Ebola, Epidemics, and Food Security

The recent outbreak of Ebola has upended food-producing regions in West Africa. In the hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, hundreds of farmers are among the thousands who have died; food prices have risen dramatically; many families are reduced to one meal per day; and government-imposed quarantines and restrictions on movements have disrupted markets and led to food scarcity. For these countries that were already facing food security challenges prior to the emergence of Ebola, the situation has become even more urgent.

IFPRI has done extensive research on infectious diseases and their impact on food security, focusing on two diseases in recent years: HIV/AIDS and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)—see links below. Food prices rise in the face of epidemics and those high prices further threaten food and nutrition security, particularly in vulnerable communities. The resulting food and economic crises make it more difficult—and more important—to create sustainable integrated responses to disease and hunger.

Those responses must be comprehensive, focusing on broad-based approaches to prevention, treatment, and care as well as on interventions to improve nutritional status and food security. There must be a platform for regular discussions—in the media and among the public—at national and regional levels. This would raise awareness and sustain interest and action on the connection between disease and hunger. In addition, NGOs, UN agencies, and research bodies like IFPRI can assume leading roles to ensure that governments and donors are responsive to food crises.

In the case of Ebola, strategic food reserves and strong social safety nets could help those most affected by the epidemic. Safeguards must be built in for the prevention of the disease and transboundary control. There should also be greater investment to build global health security via research and development. Through these and other efforts, we can work to ensure that a food crisis does not last beyond the life cycle of the disease.