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Main harvests and imports maintain seasonally normal food access and availability

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Liberia
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Main harvests and imports maintain seasonally normal food access and availability

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Main harvests of local rice and cassava since August in the south-eastern region are becoming widespread across the country in October. Rice harvest levels are expected to be generally average, although in some areas they will be slightly below average due to localized protracted dryness during planting or flooding of lowland rice during the rainy season in other areas.

    • Food availability will be maintained through harvest stocks, including sufficient production of cassava products (gari, fufu), local vegetables, and fish, as well as typical imports of food commodities. Most households will be able to maintain seasonally normal food access and consumption patterns between October 2016 and May 2017, in line with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    • Monrovia’s peri-urban livelihood activities (home-gardening, daily labor employment and petty trading) are below seasonal levels as the economic downturn has reduced job opportunities, access to credit, and land. Additionally, excessive rains from July to September have limited gardending and vending opportunities. Affected households will still be able to meet minimum food needs, though small pockets the population (less than 20 percent) will face difficulties meeting non-food requirements and will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity in October 2016 through January 2017.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    Seasonal progress

    Harvests of local rice, cassava and various kinds of local vegetables are currently providing food and creating daily labor opportunities for rural households, especially the poor. Harvesting of upland rice  and cassava began in August in the south-eastern region and is expected to be average in most areas.  Some below average upland rice production is expected due to localized seed and crop failures following  late planting due to dryness in April & May in the western and south-central regions, as well as localized flooding of lowlands in July and August in the north-central and south-eastern regions. Normal production of cassava, others tubers and vegetables are expected.  To date and for the remainder of 2016, rainfall totals are projected to be average to above average.

    Economic recovery

    The economic recovery process is slowly ongoing this year after export revenues declined by 37 percent from 2014 to 2015 and have remained below the five year average. This was mostly driven by falling rubber and iron ore international prices as well as a decline in local output of products such as cement and beverages. Declining production and exports are affecting government revenue generation capacities (Central Bank of Liberia, CBL, June 2016). Unemployment in these sectors and low purchasing power are also affecting food access for the poor.

    Overall commercial activities including normal purchasing of goods and services such as transport, entertainment, leasing and renting homes have also slowed down, especially since the withdrawal of hundreds of United Nation Mission (UNMIL) troops from Liberia in June. Borrowers from commercial banks, including indebted businesses, have been threatened with stringent penatlities by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and CBL following a listing of delinquent debtors in the local dailies in October. These trends are affecting microfinance and lending facilities for small businesses. Addtionally, devaluation has continued declining from 91 Liberia Dollar (L$) in the beginning of this year to 98/99 L$ in October against the USD.  

    Imports (particularly petroleum and rice) have dropped due to high stock levels in Monrovia (CBL, June 2016) after supplies imported early in the year have built up following low demand and distribution. Bad road conditions are further frustrating market access at atypical levels particularly for transport and distribution in the Southeastern Region (Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru, Maryland and Sinoe counties) and Lofa County, where heavy downpours have worsened slow movement of people and goods since July. Coupled with the lean season and continued depreciation of the local currency, these problems have caused increasing fuel and imported rice prices, with sharp increases in remote areas like the Southeastern Region and Lofa County (Figure 1).

    Livelihood activities

    Rubber and iron ore sectors provide substantial employment for many of Liberia’s unskilled workers, particularly in Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, and far eastern Bong counties, however since the beginning of 2015, local operations and export revenues have been shrinking persistently because of atypically low prices on international markets. Many small and medium plantations have been downsizing and a major plantation, Firestone layoff hundreds of workers in July 2016. Some former rubber tappers and casual mine workers are gardening, producing charcoal, petty trading, borrowing food and relying on remitences to cope.  Additionally, a the IMF in September 2016 reports that businesses are down, use of commercial services and employment opportunities have reduced because local rubber and iron ore operations and exports revenues keep declining. International prices of rubber and iron ore are declining again following slight improvement in June 2016.

    Humanitarian Assistance

    A number of different programs supported by development partners and donors including AfDB, EU, IFAD, JICA, SIDA, USAID and World Bank are targeting individuals, communities and organizations to recover from impacts of the EVD crisis and improve infrastructure, health, education, food security, agricultural production, nutrition and social safety nets. These include the Social Cash Transfer Program of Ministry Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) targeting 10,000 extremely poor households in Grand Kru, River Gee, Bomi and Maryland counties, and WFP’s school feeding program which targets about 300,000 people in nine counties (Nimba, Maryland, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Gbarpolu, Maryland, Sinoe, River Gee and Grand Kru).   WFP continues to provide targeted food rations to estimated 15,000 Ivorian refugee population in camps located in Nimba, Maryland and Grand Gedeh Counties. The refugee food distribution is expected to continue through the end of the year, says the Liberia Refugees Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC).


    The most likely scenario for the October 2016 to May 2017 period is based on the following national level assumptions:

    Rainfall: Total rainfall will be average to above-average for the remainder of the rainy season and dry season will start in November as usual. Current wet conditions since July through October (Figure 2), will ease in the coming weeks and seasonal dryness will continue throughout the scenario period from October to May 2017.

    Agricultural harvests: Rice harvest this year will be average to below-average and less than the estimated 296,000 MT produced last year, mostly due to pre-harvest losses especially pest destruction of crops. Meanwhile, surplus cassava, vegetables and others tuber production is expected, particularly from February to May as off-season harvests are expected to be above-average. More peri-urban households are expected to engage in production during November to May, especially poor women and youths whose incomes depend on gardening and vegetable sales.

    Prices: Local vegetable and cassava supplies will be on the market during the main harvests between September and February 2017 at normal levels. Increased supplies in the second part of the scenario period may facilitate a slight drop in prices. Imported rice demand and prices are expected to ease somewhat from October to January as harvests of local rice contribute to decreased demand for imported varieties.  Imported prices, however, are expected to remain at above both the one and five year average due to inflation related to the depreciation of the Liberian dollar. 

    Depreciation: Value of the Liberian dollar is expected to depreciate further due to persistent under performance of key sectors such as rubber, iron ore and agriculture. The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) reports that, measures are being taken to ease demand and increase circulation of the local currency which may help to stabilize the currency, but even if those efforts are successful, recovery is still not expected in the scenario period.

    Inflation: Commodity price increases, especially imported foods, are expected to continue, although at slightly reduced rates during the scenario period as the value of the Liberian dollar remains low.  The Consumer Price Index data produced by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), shows inflation rates in Monrovia are below levels observed last year, but further decline of the Liberian Dollar may trigger an increase in inflation causing local prices of food and non-food commodities to rise sharply again.

    Market access: Market access and trade flows are likely to seasonally improve as road conditions normalize during the dry season, which starts in November. Local supply of imports are also expected to normalize as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) monitor’s rice and fuel imports to ensure adequate supply.  A further decline in value of the local currency, however, could keep market access at below-average levels if elevated prices continue to affect household purchasing power during the scenario period.

    Purchasing power: Currently casual daily labor wages are stable and at average levels while imported commodities, especially rice, are at above-average levels. Commodity prices will decline with the main season harvests across the country, improving purchasing power for commodities. Inflation rates, however, will continue to affect prices and purchasing power throughout the scenario period.

    Iron ore and rubber (export earnings, volume of trade, and price): Despite forecasts that international demand and prices will improve, local exports and revenues of both commodities are expected to remain at current low levels or increase only slightly. Expected trends of local exports and investment in both sectors are expected as operators continue to downsize and workers continue to be laid off.

    Local staple food availability and prices: The main season rice harvests (November/ December) as well as a regular supply of imported rice will allow food stocks to be maintained at normal levels in markets across the country. In Monrovia’s peri rban areas, prices of imported rice will remain slightly up while demand for cassava products such as fufu and gari will drop to normal levels as harvests of local rice (October- Janaury) and people switch to rice consumption. Favorable international prices and regular rice imports will maintain seasonal normal supply levels in Monrovia in October 2016 to May 2017. Imports are expected to increase as requirements have increased by 14 percent from 2015 to 2016 (FAO, June 2016), and below-average local rice harvests.

    Transport availability and costs: High transportation costs are expected to normalize to seasonal levels by February, when roads conditions in rural areas improve.  Roads have been washed out by rains this season beyond typical levels seen.  Although official fuel prices (L$285 or USD2.96 pump price per gallon gasoline) have been in line with low international prices and stable since last year, transportation costs are still locally high due to the cost of moving products on these connecting roads.

    Agricultural labor demand/supply: The main season harvests between October and January and as well as the beginning of the next cropping cycle are expected to increase demand for agricultural workers. Seasonally normal levels of labor wages are expected to be maintained throughout the scenario period. The depreciation of the Liberia Dollar, however, is putting some upward pressure on wages which could negatively impact demand of agricultural labor as purchasing power for labor for some poor farmer’s declines.

    Construction labor demand/supply: Construction work for roads and buildings are expected to maintain casual labor employment and wages at seasonally normal to slightly below-average levels through the scenario period. A reduction in the availability of contracts from government and private sector, including concession companies, due to drops in revenues and infrastructure investments have impacted demand for casual workers.

    Remittance flows: Remittances flow will increase between November and May, approaching Christmas, New Year and Valentine celebrations as household members send back money to cover food and non-food expenditures.

    Nutrition: Household levels food consumption and dietary intakes will improve through main harvests, off season crops, imports and fishing season between November to July, and acute malnutrition rates will remain within WHO acceptable threshold through the scenario period.

    Civil insecurity: Stability will be maintained during rallies leading up to the October 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    All areas of Liberia will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity between October 2016 and May 2017 due to normal incomes and food sources. Widespread harvests of local staples foods including cassava and rice across the country from August to January, normal stocks of imported rice in Monrovia as well as harvests of local vegetables (corn, eggplant, pepper, bitter ball, cabbage, greens) from November to May will enable to access food and maintain normal consumption patterns during the outlook period, October 2016 to May 2017.

    However, some households, making up less then 20 percent of the population, may be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes from October 2016 to January 2017. In peri-urban Monrovia, households depend heavily on markets for imported rice and incomes and production from gardens do not provide sufficient food access for the poor who are often landless. Daily labor contracts because of the economic downturn have declined and petty trade or street vending have also been affected by depeciation of the local currency as well as atypical rains during the lean season which caused a decline in trade. Some poor households’ food access and consumption are negatively impacted in these areas and pockets of them will face difficulties meeting non-food requirements.


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes for October 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes for October 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1.  Imported rice price in August (in LD$)

    Figure 3

    Figure 1.

    Source: WFP/VAM

    Figure 2. Rainfall Estimate October Dekad 2, 2016

    Figure 4

    Figure 2.

    Source: NOAA

    Figure 3. Staple prices: Red Light Market in August

    Figure 5

    Figure 3.

    Source: WFP/VAM

    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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