Ebola, food security and FAO's response

Q&A with Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division

In this interview, Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, talks about the Ebola epidemic’s threat to food security in West Africa and FAO’s efforts to help safeguard agricultural production and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households.

What are the most pressing Ebola-related challenges facing FAO and its UN partners?

The most urgent priority is stopping the epidemic and ending the tragic loss of life. But immediate action is also needed to prevent the epidemic from impacting on food security and livelihoods in the worst-affected countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone .

How does the epidemic threaten food security?

The areas with high incidence of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) are among the most agriculturally productive regions of the three affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Fear of contagion and movement restrictions have kept some farmers away from attending their fields. Both cash and food crop production have suffered from the impact of the disease.

Food availability is also potentially at risk due to interregional trade restrictions. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are net cereal importers and in Liberia over 60 percent of the rice  consumed is imported. 

Declining agricultural production, price spikes and lower incomes can erode the fragile food security situation of the affected countries, which are among the poorest in the world.

Do you have some concrete data on the impact of the Ebola crisis on food security?

Together with WFP, governments and other partners, we are currently carrying out a crop and food security assessment in all the three hardest-hit countries.

The report will provide an analysis on  agricultural production, prices, markets, trade and stocks situation and will be available later this month.Preliminary results showed a decrease in agricultural production and demand, disruption of the functioning of markets, a deterioration of livelihoods, a decline in the purchasing power of households and a risk of degradation of the nutrition situation in the three  most affected countries.

How is FAO responding to the crisis?

FAO is helping governments and our United Nations partners halt the tragic loss of life - through social mobilization and awareness-raising using our local networks of agriculture, veterinary and forestry workers. As I just mentioned, FAO together with its partners is assessing the impact of the crisis on food security in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This is key to enable us to provide the most suitable short-, medium- and longer-term response. At the same time we are working to protect incomes, nutrition levels and food security.

In October FAO launched its Regional Response Programme, which over 12 months aims to assist 90 000 vulnerable households in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and at-risk countries. The programme will scale up the work FAO is currently doing with its partners, i.e. save lives by stopping the spread of the disease and carrying out crop and food security assessments. Programme activities will also focus on boosting incomes and agricultural production; building resilience of communities to disease threats by setting up early warning and response systems to reduce the risk of the Ebola virus spreading from animals to humans; and  strengthening coordination to improve response through regional and national coordination mechanisms such as the Food Security and Nutrition Clusters and regional expert fora.

Does FAO have enough money/resources for its programme?

FAO is urgently appealing to donors for $30 million to protect the food security and safeguard the livelihoods of tens of thousands of rural families threatened by this unprecedented outbreak of Ebola

FAO has already committed around $1.8 million of its own emergency funds and the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund has just contributed $1.5 million.

But this falls far short of what is required to implement the Regional Programme. There is the risk that without these interventions, the Ebola crisis will have a detrimental, long-term impact on food and nutritional security in the broader West Africa region.

Photo: ©FAO/Faonews
Dominique Burgeon, FAO's Director of Emergency and Rehabilitation