Ebola crippling agriculture and livelihoods in northern Liberia

Ebola crippling agriculture and livelihoods in northern Liberia


The Ebola epidemic is washing away years of progress and hard work. Savings consolidated over several years have been completely depleted due to the disease’s destruction of income generating opportunities. Without income, women in Lofa County have not been able to repay their debts for the past two months. This directly impacts agriculture and the local economy, as these savings and loans were necessary for micro trade, agricultural input purchases, agro processing and small food businesses.

Women are bearing the brunt of the epidemic in terms of infections and deaths, since they are on the frontline to provide care to affected relatives at home and in health centres. FAO experts found the outbreak is also crippling women’s livelihoods. Particularly worrisome are findings that indicate challenges to women’s capital in savings and loans schemes (called ‘susu’ in Liberia).

Next agricultural season at risk

Deddeh Kollie is Secretary General of the local women’s association. She explained the lengthy process women go through to build and consolidate their ‘susu’: ‘’one member who, even after becoming infected, worked tirelessly to honour her credit before passing away; communities are facing food shortages due to movement restrictions, slowed down production, limited trade and reduced purchasing power’.

If affected communities do not receive immediate assistance, including conditional cash transfers along with rice and vegetable seeds to boost production in the coming weeks, there could be dire consequences for 2015.

“People are terrified by how fast the disease is spreading,” said Alexis Bonte, FAO Representative in Liberia, ad interim. “Neighbours, friends and family members are dying within just a few days of exhibiting shocking symptoms, the causes of which are not fully understood by many local communities. This leads them to speculate that water, food or even crops could be responsible. Panic ensues, causing farmers to abandon their fields for weeks.”

In response to these critical needs, FAO’s immediate plans in Liberia are to revive local food security and household incomes. As the backbone of local economies and the most-affected group, women’s associations will play a key role in FAO support to reclaim financial capacities.

FAO stands ready to help with partners

FAO will sign financial agreements with the women associations to undertake the awareness and manage the food and seed production. The income they will earn will be used to cover urgent basic needs (including food) and also invested to revitalize their savings and loans schemes. To safeguard agriculture and support affected communities, our assistance will include conditional cash transfers, revitalization of savings and loans schemes, increased food and seed production during the dry season in lowlands, and agro processing.

“FAO can and is adapting some of its own projects into Liberia to better contribute to the fight against Ebola and mitigate socio-economic impacts,” added Bonte. “However, the Organization will need the support of partners including donors to ensure we can reach the most affected communities and women in particular.”

FAO’s innovative approach combines social, technical and financial dimensions to increase community resilience. Incomes generated by women’s associations through these activities will be used to cover urgent needs, including food. Renewed incomes will also provide investment opportunities for vulnerable populations to revitalize their savings and loans schemes.

Initial results from rapid assessments on agriculture and food security in Liberia, just conducted in the northern Lofa County, will soon be released to inform urgent action plans. In a recent UN appeal launched for Liberia, last 16 September, FAO estimated agricultural needs to more than USD 6 million over the next 6 months.

The United Nations Secretary General has just established the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to curb the spread of the disease (Accra), following the unanimous adoption of General Assembly resolution 69/1.

UNMEER will provide a platform for wide-ranging international efforts and will have five priorities: stop the outbreak, provide treatment, provide essential services, preserve stability and prevent outbreaks in non-affected countries. The mission is expected to also emphasize community outreach, training and education especially among local leaders, including traditional and religious leaders.