Ebola dis­rup­tion could spark new food cri­sis

Food prices sky­rocket as farm­ers aban­don farms

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Franck Ku­wonu

As Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone bat­tle the deadly Ebola virus out­break and the world mo­bi­lizes to con­tain it, high food prices have been re­ported as farm­ers aban­don their fields in the af­fected coun­tries.

The In­ter­na­tional Fund for Agri­cul­ture De­vel­op­ment (IFAD), a UN body that fi­nances agri­cul­ture in poor coun­tries, has warned that this could lead to a food cri­sis if ad­e­quate mea­sures are not taken quickly to safe­guard agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

As early as Septem­ber 2014, the Liberian gov­ern­ment re­ported that large parts of the rice crop could not be har­vested in the cen­tral, north­ern and western parts of the coun­try be­cause of short­ages of labour. Yet, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties were not al­low­ing farm work­ers to be hired from out­side the coun­try for fear they would bring the Ebola virus.

“In Sierra Leone, we have in­for­ma­tion that up to 40% of farms in the hard­est-hit ar­eas have been aban­doned,” IFAD Pres­i­dent Kanayo F. Nwanze told Africa

Re­newal. In Guinea, sim­i­lar dis­rup­tions in pop­u­la­tion move­ments have had “dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on food pro­duc­tion and ex­ports”. In the Fouta Jalon re­gion of Guinea, for ex­am­ple, Mr. Nwanze pointed out that potato ex­ports to Sene­gal dropped to 22 tonnes from 250 tonnes the pre­vi­ous year.

As a re­sult of th­ese dis­rup­tions, in­clud­ing re­stric­tions of move­ments in food pro­duc­tion ar­eas, whole­sale prices on dis­tri­bu­tion mar­kets have plum­meted while re­tail prices have sky­rock­eted on lo­cal mar­kets. “In Au­gust, the whole­sale price of a kilo­gramme of pota­toes fell from 3,500 to 200 Guinean francs,” Mr. Nwanze said.

In Liberia, whole­sale food prices started fall­ing in mid-Septem­ber in ma­jor mar­kets in the cap­i­tal Mon­rovia, ac­cord­ing to the

agri­cul­ture min­istry, be­cause farm­ers were con­cerned about pro­duce spoilages from pro­duce de­lays at check­points along the road to the city.

At the same time, the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) re­ported that ini­tial re­sults from quick as­sess­ments showed prices of com­modi­ties, in­clud­ing food, in­creased on av­er­age from 30% to 75% just over one month in Lofa County, the most af­fected ru­ral county in Liberia.

Em­pir­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion at the Red Light Mar­ket, one of the big­gest mar­ket places in Mon­rovia, also re­vealed huge in­creases in the price of sta­ple food and com­modi­ties such as cas­sava by (150%); palm oil (53%), gari (ob­tained from grated cas­sava) (100%), fresh pep­per (133%) and plan­tains (66%) over a pe­riod of two weeks in Au­gust 2014.

Agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing small-scale farm­ing, con­trib­utes to be­tween 20% and 40% of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct of the af­fected coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Nwanze. The IFAD head is call­ing for con­tin­gency mea­sures such as build­ing food stock­piles in the af­fected coun­tries or at the re­gional level “to be able to pro­vide mas­sive food as­sis­tance where and when needed.” If pos­si­ble, he said, coun­tries should in­ten­sify food pro­duc­tion in non-af­fected ar­eas.

About $30 mil­lion would be needed to re­spond to those in need, in­clud­ing food re­lief for about 90,000 house­holds in the three coun­tries, says the FAO. A Re­gional Re­sponse Pro­gramme for West Africa, to be im­ple­mented by the FAO in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, will aim to boost in­come and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

Panos/Aubrey Wade

Women har­vest­ing rice in Carys­burg, Liberia.

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