Special Report

Food insecure population increases as household stocks deplete and poor incomes limit market purchases

March 31, 2015

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
Concentration of displaced people – hover over maps to view food security phase classifications for camps in Nigeria.
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

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

  • Although off-season cropping and the start of land preparation activities are providing many rural households with a certain level of food and income in March 2015, household incomes from most typical sources remain below average due to the impacts of the economic downturn on household livelihoods. Weak purchasing power is expected to be the key driver of acute food insecurity across the region between March and June 2015.

  • Anti-Ebola measures in Sierra Leone, such as curfews, market closures, are resulting in greater disruptions to livelihoods and market functioning in Sierra Leone compared to Guinea and Liberia. In worst-affected areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected for poor and very poor households by June 2015. In other areas of Sierra Leone, along with worst-affected zones of Guinea and Liberia, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels of food insecurity are expected.

  • A Household Economy Approach (HEA) analysis conducted for Grand Gedeh County in Liberia indicates that while total annual incomes are down for all wealth groups compared to the reference year (2009/10), they should still be sufficient to enable households to cover their food needs and protect their livelihoods. However, as households are not expected to be able to fully smooth their consumption across the entire year, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are still expected for very poor households during this county’s lean season (April to July 2015).

Current Situation

Ebola cases

According to the World Health Organization’s March 25th situation report, there has been a total of 343 new confirmed cases of Ebola over the past 21 days. The majority of these new cases have been observed in Guinea (58 percent), followed by Sierra Leone (42 percent), and Liberia (less than 1 percent, or one new case). Areas with the highest levels of transmission at this time include Conakry and the prefectures of Coyah and Forecariah in Guinea, and Freetown and the districts of Bombali, Kambia, Moyamba, Port Loko, and Western Rural in Sierra Leone.

In addition, in late March 2015, the government of Sierra Leone instituted a 3-day lockdown as part of its anti-Ebola measures. This lockdown likely disrupted the local economy and led to below-average household incomes during the three days but will have very limited longer-term implications for food security.

Agricultural activities

Harvesting activities for palm oil and off-season vegetables (ex. tomatoes, carrots, cabbage and lettuce) are ongoing, as well as land preparation activities for rice, cassava, maize, groundnuts and cowpeas. These activities are occurring at normal to slightly below-normal levels because of labor shortages caused by the ban on group farming in Sierra Leone and the fact that some households left their communities during  the EVD outbreak and have not yet returned home (particularly in the forest area of Guinea). However, these agricultural activities are still contributing to local food availability at the household and market levels and are improving the diversity of household diets. They are also enabling smallholder farmers to earn seasonal incomes which help them maintain their food access through market purchases.

Household incomes

According to FEWS NET’s key informants in the three Ebola-affected countries, activities such as agricultural and mining labor, and the sale of palm oil and charcoal are providing households with seasonal incomes and are helping to maintain their food access in March. However, income from other sources, such as crop and forest product sales, petty trade, and handicrafts still remain below average due to reduced market activities and low purchasing power. For example, in Sierra Leone, there are still restrictions in place limiting people’s activities in public places (ex. cinemas, bars, and sports ground), as well as the continued closure of markets at 6pm daily and no sales on Sunday. In addition, incomes from hunting/trapping have declined significantly compare to normal levels due to the ban on bush meat sales. However, incomes from livestock and fish sales are relatively average due to stable demand and above-average prices as many households increase their consumption of these products as substitutes for bush meat.

Market functioning

Daily and weekly markets are opened and functional in Guinea and Liberia, although some traders are still afraid of frequenting surplus-producing areas that were worst-affected by Ebola, such as Lofa, Nimba, Macenta, and Nzérékoré. In Sierra Leone, there are still no sales on Sundays and all daily markets and shops close at 6pm. In addition, weekly markets remain closed with no cross border flows even though borders are officially open. In surplus, cereal producing areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone, households are keeping their crop production for their own consumption and seed requirements and as a result, there has been a decline in the supply of local rice and maize on some markets. However, despite prioritizing own household food stocks over crop sales, poor households’ food stocks in some areas are depleting earlier than normal this year, causing them to becoming increasingly dependent on markets to cover food needs. On the other hand, due to average levels of local products and regular imports from international markets, markets in Guinea are currently well-stocked with rice, tubers, and market gardening crops. Although demand has been relatively stable compare to previous months, it still remains below average at some local markets due to the combined effects of low household purchasing power, limited cross border flows and reduced external demand from traders due to fears of contracting Ebola.

Trade flows

Internal trade flows have stabilized compare to previous months due to the absence of official restrictions on population movements. However due to Ebola-related fears and a general economic slowdown that has reduced household purchasing power, these flows still remained below average. Concerning cross border trade, activities have resumed in some places but flows remain at below-average levels.

Food prices

In Guinea, March prices for local cereals (rice, maize) were generally stable or in decline compared to February levels due to regular imports from the international market and good stock levels of local commodities on markets. These stable prices will help facilitate household food access for the poor and market dependent households. However, yam prices have increased from February to March by 87 percent in Kankan due to a seasonal decline in supplies from producing areas and high demand from Conakry. Compared to last year at the same period, prices are generally down with the largest price declines observed in surplus producing areas, such as for local rice in Nzérékoré (-22 percent), Irish potatoes in Labé (-23 percent), rubber in Nzérékoré (-47 percent) and yams in Kankan (-12 percent). These declines can be explained by trade flow difficulties from these areas to usual destinations and below-average demand from industries (ex. mining companies) because of the Ebola outbreak. Below-average prices for agricultural products will result in lower than usual incomes for affected agricultural households.

In Sierra Leone, prices of staple foods were relatively stable between January and February 2015 with some declines of up to 17 percent in Kono for both local and imported rice due to relatively stable demand and regular imports, and 37 percent for cassava in Bonthe due to high stock levels in relation with some difficulties exporting the product outside the area. However, some price increases of more than 35 percent were observed for cassava in Kailahun and Kono due to a high demand for the product. Compared to last year at the same period, some production areas recorded price declines while urban and consumption markets recorded price increases. For example, local rice prices in Freetown increased by about 20 percent due to high transportation costs and limited internal trade flows. Consequently, market dependent households are having some difficulties affording food on these consumption markets compare to last year while agricultural households in production areas are seeing their incomes decline to below-average levels.

In Liberia, prices remained stable, in general, between December 2014 and January 2015 with some declines of up to 25 percent for local rice in Pleebo due to the recent harvest. Compared to January 2014, prices increased by up to 30 percent in Tubmanburg, Pleebo and Gbarnga for imported rice, Monrovia for local rice and Buchanan for cassava. This is due to the residual effects of a deterioration in the Liberian dollar against the US dollar last year and localized transportation difficulties resulting from the Ebola outbreak. Concerning palm oil, a key cash crop for many households, prices remain well below January 2014 levels on all markets in production areas because of atypically low demand, particularly from foreign buyers from neighboring countries. This is resulting in below-average incomes for households selling this product.

Coping strategies

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been remotely collecting reduced coping strategies index (rCSI) data through its cell phone-based mVAM program in the three Ebola-affected countries. According to its most recent reports on Liberia and Sierra Leone, the rCSI in February was generally stable or in decline compared to January 2015 levels in most areas. In Liberia, the rCSI was highest in the counties of Lofa, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu and lowest in Grand Bassa and Montserrado. Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, the highest rCSI was observed in the Northern Province, Kambia, and Port Loko while the lowest was observed in Kenema. In both Sierra Leone and Liberia, WFP reports that while the rCSI was generally in decline, amongst very poor households (those who reported not having a toilet), the rCSI had increased between January and February 2015.

Updated Assumptions

The current situation has not affected most of the assumptions used by FEWS NET in establishing the most likely food security scenario for December 2014 through June 2015. However, the following assumptions have been updated:

  • 2015 rainfall: Forecasts from major meteorological centers (CPC, PRESAO) are indicating an increased probability of below-average rainfall along coastal areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone during the upcoming agricultural season. However, given the relatively large amounts of rain that normally falls over these areas, a decline in rainfall levels is not expected to have a major impact on the start of agricultural activities or on related labor opportunities.
  • Household incomes: Despite the slow resumption of many economic activities in certain Ebola-affected areas of Guinea and Liberia, household incomes will continue to be below average between March and June because of limited trade flows, a general economic slowdown, and weak household purchasing power. In Sierra Leone, Ebola-related disruptions to typical income generating activities will be slightly more severe compared to the other two countries as a result of continued official restrictions (ex. curfews, weekly market closures).

Projected Outcomes

Most households in Kankan, Labé and Boké regions of Guinea, as well as south east and western Liberia, are able to meet basic food and nonfood needs without unsustainable coping strategies through a combination of their own crop production and cash income from typical livelihoods activities. As a result, at least 80 percent of the population in these zone are currently facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

In some areas that were worst-affected by the Ebola outbreak during the 2014/15 cropping season, household food stocks depleted slightly earlier than normal due to below-average crop production, causing households to be market dependent for a longer period that usual. Meanwhile, for other households who held onto their rice stocks in order to prioritize their own consumption over sales, stocks are also beginning to deplete and households are becoming increasing dependent on a combination of market purchases and cassava consumption to meet food needs at this time.

In addition, in much of the region, household incomes are below average, causing food access through market purchase to be constrained, even though prices for many commodities have been stable or, in some cases, lower than last year’s levels. In these areas, which includes all of Sierra Leone, as well as worst-affected areas of Guinea and Liberia, households are reducing their nonfood expenditures to prioritize their own consumption and are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity or higher. The worst-affected zones are currently Bombali and Port Loko in Sierra Leone, where poor households are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

Looking forward into the April to June period, additional households are expected to deteriorate into Stressed (IPC Phase 2), or in the case of Kailahun, Kenema, Kono and Tonkolili districts of Sierra Leone, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity as poor households will have been market dependent for an extended period of time and will begin to deplete their already below-average cash incomes. As a result, they will face increasing difficulties accessing food.

HOUSEHOLD ECONOMY APPROACH (HEA) ANALYSIS FOR GRAND GEDEH, LIBERIA

The Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis is an Excel-based model that can be used to project possible impacts of a shock on household food and income sources in a given consumption year compared to a reference year. This analysis requires baseline livelihoods information, which is available for the South-East Rice and Cassava Zone (LZ03) in parts of Grand Gedeh Country, Liberia for the 2009-10 consumption year[1] (Figure 5). FEWS NET used this baseline to conduct an outcome analysis for the current consumption year (August 2014 to July 2015) in order to better understand the possible food security implications of the economic slowdown and market disruptions on households in a rural livelihood zone that did not experience a large number of Ebola cases during the outbreak.    

Background Information about the livelihood zone

During the 2009-10 reference year, the main sources of household income in the South-East Rice and Cassava Zone were crop sales, agricultural and non-agricultural labor work, and the sales of wild foods. During that year, the majority of income for very poor households came from the sale of wild food products, more precisely bush meat, fish, palm nuts/oil, and bitterroot. While very poor and poor households in this zone grow rice, this production is generally for their own consumption and was not sold by households of this wealth group during the reference year. Instead, the main crops sold by this population group included maize, plantains, bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, and market gardening crops. Roads conditions are relatively poor in this zone so most rural households sold their agricultural products to local traders who then transport the goods to regional markets, such as Zwedru, Toe Town, and Zleh Town.

The main food sources for very poor and poor households during the reference year were own crop production (56 – 62 percent), market purchases (18 – 19 percent), in-kind labor payments (7 – 8 percent), school feeding programs (5 – 8 percent), and wild foods (6-7 percent).  Rice is the preferred staple food with locally produced rice consumed during the months following the main harvest (August to October). Once their food stocks deplete, household then rely increasingly on imported rice purchased at local markets or their own cassava production. Harvesting activities for cassava peak during the lean season, which runs from May to July.

During difficult years, poor households reported that their main coping strategies were increasing labor work, hunting, wild food collection, sales of raffia palm leaves (papo), and switching consumption from more expensive rice to cassava and wild foods. Poor households also reported prioritizing food expenditures over non-food expenditures during difficult years.

Assumptions

According to the World Health Organization, Grand Gedeh has had a total of 3 confirmed cases of Ebola as of March 25, which is relatively low compared to most other counties in Liberia. FEWS NET’s outcome analysis for this livelihood zone is constructed based on a scenario that there will be no additional Ebola cases in Grand Gedeh, and that market functioning and livelihoods will slowly normalize between March and the end of the lean season in July. Under this scenario, FEWS NET made the following assumptions relating to household livelihoods in the South-East Rice and Cassava Zone:

  • 2014/15 harvests were near average. Due to favorable rainfall conditions, crops developed relatively normally. In addition, the FAO/WFP/Governments/Partners rapid assessment conducted in late September and early October 2014 found that upland rice harvesting activities were mostly completed before Ebola-related fears impacted the zone. Therefore, unlike other areas of Liberia, harvesting teams were relatively unaffected. Similarly, according to WFP/FAO crop estimates produced in December 2014, rice harvests were down 3 percent compared to 2012/13 levels. FEWS NET, therefore, assumed that the 2009/10 and 2012/13 agricultural seasons were comparable years and assumed that rice and maize production declined slightly to 97 percent of the reference year. Meanwhile, banana and cassava production levels were assumed to be the same as the reference year.
  • The total quantities of fish, bush meat, and snails sold on local markets will be 30 percent of normal. This assumption is driven primarily by the ban on bush meat sales, which will cause this income source to decline to almost zero. However, quantities of fish and snails sold on local markets will be relatively average.
  • Prices of key staple commodities will be above 2009/10 levels. More specifically, prices will be up 40 percent compared to the reference year for imported rice, 32 percent for local rice, and 12 percent for cassava at the main market in Zwedru during the key periods when these commodities are either sold for income or purchased by local households for consumption. These price assumptions are based on historical price data, as well as integrated price projections for the remainder of the consumption year that included both an analysis of historical trends and key market drivers this year.
  • Prices for bush meat and fish will be up 50 percent compared to 2009/10 levels. This assumption is based on the results of a recent FEWS NET/WFP/FAO/Government market assessment conducted in several other areas of Liberia, not including Grand Gedeh. This assessment found that fish prices had generally increased significantly compared to last year’s levels and in some cases, had doubled. While bush meat was rare on local markets, the one bush meat vendor interviewed by the assessment team also reported that bush meat prices had increased 50 percent. FEWS NET, therefore, is extrapolating these results to Grand Gedeh County and assumed similar price trends for this zone.
  • Prices for other wild foods, more specifically palm nuts, palm oil, and bitterroot, will be up 70 percent compared to the reference year. This assumption is based on historical trends, as well as price projections for palm oil, sold at the Zwedru market.  
  • Prices for all other commodities will be up 32 percent compared to 2009/10 levels due to inflation. This increase was applied to wages, as well as prices for all other commodities sold or purchased.
  • Daily wages, charcoal sales, handicraft sales, petty trade, and transport will be down to 80 percent of the reference year due to a general economic slowdown and poor household purchasing power.
  • Agricultural cash and in-kind labor incomes will be down 5 percent compared to the reference year due to a slight reduction in labor activities during the 2014 harvesting period due to fears about congregating in groups. This assumption is based on the findings of FAO/WFP/Governments/Partners rapid assessment conducted in late September and early October indicating that most harvesting activities were almost completed at the point when Ebola-related fears affected the zone. Therefore, the impacts on labor work will be relatively limited. Demand for labor for more recent activities will also be slightly reduced due to below-average household incomes for middle and better off households in the community who typically hire labor.
  • Food from school feeding programs will be 50 percent of the reference year due to the closure of local schools during the first half of the consumption year.
  • Households will engage in a variety of coping strategies, including expanding their consumption of wild food products (other than bush meat), seeking additional labor work, reduce non-food expenditures, and prioritizing own consumption over crop sales.  
Most Likely Outcomes

The results of the outcome analysis for the South-East Rice and Cassava Zone of Grand Gedeh County indicated that Ebola-related disruptions to household livelihoods could cause a decline in total annual household income (food plus cash) as a percentage of minimal food needs for households across all wealth groups (Figures 6 to 9). The very poor (43 percent of households) and poor (26 percent of households), for example, would likely experience a decline in cash incomes from the sale of crops and wild foods (ex. bush meat) and a decline in food from school feeding programs. However, an increase in the consumption of own crop production (as households prioritize their own consumption) along with a slight increase in households seeking labor work, would enable both wealth groups to sufficiently cover minimal annual food needs and expenditures to protect their livelihoods. 

However, it should be noted that certain food and income sources are only available at specific periods of the year and households are not expected to be able to completely smooth their consumption across the entire consumption year. This, along with the fact that annual incomes for very poor households are only projected to be slightly above the livelihoods protection threshold, suggests that it is possible that certain households may not be able to afford essential expenditures to protect their livelihoods (i.e. livelihoods protection deficit) during the peak of the lean season (May to July). During this time period, very poor households could face food insecurity outcomes equivalent to Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


[1] Baseline information was collected and made available by FEG and Oxfam.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
Learn more About Us.

Link to United States Agency for International Development (USAID)Link to the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) FEWS NET Data PortalLink to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Link to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Earth ObservatoryLink to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service, Climage Prediction CenterLink to the Climate Hazards Center - UC Santa BarbaraLink to KimetricaLink to Chemonics