Price swings on food items caused by the Ebola health crisis are making it more difficult for households to feed themselves and make a stable living, and action is required to keep food on the market, protect the poor and support farmers, according to a new UN report released on Monday.
“Border closures, movement restrictions and a slowdown in farming activity are shaking food markets badly,” said Ayodele Odusola, chief economist at the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
“This could have a disastrous impact on households, both because farmers are unable to make a living and because families are finding very different prices on the local market from one day to the next. People living in rural and remote areas are feeling the impact of reduced purchasing power more than their urban counterparts,” he said.
Since the onset of the Ebola crisis early this year in West Africa, buying power went down by 20 percent in Sierra Leone and by more than 25 percent in Liberia, said the study.
The study also found rural communities were worst affected, due to soaring transport costs and declining farming incomes. Reduced traffic has been observed in more than two-thirds of Liberia’s counties.
Concerted action is required to stabilize prices and ensure people are able to buy and sell enough food to meet their needs, says the report. For instance, Guinea was able to limit surging rice prices associated with reduced stocks by importing more of that grain.
The study proposes a four-fold solution: governments in Ebola- hit countries should keep their borders open to ensure food reaches markets and people; social safety nets such as farming subsidies and cash payments could help to improve the situation for the poorest and most vulnerable.
At the same time, governments and the international community should step up their support for local farmers so as to prepare them for the next planting season, which takes place in February and March, the report said. Doing so would help to avoid food shortages in 2015 and beyond.
Fourth, the document calls for a combination of fiscal and monetary policies designed to keep currencies afloat and prices down.
To date, WHO has reported 15,351 Ebola cases in eight countries since the outbreak began, with 5,459 reported deaths, mostly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the three hardest-hit West African countries. Mali, previously free from the virus, is the latest country to register Ebola cases.