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Good harvest levels and regular imports contribute to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Liberia
  • February - September 2016
Good harvest levels and regular imports contribute to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Area/Population of Concern
  • Events that might change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Off-season harvests of maize, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, cassava, and palm oil will improve the quantity and quality of food in household diets between March and May. These harvests, coupled with average to above-average rice stocks from the recent 2015/16 main season harvest and imports, will ensure adequate food availability between February and September 2016.

    • As the economy continues to strengthen, household livelihoods and incomes are returning to levels seen before the Ebola crisis, which in turn is improving food access. Most households will maintain seasonally normal food consumption levels, in line with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity, through at least September 2016.

    • International rubber prices have fallen sharply over the past several years, reducing incomes from labor work and rubber sales, particularly in Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, and far eastern Bong counties. To cope, affected households are increasing charcoal production, migration, remittances, and borrowing but are still facing difficulties meeting their basic non-food expenditures. While they make up less than 20 percent of the total population in the affected counties, pockets of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity amongst these populations are expected between February and September.


    National Overview
    Current Situation
    Rural livelihood activities

    The 2015/16 main season harvest, which took place between August and December, was average to above average and better than last year’s levels. Additionally, food crops (ex. maize, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, cassava, and palm oil) are becoming increasingly available at both the household and market levels due to ongoing off-season agricultural activities. Seasonally normal levels of hunting and fishing are also providing poor rural households with access to cheaper protein sources.

    Economic recovery

    As a whole, economic activities are returning to pre-Ebola levels. For example, foreign investors and large businesses, including airlines and infrastructure construction companies, have restarted operations within the country. Activities relating to agriculture, tourism, education, banking, cross-border trade, and transportation have also mostly normalized.

    However, major export sectors, particularly rubber and iron ore, are underperforming due to weak international market demand and falling prices (Figure 1), which in turn has reduced economic growth, government revenues, and incomes for workers employed in these sectors. Rubber production, for example, is an important livelihood activity for many poor households in the Rubber and Charcoal with Food Crops Livelihood Zone which spans Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, and far eastern Bong counties. However, international prices for this commodity are currently down by around 24 percent compared to prices at the same time last year and are approximately 65 percent less than the five-year average. During a recent FEWS NET assessment, interviewed local producers reported that these declining international prices have had a significant impact on local producer prices, with currently prices at US$400 per metric ton which compares to about US$2,800 per metric ton during the 2013 reference year (a decline of 86 percent). Reports from the Central Bank of Liberia also indicate that these declining rubber prices are lowering income levels for rubber producers, as well as for laborers working on smaller rubber tapping operations.

    Staple food stocks and prices

    In a typical year, Liberia imports about 350,000 metric tons of rice, mostly from India, making up around 65 percent of total annual rice consumption requirements. Prices for imported rice on local markets closely follow prices on international markets which were relatively stable in December compared to the previous month but down compared to 2014 levels (Source: FEWS NET January 2016 Price Watch). Additionally, the government of Liberia requires that importers maintain a buffer stock in Monrovia of at least three months of the country’s rice requirements with the purpose of stabilizing the country’s rice supplies.

    In January 2016, imported rice prices were generally similar to or slightly above the three-year average but were below last year’s levels when prices were atypically high due to Ebola-related market disruptions (Figure 2). The official value of the Liberian dollar compared to the US dollar has also depreciated by approximately 6 percent compare to the three-year average but has increased by 5 percent compared to last year’s levels, which is contributing to these observed price trends (Figure 3).

    Humanitarian Assistance

    Following large-scale interventions to eradicate Ebola, international partners are shifting to integrated relief with development programs to address medium and long-term needs of the population, including in the sectors of energy, environment, infrastructure, food security, health, water, sanitation and agriculture. According to the Government, approximately US$770 million donor funds have been budgeted in fiscal year 2015/16 for recovery programs. WFP’s Ebola-related food assistance programs, which benefited about 550,000 people from June 2014 to December 2015, have recently been scaled down and targeted about 300,000 people between December 2015 and February 2016. These programs include the starting up of school feeding, nutrition and livelihoods programs that were halted during the EVD outbreak. Amongst various recovery programs, the counties worst affected by the Ebola outbreak have been prioritized and targeted populations include farmers, women, school children, Ebola survivors, and orphans.

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario for the February to September 2016 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    Agriculture:
    • Based on seasonal forecasts by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEWS NET assumes that cumulative rainfall totals for the 2016 rainy season will likely be below-average to average. However, given the large quantities of rain that typically fall over Liberia and an expected on-time start to the rainy season at the end of February/early March, the agricultural season is expected to start on time with sufficient water availability for normal crop growth.
    • Agricultural harvests: Off-season crops, including vegetables and tubers (ex. pumpkins, eddoes and potatoes), will boost market supplies and contribute to improved food consumption between February and May. Average to above-average cassava harvests will also increase supply levels of this commodity on local markets during the June to September lean season when rice stocks are exhausted and households typically substitute cassava for rice. Additionally, the main 2016 rice harvest will start on-time and at normal levels in August and September in southeastern areas. Some farmers will also earn extra cash by harvesting and selling palm nuts and oil throughout the scenario period.  
    • Labor demand: Labor demand levels for charcoal production and agricultural labor work, particularly for the off-season, are expected to be average with a seasonal decline between June and September. During the rainy season, most main season agricultural labor activities (ex. fencing and weeding) are done using family or kuu (reciprocal) labor, rather than hired laborers, resulting in lower demand levels during this time period.
    Markets and trade:
    • Staple food supplies: Between February and May, market supplies of local vegetables, greens, tubers, and imported rice will be stable at average to above-average levels due to the recent rice harvest, ongoing cassava and off-season crops harvests, and regular imports. During the June to September lean season, local rice stocks will be seasonally low or depleted at the household level, although cassava will remain available. Imported rice from warehouses in Monrovia will guarantee continuous supplies of this commodity, although levels on rural markets will decline seasonally due to poor road conditions and high transport costs during the rainy season.
    • Value of the Liberian dollar: The value of the Liberian dollar against the US dollar will be stable or decline slightly compared to current levels due to a significant reduction in the value of exports caused by declining international rubber and iron ore prices.  
    • Imported rice prices: Imported rice price will stay slightly above the 3-year average during the coming months because of sufficient buffer stocks at the national level.
    • Fuel prices: Fuel prices will, in general, remain stable although in isolated, rural areas, fuel and transportation costs will increase during the rainy season due to poor road conditions.
    • Charcoal prices: Prices will be similar to last year’s levels and will follow normal seasonal trends. Prices will remain stable up to July at around LD$150 – 175/50kg bag and will then increase in August and September to LD$200 – 250/50 kg bag because of higher costs of production and transportation during the rainy season.
    • Rubber prices and production: Local prices will remain atypically low as demand for raw rubber continues to be weak on international markets. Rubber production will decline seasonally during the peak of the rainy season (July to September).  
    Other key drivers:
    • Remittance flows: Flows will be low between February and May but will then increase between June and September as household members send back additional cash to improve food access during the lean season, as well as cover non-food expenditures such as school fees and clothing for Independence Day celebrations.
    • Security situation: After the state emergency and travel restrictions in 2014, the security situation has returned to normal. The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will finally withdraw its peacekeepers from Liberia by the end of June 2016 to allow the Government to take over national security responsibilities. Afterwards, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) along with other security agencies, will operate national security throughout the country. As part of the transition process, the AFL will engage in community outreach and infrastructure building projects.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    All areas of Liberia will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity between February and September 2015 due to seasonally normal incomes and food sources. Sufficient food is expected to be available on markets during the scenario period, although a seasonal decline in supply levels will be observed between July and September for local rice (throughout the country) and imported rice (in the Southeastern Region, Garpolu and parts of Lofa County due to transportation constraints). However, during this time period, households will still be able to consume a normal diet as they increase their consumption of cassava (ex. tubers, fufu, gari) and wild foods (ex. bush yams, snails). Additionally, the start of rice harvests in the southeastern counties by August and September will improve local rice availability at the household level by the end of the outlook period.

    An exception, however, are poor households involved in rubber tapping who have lost incomes due to the effects of declining international rubber prices. Due to limited household purchasing power, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected for certain households, although these populations are not expected to exceed 20 percent of the total population in any country.


    Area/Population of Concern

    Rubber Tappers Residing in the Rubber and Charcoal with Food Crops Livelihood Zone

    Rubber production is an important livelihood activity for many poor households in the Rubber and Charcoal with Food Crops Livelihood Zone, which spans Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, and far eastern Bong counties. Since the steady decline in international market prices for rubber, local producer prices have also decreased and a number of major producers have scaled down operations. Hundreds of workers, including tappers, have lost their jobs in the industry.

    To cope, many affected households have turned to charcoal production, which is sold in nearby Duala and Red Light Markets in Monrovia. The price of charcoal is currently above average, selling for LD$ 175/sack compared to LD$125/sack in a typical year, and is expected to rise slightly between June and September to LD$200/sack. However, despite these favorable prices, charcoal production has been declining over recent years due to a lack of trees as 1) many older rubber trees have been cleared and replaced by Firestone; and 2) vast areas in Bomi County have been taken up by the Sime Darby palm oil plantation since 2011. Due to a shortage of trees, many men from villages in Bomi County (estimated to be affecting two out of every five households) have migrated this year, many to Gbarpolu County where logging for charcoal production is permitted. Other rubber tapping households are intensifying other activities, such as brick making work, to generate additional incomes.

    A 2015 WFP household survey, as well as livelihoods work conducted by Save the Children in 2007, found that households spent roughly 50 to 65 percent of total incomes of food expenditures. Thus, financial access to food on local markets is an important driver of food insecurity. Currently, amongst many poor, rubber tapping households, purchasing power is atypically weak due to the decline in their incomes. According to recent FEWS NET’s discussions with villagers in the zone, affected households are prioritizing food over non-food expenditures and some are going a week or two without basic items, such as soap. As a result, these population are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity throughout the scenario period. However, given that poor, rubber tapping households make up less than 20 percent of the total population in this zone[1] and average incomes are enabling other populations to access food normally, the area classification for the zone remains at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    [1] According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) 2.0, an IPC area classification should be “based on whether or not at least 20 percent of the population is in a particular Phase or worse.”


    Events that might change the outlook

    Table 1: Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    Area

    Event

    Impact on food security outcomes

    • Lofa county
    • Nimba county
    • Bong county

    Above-average levels of grasshoppers between April and May

    • Destruction of crops and reduced food availability
    • Nimba county
    • Bong county
    • Lofa county
    • Margibi county
    • Bomi county
    • Cape Mount county
    • Montserrado county

    Strong winds or storms  between April and July

    • Damage to houses result in population displacements and increased needs for shelter and food assistance
    • Crop and livestock damage limit food access and consumption levels
    • Margibi county
    • Bomi county
    • Cape Mount county
    • Montserrado county  
    • Southeastern region

    Floods/Atypically heavy rainfall between June to September

    • Damage to houses result in population displacements and increased needs for shelter and food assistance
    • Crop and livestock damage limit food access and consumption levels
    • Water sources could be contaminated, resulting in an increased prevalence of diseases and global acute malnutrition in affected areas
    • Poor road conditions contribute to atypically high imported rice prices. Reduced food consumption levels and substitutions towards less preferred foods, such as bush yams, would likely be observed.
    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source:

    Current food security outcomes for February 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes for February 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Historical TSR20 international rubber and iron ore prices (in USD)

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Historical TSR20 international rubber and iron ore prices (in USD)

    Source: World Bank Commodity Price Data (Pink Sheet)

    Figure 2. Price of 50 kg bag of imported rice compared to the recent years and the 3-year average (in Liberian dollars)

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Price of 50 kg bag of imported rice compared to the recent years and the 3-year average (in Liberian dollars)

    Source: WFP/VAM

    Figure 3. Historical Liberian dollar to US dollar exchange rate

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Historical Liberian dollar to US dollar exchange rate

    Source: OANDA

    Figure 4. Livelihood zones in Liberia

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. Livelihood zones in Liberia

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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