burgeon stressed.

According to the FAO officer, other measures should be taken to tackle the long-term effects on food security, and to create the conditions which will enable farmers to get back to the field, for example by providing cash transfers or vouchers for affected people to buy food as a way of overcoming their income loss and helping stimulate markets.

“Cash aid could also go to women’s groups severely hit by the crisis, as they could be useful in spreading public information messages on measures to prevent the spread of Ebola”, Burgeon went on.

As explained by the FAO officer, to reopen and stimulate local markets, international organisations should help in building suitable storing infrastructure and in enabling affected people to access agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers, in time for the next planting season.

In order to do so, FAO is seeking support for a $42 million plan to tackle the most urgent needs in the three most hit countries.
“For the moment, we have only received 3,5 million dollars, out of the 42 pledged,” he noted, “and they come from FAO funding and from a solidarity African fund gathered by African countries themselves.”

by Eva Donelli – Afronline

Photo credit: FAO News

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