Ebola and food security and nutrition in West Africa: facing the challenges
This online consultation is promoted by the Platform of Alliances against Hunger and Malnutrition in West Africa in collaboration with the FSN Forum in West Africa. The online discussion aims to start the debate on Ebola and food security and nutrition in West Africa in order to gather strategy proposals with the purpose of anticipating a generalized food and nutrition crisis in the next few months in West Africa.
The Ebola epidemic, which was officially declared on the 22nd March 2014 in Guinea, has reached four other countries: Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal. It has affected nearly 8,000 people and caused nearly 4,000 deaths.
The international community has so much underestimated the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that it is a threat to security and to the fragile basis of society and the economy of the whole sub-region due to the porous nature of borders, the feeding, beliefs and cultural customs and then the accelerated spatial integration of communities.
Ebola, in addition to being a health and social problem has become a threat to food security and to development. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has raised the alarm on the risks of food scarcity in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Food security in these countries, according to FAO, is threatened by the lack of workforce, the cessation of cross-border trade and shortages due to the disease. After the quarantine zones were established and restrictions on people´s movements ordered in these countries, « access to food has become a pressing concern for many people in the three affected countries and their neighbors » warns Bukar Tijani, FAO Regional Representative for Africa.
The countries concerned already suffer shortages of food and drinking water plus a breakdown of the economy caused by the interruption of trade, of commercial flights and harvest operations due to the epidemic. The social problems, chaos and exodus generated lead to further propagation of the virus.
According to FAO, Ebola seriously threatens the West African harvest. The specialized UN agency has launched a "special alert" for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries most affected by Ebola. The rice and corn producing areas will be particularly affected. The food shortages and the soaring prices are to be feared in the next few months. In a press release, FAO indicates that « restrictions on people's movement have seriously curtailed the movement and marketing of food ». The World Food Program (WFP) has launched a regional emergency operation targeting some 65,000 tons of food to 1.3 million people.
« Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food », said Vincent Martin, Head of FAO's Dakar-based Resilience Hub, which is coordinating the agency's response. « Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach. This situation may have social repercussions that could lead to subsequent impacts on the disease containment. »
According to the World Bank, West Africa was breaking all records for growth forecasts for 2014 and 2015 postulated for the three countries most affected by the virus: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This represents a loss of earnings of 359 million dollars. This is a great deal for the sub-region. « The impact is already measurable in terms of loss of production, rise in fiscal deficit, increased inflation, decrease of actual income in households and ever greater poverty», explain the World Bank experts.
Indirectly, the whole economy of these countries is threatened. Trades, transport, hotels, construction industries ... all are affected.
The World Bank experts signal the indirect impact of reactions driven by fear, panic or the principle of precaution on the part of economic agents.
Immediate actions must equally be taken to avoid a potential food and nutrition crisis in the short, medium and long term in the region.
Questions to participants:
- What are the risks incurred in West Africa concerning food and nutrition insecurity and what categories of people will be the most affected? Justify your answer.
- Due to Ebola, the population can no longer eat bush meat because these animals are the vectors of risk and the nutritional habits must change to substantially reduce the risks of contamination. Currently, a rush and huge demand for the livestock raised makes acquiring meat prohibitive. It is necessary to propose as soon as possible some means for the population to get meat. What do you propose to do?
- What consequences can the risk of catching the disease have for the agricultural production chain, cattle raising, fishing, agricultural products processing, transport from production areas to the major consumption centers represented by the cities?
- Unemployment following the closing of businesses due to Ebola as well as other collateral damage will have less obvious effects which will not only slow down the efforts and means of fighting the disease but also will leave marks on the economy. All of a sudden food insecurity and malnutrition in the sub-region will assume proportions difficult to control. Can you identify the collateral damage that the closing of production units, schools and others could cause? Is it possible that in this case there is an expectation of easy access to food in the cities? What are the risks foreseen in the next months? What is to be done?
- What roles can the actors: States, WAEMU, ECOWAS, AU, Intergovernment Organizations of West Africa, International Organizations, International Cooperation, International Community, NGOs and International NGOs play in anticipating all the causes of these problems of food and nutrition security as well as their consequences?
- In the context described, what can the Platform of Alliances against Hunger and Malnutrition in West Africa do to galvanize actors at all levels into dynamic action with the objectives of :
- Saving the small producers and family farmers?
- Integrating the Ebola effect and other epidemics into the right to food in West Africa?
- A general mobilization to achieve a real Zero Hunger situation in West Africa?
F. Tékpon Gblotchaou
President of the Platform of Alliances against Hunger and Malnutrition in West Africa, Benin