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Sierra Leone Minister for Agriculture warns Ebola will trigger food insecurity

FAO Director-General emphasizes role of post-crises agricultural recovery plan
©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto
FAO Director-General with Sierra Leone Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security at FAO.

1 October 2014, Rome - Ebola outbreak is going to severely impact food security, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security of Sierra Leone, Joseph Sam Sesay, said today after a meeting with FAO Director-General, calling for support to help restoring the agricultural sector.

The outbreak of the Ebola virus disease has severely affected Sierra Leone and the neighboring countries Guinea and Liberia, resulting resulting in thousands of deaths and adversely impacting agriculture and food security.  

“Ebola has caused farms to be abandoned, it killed a lot of people, certain families have been wiped off, villages have been decimated, some villages have been deserted, and that will have an impact on agricultural production,” Minister Sesay said.

The Ebola virus first struck in Sierra Leone during May, the peak season for farm labor. It has since killed more than 500 people and led to five districts being quarantined.

Apart from the human and health crisis, Ebola has acutely affected farmers, as most of the cases have been identified in rural areas.

FAO to support recovery

FAO Director-General reassured the Minister that FAO will do all it can to support affected countries not only in the immediate response but also in the long term protecting livelihoods through provision of agricultural and livestock inputs and services.

To curb contagion risks, the government of Sierra Leone has restricted movement in five districts, which include centers of food production in the country.

“Key export crops such as coco will be highly impacted, but farmers have even bigger troubles, the Minister said. “In addition to a negative impact on export produce, this is also bound also to affect food production and therefore food security in Sierra Leone,” he added.

In talks hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama last week, FAO Director-General outlined FAO's role in Global Health Security Agenda and warned that the Ebola epidemic had the potential to cause long-term food insecurity in West Africa, as a result of prolonged disruption of crop harvesting and subsequent planting, a remark that he repeated at the recent meeting of Ministers of Agriculture of the European Union held in Milan, Italy.

FAO emphasizes the need to make sure that farming communities are able to bounce back after a crisis in order to permanently deplete productive capacity, suggesting that post-crisis recovery plans be devised with an eye to boosting resilience to expected future trends such as climate change.

FAO will also continue its support to the work of the Government of Sierra Leone on the Smallholder Commercialization Programme (SCP), a five year flagship programme to transform agriculture from subsistence to a commercial endeavor approved by the government of Sierra Leone in 2008 as a response to global food price volatility.

International response

“The international response to the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa has been sluggish” and of inadequate magnitude. However, it has increased more recently, Minister Sesay said.  He singled out China for praise saying they had sent cash, material and “an army of medical personnel” to help run mobile testing labs. “The Chinese have been very responsive”, he added.

Other development and resource partners are also very active in West Africa in support of the Ebola crisis.

On the outbreak

The outbreak is unprecedented in scale and geographical scope. Control measures along with other restrictions have curtailed the movement of goods and services, including food items. This has resulted in panic buying, food shortages and soaring food prices. Labour shortages are threatening the impending harvest, along with food and cash crop production in affected areas.

The food security and nutrition of countless people is at risk. A multi- sectoral approach is required to contain the outbreak and stabilize affected areas while preventing a long-term food security crisis. FAO, through its Regional Response Programme, is working with countries to respond to Ebola, to protect lives and livelihoods and to safeguard food security and nutrition.

Watch the video interview with Sierra Leone Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Minister.