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Cultivation activities for 2017 main season are expected to start on time

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Liberia
  • February - September 2017
Cultivation activities for 2017 main season are expected to start on time

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  • Key Messages
  • NATIONAL OVERVIEW
  • Key Messages
    • Normal timing of the lean season is expected from June to September, following an on time start to the 2017 main season cultivation. During this period, cassava stocks, imports, and incomes from off-season harvests are expected to ensure both household and market supplies. Access to food and seasonally normal consumption levels are expected in most households, in line with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity, through at least September 2017. 

    • Across the country, some poor households are accessing wage labor through main season land preparations including bushing, felling, burning and clearing which started in December. Availablility of work will likely increase during planting of rice, cassava, corn, peanuts and beans from March through June. Weeding and fencing in July/August and rice harvests in August/September in the southeastern region will keep availability of work at seasonally average levels through the scenario period. 

    • Some poor households including farm and fishing laborers, casual mine workers and rubber tappers, who make up less than 20 percent of the total population in their districts, are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through the scenario period. These households have reduced purchasing power as they face weak financial access to both imported food and non-food items due to depreciation and weak demend for wage labor in their livelihood zones.


    NATIONAL OVERVIEW

    Current Situation

    Rural livelihood activities

    Main season agricultural activities started in December/January with land preparations including selection of sites and bushing and felling of brush.  Additionally, seasonally normal levels of fishing in the have been providing poor rural households with access to inkind and wage opportunities including hauling, loading, processing and selling of fish, firewood, baskets and bamboo for drying fish. These activities along with the rehabilitation of tree/cash crops, cultivation and weeding of off-season crops, palm oil and charcoal production, and processing and selling of cassava have been making wage labor contracts and household incomes available at seasonally normal levels. Many of these activities will increase and are likely to continue to provide work opportunities for poor households at seasonal average levels from February through May.  Women and elderly people will increase petty trade, backyard gardening and fishing for crayfish and crabs at typical seasonal levels June through September. During the rainy season between June and September, most agricultural activities will slow down and famers will be weeding and fencing to protect crops. The rice cropping in the Southereaster Region has started on time making it likely that harvests will start normally in July/August.  More farmers than usual are using the “Kuu” systems or mutual labor In order to save costs, especially in the Coastal Plain Cassava with Rice and River Fishing Livelihood Zone  where farmers reported hiring fewer workers due to increasing wage rates.

    Investment and economic recovery

    GDP declined from 2015 to 2016 and economic recovery remains slow as major export sectors, particularly rubber and iron ore, are still very weak despite some improvement in prices on international markets.  As of 2014, iron ore and rubber prices remain atypically low on international markets and reports from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) indicate that proceeds from these commodity exports declined significantly in 2016 compared to 2015. Major imports, including petroleum and rice also decreased in 2016 compared to 2015 and CBL also indicates that prices of most commodities have been rising due to depreciation of the Liberian Dollar (L$) against the US dollar. The official value of the L$ declined by almost 15 percent in January 2017 compared to January 2016, and likely had even lower values in central markets and goods outlets like Waterside and Red Light where demand for USD is higher.  Currency depreciation, added tariffs on goods and services, and concurrent use of both US and Liberian dollars currencies triggered a 3-day strike and protests by venders in Monrovia In January.

    Staple food stocks and prices

    Reports from the Central Bank of Liberia indicates that rice imports declined in 2016 compared to 2015, likely due to the deprecitation of the Liberian dollar. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MOIC), current buffer stocks will last up to mid-April although they plan to keep stocks at average levels through the year. Local market prices for imported rice remain above-average (Figure 1).  Local rice production levels in 2016 are 8 percent lower than last year’s production levels according to official estimates. Most farmers completed harvesting in November/December, and during a recent FEWS NET/MOA/LISGIS assessment, some households reported saving their stocks for seeds and consumption during the lean season (July – September). Cassava production is currently in surplus and some households are substituting rice consumption for cassava which is in line with reports that processed cassava products (gari, fufu and dippa) are very cheap, selling at prices lower than last year’s prices because of weak demand and oversupply on local markets.

    Humanitarian Assistance

    International partners are generally supporting economic recovery and development efforts as Liberia does not have food aid or emergency response programs at the moment. Programs on livelihoods, food security, agriculture, infrastructure, health, water and sanitation are  targeted mainly to smallholders, agribusinesses, women, school children, Ebola survivors, and orphans. Some recently approved programs include a Ministry of Gender led program to improve social protection and reduce violence against women and a Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) program to re-establish its statistics and management information systems. Agriculture and nutrition stakeholders also began a program to better integrate nutrition into the government’s agricultural plan and actions framework.  In terms of assistance around physical security, the UN peacekeeping mission is likely to remain in Liberia to support a peaceful transition to the new government through 2017.  UNDP is supporting an Election Project to ensure capacity for Liberians to hold free, fair and democratic elections. The election registration process was completed on time in January and a smooth campaigning process is expected from July through September.  

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario for the February to September 2017 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    Rainfall: The rainy season is expected to start on-time in Liberia, with regional forecasts predicting the start of rains in bimodal areas in late February/early March. Rainfall levels are expected to be similar to average,  supporting normal, agricultural season progress, especially for planting of main season crops and development of off season crops in February through May.  As usual between June to September, heavy rains will likely slow down activities and demand for labor at seasonally normal levels.

    Agricultural harvests: Beween February and June, harvests and sale of palm nuts and oil will provide average incomes and stock levels. Off-season harvests at this time will also increase household and market supply of vegetables and tubers. Cassava will be harvested throughout the scenario period, and will be substituted for rice consumptiom by some households during the lean season from June to September. Heavy rains will slow down harvest and supply of cassava products including gari, fufu and dippa/flour, which will  decline at seasonally average levels from June to September. Between August and September, the main  rice harvest will begin normally in southeastern areas and spread across the country at expected average levels.  

    Markets accessibility: Between February and May, improved road conditions and transport flows during the dry season will likely increase market stock and supply at seasonally normal levels. Availability of agricultural contracts and incomes (in-kind food for labor and cash) will likely increase at seasonally average levels, although there may be a reduced demand in some localized areas as high costs of labor decrease demand for workers. During the June to September heavy rains transport flows and market supplies, especially for imported goods, will drop at seasonally low levels due to expected deterioration of road conditions.

    Depreciation of the Liberian Dollar (L$): USD to L$ exchange rate is expected to keep declining through September 2017 as low international market prices continue to drive down revenues from rubber and iron ore exports, which are mainly responsible for USD inflow and supply.

    Staple food supplies: Local rice stocks from the main harvests in 2016 are expected to remain adequate in most households from February through June 2017. Most households stockpiled some of their 2016 harvests in November/December for seeds and consumption up to September 2017, in anticipation of sharp imported rice price increases during lean period (June – September).

    Imported rice and fuel stocks/ prices: Imported rice and fuel buffer stocks are expected to diminish, but remain adequate, due to reduction in imports mainly as a result of depreciation.  Reports from the Central Bank of Liberia indicate that rice and fuel imports in 2015 decreased in 2016 by 20 and 22 percent  respectively, and levels this year may follow similar trends. Current stocks in warehouses in Monrovia will ensure supplies on the local markets up to mid-April.  Prices throughout the scenario period are expected to remain above-average and continue rising in coming months because of depreciaton.  

    Labor demand and supply: Durign the peak of the rainy season from July to September livelihood activities will slow down normally and demand for labor (hauling and processing cassava and fish) will likely decline at normal seasonal levels. There may be a slight decrease in labor demand for agriculture cultivation, as increased wages cause more farmers to shift to Kuu labor setups.

    Fuel prices and transportation costs: Official fuel prices, which were increased slightly because of depreciation, will remain stable, although in isolated, rural areas, fuel and transportation costs will increase at above average seasonal levels during the rainy season due to poor road conditions. Transportation costs have increased atypically in line with rising fuel prices and constant depreciation of the L$ on local markets. Current high transportation costs are expected to exceed normal seasonal average levels during the July - September heavy rains when bad road conditions prevail.

    Rubber prices: Local prices will remain atypically low as demand for raw rubber continues to be weak on international markets. As usual, rubber production will decline seasonally during the peak of the rainy season (July to September).  

     

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    All areas of Liberia will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity between February and September 2017 due to seasonally normal incomes and food sources. Cassava is in surplus and will be affordable during the scenario period, while local rice stocks, regular rice imports, and off-season harvest are expected maintain sufficient food availability and access on the markets from February through June. However, some poor households including casual contract laborers and poor rubber tappers (making up less than 20 percent of the total population) will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity during the scenario period due to depreciation, weak demend for wage laborers, and reduced purchasing power particularly for imported foods and non-food items. 

    Figures Figure 1.

    Figure 1

    Price of 50 kg bag of imported rice (in Liberian dollars)

    Source: LISGIS/MOA

    Figure 2.

    Figure 2

    Liberian dollar to US dollar exchange rate and Food Inflation rate (CPI)

    Source: Central Bank of Liberia

    Figure 3.

    Figure 3

    Historical international rubber and iron ore prices (in USD)

    Source: World Bank Commodity Price Data (Pink Sheet)

    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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