The latest report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has ranked Liberia among 45 countries in the world that face the challenge of food security due to a hike in food prices and macroeconomic challenges confronting the nation and its people.
The FAO is a specialized agency of the UN that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Its goal is to achieve food security for all and ensure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. With 195 members in 194 countries and the European Union-FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.
In its latest report released for the month of July 2023 under the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS), FAO named Liberia as one of the 33 African countries, among the 45 in the world that needs external assistance for food.
The report revealed that over 531,000 people are projected to be acutely food insecure during the June to August 2023 lean season period, including approximately 21,500 people in CH Phase 4 (Emergency). It added that acute food insecurity is associated with high food prices due to high international commodity prices and elevated transport costs.
The report disclosed that as of May 2023, Liberia was hosting about 1,800 refugees. The FAO blamed the food insecurity in Liberia on high food prices and the macroeconomic downturn in the country.
Liberia is the only country among the 33 African countries listed that is experiencing food insecurity though the nation continues to enjoy the promotion of democracy, peace, and stability. Other African countries listed by the FAO to be in dire need of food assistance include: The Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
The rest are Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia.
The FAO also listed 12 countries from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Europe, and Oceania as nations that are experiencing an “exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production or supplies, widespread lack of access to food, severe localized food insecurity.” They include Syrian Arab Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Venezuela, Haiti, and Ukraine.
With the exception of Liberia, the FAO attributed food insecurity in these nations to conflicts, unfavorable weather, droughts, civil insecurity, and macroeconomic challenges, which have increased the population’s vulnerability to food insecurity, floods, an influx of refugees, political instability, slow economic recovery, displacements, shortfalls in localized staple food production, economic constraints, and crisis, among others.
“Countries in crisis requiring external assistance for food are expected to lack the resources to deal with reported critical problems of food insecurity. The list covers crises related to lack of food availability, widespread lack of access to food, or severe but localized problems. GIEWS updates this list four times a year,” the FAO stated.
Multiple factors continue to contribute to the high rate of food insecurity in Liberia. The high rate of unemployment and the increase in the prices of basic commodities, including Liberia’s staple food rice, are imposing hardship on ordinary Liberians, many of whom are living in abject poverty. They are constrained to go to bed on an empty stomach, troop to the homes of public officials, including their Representatives and Senators, as well as other financially potent individuals in their respective communities, to beg for handouts just to survive for the day.
Since the inception of the George Weah-led government, the lack of foreign direct investments in Liberia is also negatively contributing to the hike in the unemployment rate in the country, making citizens unable to work to earn money to provide food and other basic necessities for them and their respective family members and others. Reported requests for kickbacks from foreign investors by some public officials close to the President, reckless disregard for upholding the rule of law, and a growing wave of insecurity continue to serve as contributing factors preventing foreign investments in Liberia.
The harsh economic constraints are another contributing factor, making it almost impossible for many citizens, especially young people, to be provided job opportunities in the private sector. The deep slashing of civil servants’ salaries during the government’s unpopular “harmonization scheme” has prevented or deprived civil servants and others of the opportunity to provide for others and engage in Small and Medium businesses to help improve the country’s economy. The move ensures that monthly earnings for many civil servants are normally occasioned and embraced by “from the hand-to-mouth syndrome” or used to pay huge debts prior to the end of the month.
On the other hand, authorities of the Ministry of Agriculture, who have oversight over the country’s agriculture sector and food security programs, have been entangled with claims and counter-claims of alleged squandering of funds intended to improve the sector and put money in the pockets of struggling Liberian farmers. Deplorable road conditions and high transportation fares make it difficult for farmers to transport their produce from their farms to the markets.
Food insecurity is gradually contributing to the increase in the crime rate in Liberia. Some citizens are engaged in unwholesome practices, including armed robbery, hijacking, and the sale of dangerous and illicit substances, among others.
Many believe that the GIEWS report of the FAO should serve as a wake-up call for the Liberian government to heavily invest in the agriculture sector, promote the tenets of democracy, and provide an enabling environment to attract foreign-direct investments in the country.
GIEWS continuously monitors food supply and demand and other key indicators for assessing the overall food security situation in all countries of the world. It issues regular analytical and objective reports on prevailing conditions and provides early warnings of impending food crises at the country or regional level. At the request of national authorities, GIEWS supports countries in gathering evidence for policy decisions or planning by development partners through its Crop and Food Security Assessment Missions (CFSAMs), fielded jointly with WFP. In the country-level application of tools for earth observation and price monitoring, GIEWS also strengthens national capacities in managing food security-related information.