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Liberia: Ebola outbreak stops women farmers  from repaying loan

Liberia: Ebola outbreak stops women farmers from repaying loan

15/10/2014

On a sunny Tuesday morning in mid-September 2014, an FAO team entered the Ebola-stricken town of Foya, carefully making its way to an FAO-supported poultry production facility. “About half a dozen women beneficiaries, looking visibly tired, awaited our arrival” said Alexis Bonte, FAO Representative a.i in Liberia.

“FAO is welcomed here.” said Nancy Morris, General-Secretary of the Togetherness Rural Women Farmers Organizations. “Ebola is the biggest problem we have here. All these women you see have been affected by the effects of the disease” she said pointing to the farmers.

Foya is the birth place of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Since 22 March 2014, when the first case was reported, the town has had no respite. Foya houses Lofa County’s only Ebola Treatment Unit.

Foya District was once a towering base of agricultural productivity, earning it from the Intofawor Farmers Cooperative, one of Liberia’s largest cooperatives. The long years of civil war seriously impacted agriculture and production dropped by more than 50 percent. Just when people were beginning to regain balance, the Ebola outbreak emerged with devastating effects still affecting communities with deaths, destruction of livelihoods, decrease of purchasing power, destruction of women’s loan schemes, fear of grouping and poor food production.

“Please explain what happened to the members of your organization in Foya following the Ebola outbreak” asked Mr Monibah, FAO communication officer. Pointing at her colleagues, Ms Morris replied, “See for yourselves. All of these women have been hard hit by Ebola. Direct relatives of our members were killed by the disease.” She disclosed that Sia Morris, Taiwa Tamba, Sonbodo Raylo, Tene Firyah, Ma Lusu Henry and Hawa Saah have all reported either losing sons, daughters, sisters, a husband, brothers and other relatives. “We suffer from the loss of our loved ones, and we also have to face the effects of Ebola on our resources. This gives us great problem because our weaving, poultry, farming savings and loan club have all finished.”

“Ms Taiwa Tamba lost her husband and two children who died from Ebola. She was infected but survived. Now she is alone, and has nothing to do. Another member, Nancy Thomas, borrowed L$9,000 [US$110], reimbursed L$5,000 and died without paying the balance,” continued Ms Morris.

Described as committed and hard working, Nancy Thomas became a war widow in 2000. “From that time she started working hard. She has three children. She sent two of them to Monrovia with the hope of supporting them through university to attain higher education in order to improve the family’s wellbeing. Her death means that the children may not make it in university any further.”

Ms Thomas insisted to to reimburse her loan and managed to repay 55 percent of it before passing away. “Some members took L$20,000 and L$10,000. Ebola spoiled their businesses mainly because of the disruption of market in August. They got sick or their family got sick and they died without paying a cent. Our savings club had a total of L$150,000 [USD 1,800]. Now we have zero,” confessed Ms Morris. There are no other means of paying back the loans or even revitalizing the loan scheme.

Their last hope was their farms, but many have now abandoned them at the mercy of weeds. “Ebola is spoiling everything here. It starts from the top and down to the children. It destroyed our savings and loans club and broke down our markets and poultry – we are left with nothing. That’s the face of Ebola,” Ms Morris concluded.

FAO is currently conducting an in depth assessment on the impact of the Ebola outbreak on the savings and loans schemes of women association. “If the depletion of their financial capitals is confirmed, FAO and partners will develop cash transfer activities to support women associations to contribute to a grassroots EVD awareness campaign and nutrition sensitive agriculture production through a financial agreement which will allow them to recapitalize their savings and loans schemes (Susu) in just a few weeks”, said Alexis Bonte.

FAO is calling for urgent support to enable the Organization to continue assisting vulnerable communities in Ebola-affected and at-risk countries. USD 30 million are urgently needed for its Regional Response Programme in West Africa over the next 12 months, of which more than USD 6,5 million is needed to implemented activities in Liberia

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