Food prices have shot up in the three countries most affected by Ebola, including Guinea. A customer shops at a market in its capital, Conakry, Aug. 15, 2014.
Food prices have shot up in the three countries most affected by Ebola, including Guinea. A customer shops at a market in its capital, Conakry, Aug. 15, 2014.

The Ebola health crisis is causing a food emergency in West Africa.  The international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger USA warns the Ebola emergency has left a shortage of manpower for food production and a spike in food costs for the three main countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Development experts say over a million people in the region need food aid to mitigate shortages.

“The Ebola crisis in West Africa has heavily affected the farmers in the area and I think we are just at the beginning of a prolonged emergency that we will have to face,” warned Andrea Tamburini, CEO of Action Against Hunger USA. 

He added that the first phase in tackling the problem is to contain the Ebola virus.  The second phase  -- which his organization has begun to tackle -- is food security.

“We have to consider that the areas with very high incidences of Ebola are among the most productive regions of the three affected countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  The outbreak has caused serious income opportunity losses, market disruption and restricted trade flows internally and across the border,” explained Tamburini.

The loss of food production and trade has led to food price spikes throughout the markets, and the abandonment of farms.

“There have been three major assessments undertaken in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and we already see almost 40% of the farmers left their crops.  They’re just moving to locations which are perceived to be safer, because some of those (farmers) are being quarantined and as the victims of the virus numbers increase, farmers just abandon their land,” said Tamburini, who added the farmers become internally displaced persons and move to safer areas of the country.

In Sierra Leone, he said,  the spike in the price of rice and other staples is having a devastating impact on the purchasing power of the most vulnerable households, with prices rising as much as 30-40%.

Tamburini warns the problem is going to get worse because the biggest season for harvest in September has been missed.

“I think that missing this agriculture period is going to have more dramatic impact-- in particular we’re thinking of the affected population of households, where one of the members dies from the virus, and the households are living in quarantine areas,” said Tamburini.

While Action Against Hunger USA has done initial food security assessments for the Ebola stricken countries, Tamburini emphasized more assessments are needed to properly address food shortages.

“Once we get better details of the situation, I think that in the first phase, we are going to focus on seeds and planting material.  We are also going to work on a feeding program, in particular for children under five years old,  and pregnant women. And then as the situation slowly improves, we’re going to work into cash-flow work intervention and other livelihood income generating activities,” stressed Tamburini.