Ebola Threatens Food Security Here, FAO Fears

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The Ebola epidemic is raising serious concerns about food security in Liberia — the country hardest hit by the outbreak in West Africa. 

Due to Ebola unprecedented scourge across the country, food security is being threatened on a number of fronts, mostly for fear of infection. 

For example, food imported by ships and planes may not arrive as often.

As such, several of the farmers, who often work in groups to boost production, are not doing so as a result of ban on people gathering in large numbers at a given location.

Joseph Boiwu, U.N. Food and Agiculture Organizatioon (FAO) Assistant Country Representative in Liberia, told a foreign journalist in an exclusive interview recently that, “This is a serious situation that we all need to be very concerned about. Even prices are increasing. If ships are not coming into this country, where we depend mostly on imports, what about food? Those are serious concerns that we need to take on board and think about Liberia.”

Since the outbreak of the disease earlier this year in the country, it has spread in the farming regions affecting cooperatives and the ‘coup’ method of farming.

“As we speak, you will notice the total number of cases in this country has reached up to 1,378. And Lofa County is one of the breadbasket counties of this country. And the cases there have gone up to 542. So, [most of] the counties, including Nimba, are affected,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) regularly issues updated figures on the Ebola outbreak in the West African sub-region, particularly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. So, the numbers mentioned by Boiwu at the time of the interview earlier this week may rise.

“Efforts are underway to persuade Liberian farmers to return to working in groups.” But the FAO’s Boiwu said that is easier said than done.

“One of the methods that [health authorities] have given that will help people to stay away from Ebola is to avoid being in groups. So farmers [are no longer working] in groups. We had been trying to organized farmer-based organizations, where you have farmers working in groups.

According to him, individual farming is less effective, “because they can’t produce sufficient (food) as individuals; so we encourage them to work in groups. But group farming now is just not possible due to this Ebola. So they are all afraid.”

Another factor Mr. Boiwu outlined is that the movement of people, mainly in Western Liberia, has been restricted, thus exacerbating hardships on the already poverty-stricken population.

The FAO has been monitoring food prices in Monrovia. For example, the price of cassava is reported to have increased by 150-percent. Pepper is up 133-percent as well as rice and other commodities.

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