Last December, it became clear from numerous on the ground assessments that the Ebola outbreak was more than a health crisis. Two months into 2015, we still face the possibility that more than 1 million people could go hungry unless more resources are mobilized for Ebola recovery.
With Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf meeting with President Obama this week to discuss cooperation on fighting the Ebola epidemic, we need to take a closer look at why this is a critical time to invest in recovery.
According to the World Bank, in Sierra Leone alone, agriculture accounted for 50% of the economy in 2013. This is the same country where last year, there were reports of farming families eating the seed that they stored for planting this April.
That is why the announcement earlier this month by the World Bank that it is mobilizing $15 million in emergency financing to provide maize and rice seed to farmers in West Africa in time for the April planting season is welcome news. This is a good start, but there is a lot more work to be done. In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is calling for $42.5 million to scale up its contribution in the fight against Ebola.
In order to make sure that more people do not go hungry, governments and donors need to keep supporting the 170,000 farming families who have been hit hard by the Ebola outbreak. Support to agricultural development gives rural areas the foundation for sustained recovery through increased food production and income.
From the funds mobilized so far, the FAO is providing improved seeds, fertilizer and farming equipment – along with technical knowledge and skills so that farmers can fully utilize these interventions. Women, who are particularly vulnerable due to lost income from selling wild bush meat, are being provided additional support and training. Within its food assistance programming for areas in acute need, World Food Program is looking into supporting local production through purchasing rice produced in Guinea.
Food insecurity and malnutrition is a huge added cost to the Ebola outbreak, and with the April planting season right around the corner, we are at a critical time for farming families in West Africa. The ‘seasonal calendar’ for Sierra Leone below prepared by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network is clear. If assistance is not provided when vulnerable farmers plant their crops, then the hunger and poverty caused by the disease will only be magnified in the “lean” season before harvest, and lowered yields after.
As Ebola infection rates look to be leveling off, mobilizing resources to build resilience now will help prevent a food crisis from increasing the burden on vulnerable families.