In Liberia: How Ebola Afected Food Production


Wade Williams, libpolitics@gmail.comIMG_1230

Monrovia- The Ebola outbreak in Liberia is over but many who suffered loss as a result of a family member falling prey to the deadly disease, say they are facing economic hardship brought on them by the deadly epidemic.

In Jenewonde, a small village located in Grand Cape Mount County, which was badly hit by the disease, widows who lost husbands to the virus, are finding it difficult to feed their families because of a farming season that has been interrupted by the outbreak.

Sow Sesay, 16, sits in a chair rocking her three-week old baby as she breastfeeds him. Her husband worked in a local clinic but died from the disease in November when she was only six-months pregnant. Sow is among many of the young girls and women in the village who lost husbands to the deadly disease and are left with young babies, with no one to help support them. The teenager who married when she was fifteen and still in elementary school, said her baby’s father and his entire household was wiped out by the disease. She now depends on her family and friends for hand outs to help care for the young child.

“My husband died from Ebola. He got sick and they took him to the ETU but he died on the way there. The only help I have now is the baby’s aunts who are still alive,” she says.

Sow says she has to work though she is a young mother, because her husband and many of the men in her family are no more. She says her only hope of getting food in the coming months is from a nearby cassava patch she and her family cultivated.

Most of the farmland was used to bury people who died from the deadly disease, Sow says adding that they now have to make farms in places not suitable for cultivating crops. She says this is because tradition forbids them from planting on a land used for burial.

“If we burn the place where we have buried someone and make farm on it, we feel that we are giving a double punishment to the dead,” Sow says.

She says the village feels that the government has abandoned them, as no one has come to assess their needs now that the epidemic is over.

Like Sow, Ruth B Kabbah is also a widow, she and her mother lost husbands to Ebola in September 2014. She is left with her six month-old son and now she says the burden of support has shifted to her mother who now tills the soil to fend for the family.

Ruth’s husband contracted Ebola from his father who worked as a local vaccinator in the town. She said the disease then spread to other members of the family including her husband and his sister who was seven months pregnant and she lost the baby and also died.

“Their entire family died from Ebola. I am the only family now that my son has and we have no one to help us,” she said.

“People have made so many promises to us but none have come to help us. It is only my mother that is helping me with my son. I am suffering.”

Sow Sambolai, is Ruth’s mother, she now acts as the man in the family taking her late husband’s place, making farms to help the family. Life for residents in this town is difficult because the Ebola Epidemic has led to a shortage of food in the village.

She predicts that the village might suffer famine, if nothing is done to help local farmers with seeds to plant cash crops. She said her family is already feeling the impact because she has no money to pay men to brush a large portion of the land to farm on.

“Life is so hard on me; to even feed my daughter is difficult. My husband died and my daughter’s husband also died from Ebola,” says Sambolai.

“I made the farm this year and burned it, but I have not planted anything there yet because I don’t have seed rice to put there. I will need to pay people to help me plant, but I don’t have the money to pay them. I was to go there today but here I am, I am not going there because I have no money to pay the people.”

‘Too much hardship’

Momo S. Massalay, is Assistant Town Chief of Jenewonde, he recounts the suffering brought upon them by the deadly Ebola Virus. He told Bloomberg in an interview in the town that many of their citizens died including hardworking men who were mainly farmers. He said the village with a population of a little over two thousand persons became an epicenter in the months of September to November of 2014 and they lost many people especially men to the disease. He said the farming season was interrupted due to the disease and it is having an adverse effect on the community.

“Ebola made us to lose many things, we lost our loved ones but we praise God that we have life. Where we are standing now is a farm,” he says.

“We make farms every year and when we make this kind of farm we plant rice and other things, but now, it is so sorrowful because all the farms we made in September got destroyed. Now we don’t have one grain of rice.”

Massalay says the community market days are on Fridays when people converge on the town from nearby villages to buy fresh farm produce like pepper, peanuts, oil and rice, but says this year the markets would be virtually empty because they do not have the seeds to make large farms. He tells LibPolitics that due to the lack of seeds, the village has resorted to planting cassava, just to have food on the table.

Many including Massalay, foresee a grim economic future if nothing is done to help the town get back on its feet in terms of reviving the agriculture sector.

“We don’t have the materials we need to farm here. We don’t have seed rice, some people make groundnut (peanuts) farm, but they don’t have the seed to plant it now,” he says.

He says peanut is the main cash crop cultivated every year in Jenewonde, but due to the lack of seeds they would not be able to plant enough this year. Massalay says as a result many farmers would lose money and not be able to provide for their families.

“This is the time that you can plant groundnuts because the rain has not come down heavy. It only takes about three months to grow,” says Massalay.

“Some of the people are crying that they don’t have the seeds to plant. This is something that when you plant it, it gives you quick money, and in a year you can grow it two or three times.”

Ebola has completely wrecked the economy and Liberian financial stakeholders are devising strategies to counter the economic impact of the disease on the country.

In an effort to counter the effect of the epidemic on the Liberian economy, the Central Bank of Liberia unveiled its post Ebola stimulus measures in December of 2014 as the disease showed significant signs of slowing.

The steps the bank’s Governor says aims at helping sectors of the Liberia economy recover from the impact of the deadly epidemic that has ravaged the country.

Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones states that the deadly Ebola Epidemic has had a serious impact on the Liberian economy.

“The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has had a profound negative impact on the economy,” he says. “Projections show that the growth of the economy, which was expected to average 6.6 percent over the next three years before the Ebola epidemic, is now expected to slow down to only about 1 percent.”

“This means that even as we take short-term measures to stabilize the economy, we should be looking beyond just recovery, which could leave the economy with the same vulnerabilities that we are now experiencing, leaving the country susceptible to a vicious circle of poverty and underdevelopment.”

Many foreign governments including the United States and the government and the European Union are working with the government to devise a fix to Liberia’s economic woes brought on by the Ebola epidemic.

The United States Agency for International Development committed US$ 5 Million last year to offset revenue lost through a tax break by compensating for what the government would typically spend on teachers and health workers salaries.

In early November 2015, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) approved $257 million partnership agreement to help Liberia in its post-Ebola recovery process with major investment in building new energy and road infrastructure.

The European Union has already committed EUR 45M (approx. 50.8 M USD) “State Building Contract” to help Liberia in its post Ebola recovery plan.

EU Ambassador to Liberia Tiina Intelmann says the project is the first of the wider EUR 279M (approx. 315M USD) Liberia – EU multi-year program that was signed in Brussels in March this year, during the International Ebola Recovery Conference.

“We encourage the Government of Liberia to make a real difference to your people in the use of this money,” the EU Ambassador states in a release issued in Monrovia.

For more than a year, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone experienced the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. On May 9, 2015, more than a year after the outbreak began, the World Health Organization declared the end of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, but at the end of June, a new case was reported. This case caused a small cluster that was quickly detected and controlled according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Liberia became Ebola Free again on September 2, 2015 after two incubation periods (42 days) passed since the last survivor in that cluster tested negative for Ebola and since then no new cases have occurred in the country.

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