ROME, ITALY — The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Oct. 8 launched a new program to assist 90,000 vulnerable households in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone whose food supplies and livelihoods are threatened by the disruptive effect the Ebola epidemic is having on rural economies, agricultural activities and markets.
The Regional Response Program for West Africa will scale-up the work FAO is currently doing with governments, United Nations partners and local networks of agriculture, veterinary and forestry workers, to help stop the spread of the disease, meet immediate and long-term food and nutrition security needs and build resilience.
FAO is urgently calling for $30 million to support activities linked to the program over the next 12 months. Program activities are organized around four key objectives:
• Contribute to saving lives by stopping the spread of the disease through social mobilization, training and awareness raising;
• Boost incomes and agricultural production to safeguard livelihoods;
• Build resilience of communities to disease threats; and
• Strengthen coordination for improved response.
“Our comprehensive response is part of overall United Nations efforts to save lives and protect livelihoods,” said Vincent Martin, head of FAO's Dakar-based Subregional Resilience Hub, the office coordinating FAO’s response. “We’re following a twin-track approach to help our United Nations partners halt the tragic loss of life while at the same time protecting incomes, nutrition levels and food security.”
Activities include mobilizing communities to reduce their risk of infection through awareness campaigns; boosting food and cash crops, livestock and fisheries production, introducing microfinance strategies to safeguard rural incomes; and setting up early warning and response systems to reduce Ebola risks at the human-animal interface. The program will also ensure countries are coordinated and resourced by filling gaps in expertise, increasing knowledge sharing on best-practices and building collaborative networks.
“These actions cannot wait,” said Bukar Tijani, assistant director-general/regional representative, Regional Office for Africa. “The outbreak is already reducing the purchasing power of vulnerable households, which means less food on their plates and increased nutritional risks for families already on subsistence diets. Fear and stigmatization also threaten to reduce agricultural activities, thereby placing food security at risk.”
Early results from rapid assessments point to a worrisome situation. In Sierra Leone, for example, 47% of the respondents said Ebola was considerably disrupting their farming activities. In Lofa county, the most affected rural county in Liberia, the prices of commodities, including food, increased from 30% to 75% just in August 2014.
If not addressed now, the current impact of the outbreak on livelihoods could lead to long-lasting impacts on farmers' livelihoods and rural economies.
FAO mobilized its own funds to support United Nations’ and governments’ efforts. However, much more is needed and right away. FAO is calling for urgent support to enable the Organization to continue assisting vulnerable communities in affected and at-risk countries while also safeguarding their futures.