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Ebola Outbreak Puts Food Harvests at Risk, Warns FAO

UNITED N ATIONS, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that disruptions in food trade and marketing in the three West African countries most affected by Ebola have made food increasingly expensive and hard to come by, while labour shortages are putting the upcoming harvest season at serious risk.

In Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, quarantine zones and restrictions on people’s movement aimed at combating the spread of the virus, although necessary, have seriously curtailed the movement and marketing of food.

This has lead to panic buying, food shortages and significant food price hikes on some commodities, especially in urban centers, according to a special alert issued Tuesday by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

At the same time, the main harvest season for two key crops – rice and maize – is just weeks away. Labor shortages on farms due to movement restrictions and migration to other areas will seriously impact farm production, jeopardizing the food security of large numbers of people, the alert says.

The FAO said adequate rains during the 2014 cropping season had previously pointed to likely favorable harvests in the main Ebola-affected countries.

But now food production – the areas most affected by the outbreak are among the most productive in Sierra Leone and Liberia – stands to be seriously scaled back.

Likewise, production of cash crops like palm oil, cocoa and rubber – on which the livelihoods and food purchasing power of many families depend – is expected to be seriously affected.

“Access to food has become a pressing concern for many people in the three affected countries and their neighbors,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Regional Representative for Africa.

“With the main harvest now at risk and trade and movements of goods severely restricted, food insecurity is poised to intensify in the weeks and months to come. The situation will have long-lasting impacts on farmers’ livelihoods and rural economies,” he added.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are all net cereal importers, with Liberia being the most reliant on external supplies.

The closure of some border crossings and the isolation of border areas where the three countries intersect – as well as reduced trade from seaports, the main conduit for large-scale commercial imports – are resulting in tighter supplies and sharply increasing food prices.

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