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Poor purchasing power will continue to limit food access through September

  • Special Report
  • West Africa
  • April 30, 2015
Poor purchasing power will continue to limit food access through September

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  • Key Messages
  • Preface
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outcomes

  • Preface

    Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are FEWS NET remote monitoring countries. In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices.

    Key Messages
    • With the general depletion of household stocks and an earlier than normal start to the lean season in some places, food security outcomes are beginning to deteriorate compare to previous months. In addition, incomes from most sources remain below average due to an economic slowdown across all three countries. Consequently, household purchasing power will remain below average, contributing to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity in many areas through September 2015.

    • Agricultural activities, such as land preparation and off season cropping are ongoing and providing certain households with income to maintain their food access through market purchases. However, reports from certain regions, particularly in Sierra Leone, indicate that agricultural activities and associated labor opportunities are at slightly below normal levels due to continued Ebola-related disruptions.

    Current Situation

    Ebola cases

    According to the World Health Organization’s April 22 situation report, there have been a total of 100 new confirmed cases of Ebola over the past 21 days. The majority of these new cases have been observed in Guinea (70 percent), followed by Sierra Leone (30 percent). No new cases have been reported in Liberia. Western zones of Sierra Leone and Guinea are facing the highest levels of transmission at this time.

    Agricultural activities

    Agricultural activities, such as the harvesting of tubers and cash crops (ex. tomatoes, potatoes, cassava, palm oil) and early land preparation work for the 2015/16 cropping season, are currently ongoing. These activities are generating seasonal incomes for poor households through paid labor work and are helping them maintain their food access through market purchases. In addition, the harvesting of off-season crops are supporting food availability and diversity at the household and market levels.

    However, FEWS NET key informants are reporting that ongoing agricultural activities are, in some cases, occurring at slightly below-normal levels, particularly in Sierra Leone where agricultural group work has been reduced due to the enforcement of EVD bylaws. These reports are also in line with the preliminary results of FEWS NET’s most recent SMS-based trader surveys in Liberia and Sierra Leone which found that 21 percent and 32 percent of interviewed traders, respectively, reported that current rice cultivation activities were taking place at below-average levels. The zones with the highest percentage of traders reporting below-average cultivation activities were all located in Sierra Leone and included the district of Bombali, Kambia, Pujehun, and the Western Area Rural. Similarly, 64 percent of traders in Sierra Leone and 39 percent of traders in Liberia reported that current agricultural labor opportunities are less than in a normal year.

    The governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia, through the support of partners, are currently positioning high yielding rice, maize and cassava seeds for distribution to vulnerable farmers for this coming production season. However, distributions have not yet begun despite the start of planting activities in southern Liberia. In Guinea, the national government has not yet started any input distribution programs, although the prefectural chambers of commerce have begun in April to deliver last year’s seed stocks to producers.

    Household incomes

    According to FEWS NET’s key informants in the three Ebola-affected countries, typical livelihood activities, including vegetable and cassava harvests in lowlands areas, agricultural and mining labor, and charcoal sales are occurring on time and are providing households with seasonal incomes, except for in Sierra Leone due to limitations on group work. However, income from other sources, such as petty trade, handicrafts, export of palm oil to neighboring countries, and casual labor work on rubber plantations still remain below average due to reduced market activities and low household purchasing power. Similarly, income from hunting and trapping have declined significantly compare to normal levels due to the ban on bush meat sales. However, livestock and fish sales are in general relatively average due to stable demand and above-average prices as many households increase their consumption of these products as a substitute for bush meat.

    The World Bank and partners are continuing to conduct cell phone based household surveys covering a variety of topics including employment levels in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the case of Sierra Leone, results from their January/February survey indicate that employment rates in Freetown, other urban centers, and rural areas are still down compared to rates observed during last year’s Labor Force Survey. However, they have improved slightly compared to November 2014 levels in Freetown and other urban centers. Similarly, in Liberia, roughly 45 percent of respondents in March 2015 who reported that they had been employed during the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) conducted between February and August of last year stated that they were currently out of work. Increased unemployment rates compared to last year’s levels are likely contributing to reduced household food access through market purchase for affected households.

    Market functioning

    Daily and weekly markets remained open and functional in Guinea and Liberia, although they are operating at reduced levels compare to April 2014 because of continued Ebola-related fears, low household purchasing power, limited cross border flows, and reduced demand for exports. However, the joint CILSS/FEWS NET/FAO/WFP/Governments assessment carried out in February 2015 in Guinea found that there was relatively large quantities of private grain stocks (rice and maize) not yet marketed in surplus producing areas, which along with off season cropping, could play an important role in improving food availability and reducing local price increases. On the other, significant market disruptions in Sierra Leone continue, including daily markets/shops closing at 6pm, no sales on Sundays, weekly markets officially closed, and limited cross border flows even though borders are officially open.

    According to the results of FEWS NET’s SMS-based trader surveys conducted at the beginning of April 2015, roughly 70 to 74 percent of traders reported that daily and weekly markets were open and operating normally in Liberia, which compares to only 25 to 39 percent of traders in Sierra Leone (Figure 5). This suggests that while Liberian markets are recovering, containment measures and fears in Sierra Leone are continuing to negatively impact market operations.

    April prices for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are not yet available. A discussion of the most recently available price data for these countries can be found here.

    Updated Assumptions

    The most likely food security scenario for April to September 2015 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Ebola outbreak: Cases of Ebola will continue to decline compared to previous weeks throughout the outlook period in Sierra Leone and Guinea with the majority of new cases observed in the capital cities and nearby zones. There will be very few to no Ebola cases in Liberia.

    • Household food stocks: The main 2014/15 harvest was generally average to below average, with considerable variation from one community to another. However, household food stocks in communities worst-affected by the Ebola outbreak and amongst households directly impacted by the disease are below average, which has caused households to be market dependent for a longer period of time than usual. Meanwhile, harvests of cassava will continue at relatively normal levels during the entire outlook period and will help attenuate food access difficulties during the lean period (June to September).

    • Market functioning: Most markets will remain open during the entire outlook period with the exception of a few weekly markets in rural areas of Sierra Leone. However, market operations will remain at reduced levels compared to a typical year. On urban and consumption markets, limited market supply for locally produced foods will continue throughout the lean season due to below average production, high transportation cost from surplus areas and low purchasing power of larger traders. Regional demand from neighboring countries will also continue to be reduced due to traders’ reluctance to travel to Ebola-affected countries. This will result in continued marketing difficulties for agricultural households. Local demand for food commodities will also continue to be slightly below average due to low purchasing power and reduced activities of some agricultural and mining industries that normal purchase commodities directly from producers. Rice imports from international markets will continue at relatively normal levels. In addition, demand for cassava will be atypically high starting in April as poor households substitute towards this product due to low rice stocks and weak household purchasing power.

    • Food prices: For locally produced commodities, such as rice and cassava, prices in Sierra Leone and Liberia will rise seasonally between April and July to reach above average levels, due to low food stock levels at the market and household levels, strong demand for seed, and high transportation costs. In Guinea, prices will remain stable and follow their seasonal trends.  Between August and September, prices will stabilize or begin to decline, particularly in areas with newly harvested products. Due to normal import levels and stable prices on international markets, prices for imported rice are expected to remain stable across most markets. However some prices increases will still likely be observed in isolated rural areas because of transportation difficulties during the rainy season

    • Household incomes: Due to an unfavorable economic environment and market disruptions, poor households in most affected areas will continue to face below-average incomes from typical sources (ex. petty trade, handicrafts, labor, bush meat sales, mining, and forest product sales) throughout the outlook period. Similarly, for agricultural households, incomes from sales of vegetables and palm oil will be below average in most areas because of export difficulties to and from the producing areas and across countries in relation to the relatively weak local and regional demand. The negative impacts of the economic slowdown will be most severe in Sierra Leone compared to the other two countries due to the continuation of official restrictions (ex. curfews, weekly market closures) and more severe economic losses within this country.

    • 2015 rainy season: Long-range seasonal forecasts from major meteorological centers (CPC, UK MET, ECMWF, IRI) are generally showing either no anomalies or an increased probability of below-average rainfall, particularly over Guinea.  However, giving the large amount of rains typically received in those areas, even slightly below-average rainfall will still likely be sufficient to support plant growth. Therefore, FEWS NET is assuming that rainfall during the 2015 rainy season will be average to slightly below average but sufficient to enable a timely start of planting activities.

    • 2015 main agricultural season: Given the assumption of a normal start to the rainy season, land preparation activities will continue through April, followed by planting activities between April and June in most areas. These activities will provide agricultural labor work opportunities for poor households at relatively average to slightly below-average levels although wages will be similar to previous years. However, households who had below-average crop sales incomes this year may slightly reduce their cropping areas this year compared to normal due to labor constraints and limited access to agricultural inputs resulting from difficult access to cash and increased debt levels. Main season harvests will begin in August or September, depending on the area.

    • Bush meat: In rural areas, households will continue to hunt and consume bush meat at low levels. However, bans on the sale of bush meat will reduce household incomes for those who typically sell these products, particularly in worst affected areas. In addition, demand for substitute products, such as livestock, poultry, and fish, will increase, leading to higher prices and positive incomes for households selling these products.

    Projected Outcomes

    Average cassava availability, a timid resumption of income-generating activities, remaining household food stocks, and normal market supplies of imported rice will enable most poor households in Boké Prefecture of Guinea, as well as south east and western Liberia, to meet essential food and non-food needs without engaging in atypical, negative coping strategies through the remainder of the consumption year. As a result, poor households in these areas are expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity through at least September 2015. In southern Liberia, harvests will start in July/August and will help reduce food insecurity.

    For certain poor households in areas worst-affected by the Ebola outbreak during the 2014/15 harvest period, food stocks depleted one to two months earlier than normal due to below-average crop production, causing them to become market dependent earlier in the year. Similarly, household incomes have been below average due to an unfavorable economic environment, low purchasing power, and disruptions to markets and cross-border trade. This is resulting in food access difficulties for poor households and has caused households to reduce their nonfood expenditures to prioritize their own consumption. Consequently, poor and very poor households in many areas will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity through at least September 2015. In addition, households in areas where disruptions to agricultural production and market activities have been most severe, such as Kailahun, Kenema, Kono and Tonkolili districts of Sierra Leone, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Figures Figure 1. Projected food security outcomes, April to June 2015

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Projected food security outcomes, April to June 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Projected food security outcomes, July to September 2015

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Projected food security outcomes, July to September 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Status of rice cultivation activities in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as reported by traders at the beginning of April

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. Status of rice cultivation activities in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as reported by traders at the beginning of April 2015

    Source: FEWS NET SMS-based trader surveys

    Figure 4. Current agricultural labor opportunities compared to normal, as reported by traders at the beginning of April 2015

    Figure 4

    Figure 4. Current agricultural labor opportunities compared to normal, as reported by traders at the beginning of April 2015

    Source: FEWS NET SMS-based trader surveys

    Figure 5. Status of daily and weekly markets, as reported by traders at the beginning of April 2015

    Figure 5

    Figure 5. Status of daily and weekly markets, as reported by traders at the beginning of April 2015

    Source: FEWS NET SMS-based trader surveys

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 6

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Occasionally, FEWS NET will publish a Special Report that serves to provide an in-depth analysis of food security issues of particular concern that are not covered in FEWS NET’s regular monthly reporting. These reports may focus on a specific factor driving food security outcomes anywhere in the world during a specified period of time. For example, in 2019, FEWS NET produced a Special Report on widespread flooding in East Africa and its associated impacts on regional food security.

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