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The Effect of the Ebola Crisis on Agricultural Productivity In Sierra Leone

The Current Situation of Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone

The severe hit of the Ebola epidemic on the Agricultural sector of Sierra Leone economy is crucial to exacerbating wide spread hunger and poverty in the country if not contained in the shortest possible time.

Sierra Leone government after the dreadful foot prints of the eleven year rebel war in the recent past has prioritized agriculture as the engine of the national economy that can wheel forward all efforts for the attainment of socio-economic growth and sustainable development in the nation. This is not surprising because agriculture contributes nearly 50% to the country’s GDP and employs over 75% of its national work force. (State House, SLG; 2010 and 2004)  

 

This vision is been pursued through several programs including the Smallholder Commercialization Program (SCP, 2010) and Sierra Leone Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (SL- PRSP, 2004) respectively. The fact is that about 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and, 80% of these are small farmers, while over 75% of these farmers are either totally illiterate or have just a minimum level of education, a factor that is greatly responsible for the alarming degree of denial attitude of most Sierra Leoneans to accepting the Ebola virus as indeed a true fatal disease vis-à-vis readily adopting the standard recommended practices to evade the contraction of this killer disease.[ National Disease Surveillant Team (MoHS, SLG, July, 2014) and Presidential Address, SLG, July 30,2014].

This study was therefore conceived to unveil the general overview of the Ebola Outbreak in the West Africa region and to investigate the extent to which this deadly outbreak particularly affects agricultural sector (the mainstay of the Sierra Leone economy) and rural livelihoods – particularly focusing on food crop production systems, rural migrants and the economic relevance of nutritional implications  The study of this nature is significant because the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has posed a very serious social, economic and political challenge to the whole world in general and in particular to several West African countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. The information obtained from this study would be useful to facilitating the various intervention measures meant for alleviating the deplorable state of the victimized communities.  The key research technique adopted to undertake this work was desktop surveying which entailed review of available relevant literature. The major sources of the documents reviewed were the partners’ library and the global internet services. The result obtained was put into matrices where applicable to ease analysis, comprehension and usage and, the time duration for the accomplishment of the study was eight days (20- 27 August, 2014.). Also, Rapid Assessment Approach (RAA) was used to fast track the process of the study.

In Sierra Leone, the Ebola epidemic has been prevalent since May 2014. This epidemic is also affecting Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria and is the largest unprecedented epidemic of Ebola 38 years ago in history. At least three Americans have been infected; two are health care workers in an Ebola clinic, one British national also infected but responding to treatment. All districts in Sierra Leone including Western Area and Freetown the capital of the country have been struck by the epidemic. Regrettably, as in other affected West African countries, instances of civil unrest, violence against aid workers  and malicious attempt to destroy public health infrastructure  have been reported in Sierra Leone emanating from the unwelcome epidemic.

Sierra Leone’s government has recently instituted stringent measures to combat the spread of Ebola, many of which will likely make travel to, from, and within the country difficult. In response to the above therefore the government has instituted the following measures:

  • New protocols for arriving and departing passengers at Lungi International Airport.
  • Restrictions on public and other mass gatherings.
  • Quarantine measures for communities affected by Ebola; travel in and out of those communities will be restricted until a medical team clears them.
  • Authorized house-to-house searches to locate and quarantined Ebola patients and requires all deaths be reported before burial.
  • Authorized police and military personnel to aid in enforcing these and other prevention and control measures.
  • Requires local government officials to establish by-laws to support Ebola prevention effort
  • The Implication of the ongoing Ebola Outbreak on Agricultural Productivity in Sierra Leone.

Current Ebola outbreak poses huge social, economic and political challenges on the country development pathway especially farmers in the rural areas where the epidemic has severely affected. This situation is getting more complicated as a result of restricted government instituted regulations to combat the disease.
The Ebola outbreak first hit the most agricultural productive district (Kailahun District) in May 2014 in Sierra Leone and soon extended to the adjacent district of Kenema.
The following are the major obvious effects of the Ebola outbreak on agriculture and farmers’ livelihood activities in Sierra Leone

  • Disrupted rural rice farming activity in Sierra Leone- This effect becomes more serious where one farmer who is a bread winner happens to be infected by the disease, the rest of the family members become stigmatized and hence disrupt farming activities completely.
  • Declining trend in Inland valley swamp cultivation due to the fear of catching fever as being one of the obvious symptoms of Ebola virus. This has high potential to drastically scale down rice productivity which is the staple food for Sierra Leoneans. This further leads to the worsening of food insecurity situation in the country if strategic mitigating measures are not timely put in place.
  • Disappearance of extension experts from the farming communities where the Ebola epidemic is most prevalent in the country.  Extension experts are essential to enhancing agricultural productivity because they introduce relevant farming innovations to farmers at farm gates. The absence of these experts therefore signifies a serious challenge on agricultural productivity especially in the areas like Kailahun and Kenema districts where the Ebola outbreak has appeared alarmingly fatal in the country.
  • Transportation of agricultural Inputs and implements are on the standstill. Availability of transport as, when and where promotes the free movement of farmers and conveyance of farm input and implement to the required destination. Unfortunately, the Ebola Outbreak in Sierra Leone has forced the government in the containment effort of the disease to impose restrictive measures on travelling within, into and out of the country. This comes clear from the Press Release from His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma  on July 30,2014, reads:
  • “Extra-ordinary challenges require extra ordinary measures. The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)    poses an extra- ordinary challenge to our nation. Consequently, and in line with the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No 6 of 1991, I hereby proclaim the state of public emergency to enable us to a more robust approach to deal with the Ebola outbreak".
  • Decrease rate of implementation of New Breed of Livestock. Many livestock farmers are currently shying away from the culture of introducing new breed into their livestock management practices owing to the fact that this alarming Ebola outbreak originated from animals.
  • The Population of Animal pests is on the increase. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, farmers used to hunt animal pests for the primary purpose of protecting their farms and for consumption and generation of income from the sales of the meat. By then the farmers realized higher productivity and extra income that would enable them effectively manage their farming activities well.  Now that there is a strong recommendation from Health officials to reduce the consumption of bush meat, such as monkeys, bats and chimpanzees, the culture of hunting is reduced considerably and therefore there is increase in population of these animal pests which causing serious damage to agricultural crops in the country. Farmers are also getting poorer because they no longer realize income from the sales of bush meat. This situation requires more orientation and humanitarian assistance for the affected farming communities.
  • Breakage of Rural – Urban Linkage in terms of agricultural commodity trade. The interdependency between rural and urban communities is not to be underestimated. Most of urban food supplies are produced in the rural areas whereas the rural communities get most of their farm inputs and non- food industrial products from the urban setting as well. But the current Ebola Outbreak has restricted the ease of commodity exchange between the rural and urban communities in Sierra Leone.  This has led to increase in food commodity prices in the country especially in the rural areas where majority of the population are farmers. And as of now, there is no presence of humanitarian food aid in the affected areas to rescue the situation.
  • Farm Labour supply is currently highly implicated in Sierra Leone.  Ebola outbreak coincides with the peak period of farming activities in the country.  Farming in Sierra Leone is 75% to 80% labour intensive and labour service is often exploited communally. Now that Ebola prevention and control campaign discourages large group gathering, people who offer themselves as labour force are no longer willing to do so for fear of contracting the virus in the process of labour service provision. This has therefore reduced the supply of farm labour in the country vis a vis  the potential productivity.
  • Contraction of Cash Crop Commodity Market in Sierra Leone. The two eastern districts – Kenema and Kailahun which have received the hardest hit of the Ebola epidemic are famous for higher productivity of most of the major cash crops (cacao, coffee and oil palm) produced in the country.  Most cash crop farmers in the affected Ebola areas in the country are reluctant to regularly visit their plantation farms either for the purpose of cleaning the plantation or harvesting to obtain produce for sales.  They are reluctant because of fear of not being infected by harvesting pods already partly eaten by infected pests. So there is a noticeable decrease in the yield of cash crops and this directly affects the threshold of the GDP of the country.
  • Loan Repayment Implication is worsening among farmers in the affected areas in the country.

Agricultural loan repayment possibility like most other types of loans, has a direct link with efficient loan use for the purpose the loan is obtained. The Ebola outbreak creates an episode that contradicts this principle and also commercial loan theory - i.e. repayment of loan gets due at harvest. Most farmers who had received loans prior to the Ebola outbreak would be in no proper position to invest their loans on their farms either because they themselves are hit to death by the epidemic or suffer from other consequences of the Ebola virus. Hence, most of such farmers will not be able to pay as result of the disease outbreak. This possibly leads to the collapsing of such financial institutions in the affected areas and this will subsequently affect the smooth running of the entire economy in the country.

REFERENCES

  • Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention ,(CDC Ebola Website and USAID August, 2014).
  • Luis Sambo, WHO, June 2014). On 26 May,
  • Premier News, page11, issue 6429 ( Tuesday June24,2014), Ebola! A Foul, Steal thy Evil Spirit.
  • MOHS, SLG JULY, 2014. NATIONAL  Disease Surveillant Team
  • WHO and CDC   Reports, July 2014. The World Health Organization websites.
  • Independent Observer page8 ,(31st. July2014), Ebola Virus: UK  Officials issues warning to doctors as experts admit the outbreak `is not under control`.
  • Presidential  Address, SLG, JULY30, 2014,
  • Standard Times ,page 14,( Friday August 1 ,2014)—The spread of  Ebola in West Africa and Nigeria.

By

Momodu Kanu, Sheik Dyfan Massaquoi, Edwin J. J. Momoh
Njala University
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