Concerted action is required to stabilize prices and ensure people are able to buy and sell enough food to meet their needs. Photo: UNDP Sierra Leone
Wild price swings caused by the Ebola health crisis are making it more difficult for households to feed themselves and make a stable living, according to a new study by the UN development programme.
“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 Programme (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 added.
Since the onset of the Ebola crisis, buying power went down by 20 percent in Sierra Leone and by more than 25 percent in Liberia. The study also found rural communities were worst affected, due to more expensive transport costs and dependency on declining farming incomes. Reduced traffic has been observed in more than two-thirds of Liberia’s counties, for instance.
As a result, in October, Monrovians paid $17.5 for 25 kilograms of rice, while people in the Southeast paid $21.3 for the same quantity. Because Liberia and Sierra Leone depend on Guinea for food imports, their situation is particularly serious.
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 calls for a four-fold solution. First, governments in Ebola-hit countries should keep their borders open to ensure food reaches markets and people.
Second, social safety nets such as farming subsidies and cash payments could help to improve the situation for the poorest and most vulnerable.
Third, 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. 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.