The threat of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has intensified throughout West Africa, and food security is at the forefront of international concern. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are the nations most greatly affected by the spread of the virus.
Strategies to contain the deadly virus, though necessary, have impacted food access, price, and harvest. Measures include the creation of quarantine zones and the establishment of restrictions on the movement of people, creating barriers to shipment locations, border crossings, and trading zones. Furthermore, these restrictions have promoted panic buying among the population, causing food shortages and price spikes. In countries where households spend up to 80 percent of their income on food, the price increases are having significant effects on food security. The banning of bushmeat, though necessary to contain the virus, has also negatively impacted families throughout West Africa as it deprives some households of an important source of nutrition and income.
Some of the most productive harvest areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia also have the highest incidence rates of EVD. The outbreak of the disease, quarantines, and labor shortages combine to create grave conditions for production. Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea are all large cereal importers, Liberia being the most reliant on external sources of domestic consumption. Restricted trade flows and market closures have negatively affected food access and security. The closing of some border crossings may result in tighter supplies.
Various organizations have joined forces to minimize the impact of this fatal virus on food security. One of the frontrunners is the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Individuals such as Vincent Martin, Head of FAO’s Dakar-based Resilience Hub and the FAO representative in Dakar Senegal, as well as, Jonathan Pound, an economist with FAO in Rome, have expressed a multitude of concerns in providing sufficient access to food for the three West African nations while maintaining healthy and stable populations.
Martin expressed the situation on the ground: the population lives in fear of the disease and the national agriculture sectors and markets strive to progress a healthy and sufficient harvest. Solutions are difficult to materialize as various restrictions meant to minimize outbreak also restrict the movement and sale of agricultural goods. Many high population urban zones have been quarantined in order to minimize the spread of EVD; however, these zones have also typically hosted large markets and encouraged high traffic for food access. Furthermore, as food becomes increasingly more difficult to come by, prices have soared. For example, the price of cassava, a starchy commodity, increased by one hundred fifty percent in the first two weeks of August. Not only has the population experienced physical barriers to food access, but they have also encountered fiscal barriers, which have become an even greater concern.
In order to minimize the impact of the virus, FAO and many other organizations have gathered experts in multidisciplinary fields as the outbreak has progressed into a crisis and gathered international concern. According to Martin, FAO efforts have included providing the population with small livestock to encourage small-scale family farming. Fish farming has also become a viable option, as ebola is a zoonotic disease with the most likely host being bats. FAO’s main concern is minimizing the spread of the disease while still providing food access.
Response plans have also included international cooperation and interdisciplinary approaches. FAO has teamed up with government authorities and other stakeholders to identify and mobilize a response plan in order to assist the agricultural sector in providing mechanisms for harvesting and post-harvest activities. Community outreach through local networks like community animal health workers and producer organizations has been used to inform and facilitate community dialogues and specify measures to contain the disease while providing food security.