FEATURE STORY

Giving New Life to Farms in Ebola-Affected Countries

June 15, 2015

Image
Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Story Highlights
  • The Ebola crisis devastated the agriculture and food sectors in West Africa, making hunger a problem for greater numbers of people.
  • In April 2015, the World Bank delivered a record 10,500 tons of seeds to farmers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to help boost post-Ebola recovery.
  • Up to 200,000 farmers across the three countries are expected to benefit from the seed distribution project.

As the Ebola epidemic raged in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, crowding patients into hospitals and quarantining people in their homes, swathes of farmland lay empty.

Travel restrictions, quarantines and fear of infection at the height of the crisis kept farmers away from their farms, leaving fields untended and vulnerable to pests and wild animals. Rice, cassava and other crops remained unharvested.  In Liberia, agricultural households reported smaller harvests in 2014 compared to previous years. Food production in Kailahun, Sierra Leone’s bread basket and epicenter for the epidemic, stalled, and weekly markets, or “Lumas,” ceased because there was nothing to sell. 

Agriculture -- and smallholder farmers -- have been devastated by the Ebola crisis. The resulting drop in agricultural productivity has made hunger a problem for greater numbers of people. In Liberia, a recent survey showed that 75% of families were concerned about having enough to eat every week.  In Sierra Leone, nearly 70% of households interviewed were taking action to cope with food shortages. Even farmers weren’t spared.  Many resorted to eating seeds instead of saving them for the next planting season. 

Delivering seeds, helping farmers

To avert hunger and help smallholder farmers return to productivity, the World Bank, in collaboration with ECOWAS, CORAF and USAID, is supporting the provision of planting seeds and fertilizers in Ebola-hit countries.  In April, the Bank delivered a record 10,500 tons of maize and rice seeds. Up to 200,000 farmers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are expected to benefit. Foundation seeds were also delivered so that they could be multiplied by seed producers and stored in banks for the next planting season. 



" The World Bank has given us seeds at the right time because we were wondering how we could continue farming. These seeds will help us survive again. "

Henry Koroma

Sierra Leonean farmer


Liberia

In Liberia, high quality rice seed was distributed to 20,000 farming households.  More than an emergency measure, the seeds will also aid the country’s long-term recovery and food security. “These seeds are certified and adapted for Liberia’s conditions, and will help sustainably raise farming and increase farm outputs in the year ahead,“ says World Bank Liberia Country Manager Inguna Dobraja.

The support is already giving farmers a sense of optimism as they return to their fields.  Lincoln Barclay, a farmer from Garwei Town, Suakoko, Bong County, Liberia, described the challenges of the past year.  “We cleared land to plant but could not do it because of Ebola. Everybody left and the bush started growing there again. The seeds will help us because we plan to extend our farm from 3 to 5 hectares.”

Sierra Leone

Over 2,000 metric tons of foundation and certified rice, cowpea and maize seed have arrived in Sierra Leone. The Ministry of Agriculture is presiding over the seed distribution in 13 districts, which commenced with a formal ceremony in the Northern city of Makeni. At least 25,000 farming households are expected to benefit.

Mama Isata Mansarya, a farmer who was widowed by Ebola, began clearing land when she heard about the seed deliveries. “I had to struggle with my five children through the trying times,” she said. “We ate every grain that was left and I have been selling my clothes to make ends meet. This seed is like being reborn. I will farm and do business again after harvesting.” 

25-year-old Henry Koroma was one of many farmers in Mabanta village, Bombali district affected by the epidemic. “We had to cease our farming activities and seldom visited our farms. We ate all our rice seeds,” he said. “The World Bank has given us seeds at the right time because we were wondering how we could continue farming.” According to Koroma, who received seeds on behalf of his family and his 300-member farmers association, “these seeds will help us survive again.”