It is understandable that our survival instinct generally compel us to react, often irrationally, when confronted with possible existential threat. However, it has been proven true that that panic reaction occasionally lead to unintended consequences which might further complicate the initial situation that one was aiming to militate against.

Case in point, the panic reactions of various African governments to restrict the free movement of people and commodities from and to Ebola affected countries may cause an unintended inflationary price hikes in the cost of such staple foods items as rice, cassava and maize in countries where there are no know outbreaks of the Ebola Virus Disease, as restricted, or outright ban no, cross border trades puts supply pressure on staple food commodities.

This scenario is already playing out in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea—the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic. It now evident the hastily implemented restrictions placed on the movement of people, which are aimed at containing the spread of the Ebola scourge, is also preventing farmers from securing the necessary labor force needed to harvest their crops at this crucial harvest season. This would undoubtedly negatively affect crop harvest—and the labor intensive maize and rice harvests are most at risk.

ebolaEqually, the internal migration restrictions imposed by governments within these three countries are impeding the ability of farmers and traders getting their food produce to markets where their commodities are most in demand. This is putting financial strains on the livelihood of both farmers and trader.

Consequently, food prices have begun to spike as food shortages are beginning to occur, and panic buying setting in, in the hard-hit Ebola epidemic zones. So now, rather than focus primarily on safe-guarding their loved ones from the dreaded Ebola pandemic, many people are now facing a fresh crisis of feeding their families. What is occurring in the three Ebola disease stricken regions can quickly replicate in other West African countries as the region’s food supply begins to whittle.

On Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014, the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) raised a special alarm that the Ebola outbreak is putting food harvests in West Africa at serious risk—warning that the problem would intensify in the coming months. The FAO also pointed out that, the price of Cassava at a market in the Liberian capital Monrovia rose One hundred fifty (150) percent in the first weeks of August, 2014.

The head of an FAO unit in Dakar, Senegal which is coordinating the agency’s response to the food crisis, Vincent Martin, said in a statement that, “Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the most affected areas were spending up to eighty (80) percent of their incomes on food. Now these latest price hikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

West African governments need to think through their responses to the Ebola epidemic, and avoid isolationist policy initiatives. It is vitally important for West African States to coordinate their responses to the Ebola pandemic, so as to prevent an unintended consequence that would have a far-reaching negative effect on the economies of the regional countries. A harmonized regional response to containing this health crisis will prove the best chance of preventing an equally catastrophic food crisis.

By Stanley Ukeni

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