Reviving Agriculture in Ebola-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone

February 12, 2015


Farming in Sierra Leone. (Credit: Hoel)


Since the first reported outbreak in December 2013, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has exacted a heavy toll in human suffering in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Over 21,000 people have been infected, 8,000 have died, many more people have lost wage-earning family members and children have been orphaned.  Even as the march of the disease shows signs of abating, and new concerns arise that the virus is mutating, economic losses are mounting.

According to latest World Bank Group estimates, the three countries will lose at least US$1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2015 as a result of the epidemic.

The agriculture and food sectors and farming activities are an economic mainstay of all three countries; the Ebola crisis risks deepening poverty and increasing hunger particularly in rural areas where poverty is entrenched.  The flight of rural workers and an inability to work in groups due to fear of infection in both affected and non-affected zones has complicated the harvest and risks compounding the crisis even further. It will be critical to focus on the agricultural sector as a driver of economic recovery and a key component in ensuring the longer-term welfare of the most vulnerable in all three countries.

Since mid-2014, these three economies have seen flat or negative income growth, pushing people deeper into poverty.  In 2014, growth rate in Guinea collapsed to 0.5%, down from 4.5% prior to onset of the crisis.  In Liberia, growth fell to 2.2% compared to 5.9% projected before the crisis.  Sierra Leone’s growth rate fell by more than half, to 4% from a projected high of 11.3%.

Ebola's Impact on Hunger and Food Security

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all suffered long-standing food insecurity; the Ebola crisis makes this even more perilous for the poorest and most vulnerable. More than one million people are at risk of hunger.

Guinea: Over 230,000 people are food insecure, a number that could rise to 470,000 by March 2015 absent any intervention. Rice production fell by one-fifth, corn by a quarter, coffee by half and cocoa by a third.

Liberia:  Over 170,000 are estimated to be severely food insecure and could swell to 300,000. High prices for key staples have only exacerbated widespread food insecurity. Labor shortages continue to make it difficult for rural farmers to bring in the harvest, and nearly 65 percent of agricultural households worry that their harvest will be smaller than last year, according to a recent cell phone survey.

Sierra Leone: Over 120,000 people are food insecure and their numbers could rise to 280,000 by March 2015. Food insecurity is a significant problem and in a recent cell phone survey, over two-thirds of households said they had to undertake coping strategies to ward off hunger. Kailahun, an epicenter for the epidemic, is also the country’s most productive food-producing area.

Emergency Seed Program for Reviving Agriculture

As part of the response to the crisis, the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP), an ongoing regional project of the World Bank, and the West and Central Africa Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), a regional cooperation entity, project staff fanned out to conduct needs asssessments, sourced seed suppliers, worked with the Africa Rice (a CGIAR Center) to multiply foundation seed, and organized in-country distribution of seeds and fertilizers.  All activities were conducted with the goal of providing farmers in the three Ebola-hit countries with seeds and fertilizers in time for the planting season that commences in early April 2015.

As part of its support for the Ebola emergency response and to jumpstart recovery efforts, the World Bank has mobilized $15 million in emergency funding to finance the urgent push to avert hunger and revive agriculture in the three Ebola-hit countries.  This will enable delivery of 9,000 tons of certified seed and 1,500 tons of foundation seed to 200,000 farmers to plant maize and rice crops for priming the farm economy and ensuring that food needs are met locally. The new initiative will also help farmers in Ebola-hit countries to rebuild farm assets.

The World Bank has discussed the preparatory steps and implementation plan with its development partners including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and briefed participants at the Annual Meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network in the Sahel held at European Union headquarters, in Brussels on December 17, 2014. The initiative has received strong backing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).