Ebola measures disrupt West African produce supply
The outbreak of Ebola is putting a serious strain on the food supply, harvesting and agricultural sectors in the three West African countries worst hit by the virus.
According to a special alert from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has caused major disruption in produce supply, pushed up domestic prices and generally made produce hard to come by because there has been a panic buying spree over recent weeks.
On top of this, the organization also warns the upcoming harvests of key produce are put at risk because of expected labor shortages. In some cases entire communities have abandoned rural life and migrated to safer areas while strict quarantine rules are currently in place.
"In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, quarantine zones and restrictions on people’s movements aimed at combating the spread of the virus, although necessary, have seriously curtailed the movement and marketing of food," the special alert says.
Cases of the outbreak have also been registered in Nigeria and Senegal.
The forthcoming harvests are mainly for the two key crops of rice and maize but other harvests of fresh produce including cassava are also expected to be affected, as well as other smallholdings growing a range of vegetables for the domestic market.
"Generally adequate rains during the 2014 cropping season had previously pointed to likely favorable harvests in the main Ebola-affected countries. But now food production, the areas most affected by the outbreak are among the most productive in Sierra Leone and Liberia, stands to be seriously scaled back."
The FAO also says that cash-crops such as cocoa and palm oil are expected to be badly affected. The organization's regional representative for Africa, Bukar Tijani, warns this could be the start of things to come.
"Access to food has become a pressing concern for many people in the three affected countries and their neighbors," he says.
"With the main harvest now at risk and trade movements of goods severely restricted, food insecurity is poised to intensify in the weeks and months to come.
"The situation will have long lasting impacts on farmers’ livelihoods and rural economies."
With regards to price hikes, the FAO cites one example in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia where a recent food survey revealed some items had dramatically increased, particularly in the case of cassava prices which jumped by 150% within the first weeks of August.
The expected continued depreciation of the currencies of Sierra Leone (Sierra Leonean leone) and Liberia (Liberian dollar) is also likely to bring extra price pressure on imported food commodities.
"Rapid assessments are required to identify the type of measures that are feasible to mitigate the impact of labor shortages during the harvesting period and for post-related harvesting activities."
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) dated late August, a total of 3,052 cases of Ebola were recorded in West Africa, causing 1,546 deaths up to that point.
The first recent outbreak of Ebola was recorded in March. The highly contagious disease is spread by contact with body fluids; it can be treated but there is no known cure. It attacks internal organs and symptoms include fever, vomiting, weakness and bleeding. Currently it is killing six out of 10 victims in West Africa.
A British volunteer nurse, who had been working with Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, recently contracted the disease but is making a full recovery. Elsewhere various European countries are issuing travel warnings to advise against visiting some African nations affected by the outbreak and aid packages and military personal have been dispatched to assist the effort and contain the disease.