In an effort to revive agriculture and avert hunger in Ebola-hit countries, the World Bank Group has mobilized up to US$15 million in emergency financing to provide a record of 10,500 tons of maize and rice seed to over 200,000 farmers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The items will be distributed to the countries in time for the April planting season.
The funds, in the form of grants financed by the International Development Association (IDA) and the Ebola Recovery and Reconstruction Trust Fund, will also be used to purchase fertilizer required to multiply foundation seed to meet tight planting season deadlines and help lay the foundations for sustained recovery.
Since the first reported outbreak in December 2013, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has affected agriculture and food sectors and farming activities which are an economic mainstay of all three countries causing a lot of suffering to the people.
More than one million people could go hungry unless they have reliable access to food and emergency measures are taken immediately to safeguard crop and livestock production.
According to World Bank, over 230,000 people in Guinea are food insecure, a number that could rise to 470,000 by March 2015 while in Liberia over 170,000 are estimated to be severely food insecure and could swell to 300,000 and over 120,000 people are food insecure and their numbers could rise to 280,000 by March 2015 in Sierra Leone.
Rice production fell by one-fifth, corn by a quarter, coffee by half and cocoa by a third in Guinea while labour shortages, high prices for staple foods have exacerbated widespread food insecurity in Liberia and similarly in Sierra Leone.
The World Bank Group latest report estimates that the three countries would lose at least US$1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2015 as a result of the epidemic.
“Agriculture is the lifeline of the economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “By speeding supplies of urgently needed seeds of major food crops to communities in West Africa, we are jump starting recovery in rural areas and preventing the looming spectral of hunger in the countries hardest hit by Ebola.”
The World Bank Vice President lamented that flight of rural workers and an inability to work in groups due to fear of infection in both affected and non-affected zones has complicated the harvest and risks compounding the crisis even further. “It will be critical to focus on the agricultural sector as a driver of economic recovery and a key component in ensuring the longer-term welfare of the most vulnerable in all three countries.”
Last year, growth rate in Guinea collapsed to 0.5%, down from 4.5% prior to onset of the crisis. In Liberia, growth fell to 2.2% compared to 5.9% projected before the crisis. Sierra Leone’s growth rate fell by more than half, to 4% from a projected high of 11.3%.
The bank has also mobilized about US$1 billion in financing for the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis. This includes $518 million from IDA, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, to provide treatment and care, contain and prevent the spread of infections, help communities cope with the economic impact of the crisis, and improve public health systems; at least $450 million from IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to enable trade, investment and employment.