The Ebola epidemic of Africa has so far caused little concern in terms of imported produce; but as the virus spreads globally, the international spotlight is turned to African goods transported worldwide. The outbreak is concentrated in three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where 4,500 people have contracted and died from the disease.
Agriculture is a massive business in Africa, accounting for 50% of the continent’s economic activity. The impact of Ebola on imported goods such as rice and maize has so far been minimal, but concern is growing over the cocoa producing regions Ghana and Ivory Coast. If the crisis escalates further – which it is expected to – added pressure will be put on the cocoa industry, which is already struggling to meet growing demand.
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with an annual output of 1.6 million tonnes. The country has so far been unaffected by the Ebola virus, however there has been outbreaks dangerously close to its borders. Elsewhere in affected West African countries, it has been reported that farmers are abandoning fields and crops in panic and fear of the disease. In Sierra Leone up to 40% of farms have been abandoned, raising fears that production output will be impacted. If this was to be replicated in cocoa growing areas such as Ivory Coast, cocoa supply would be majorly affected worldwide.
The UN has issued a warning that the region could face a food crisis as a result of Ebola, as the deserting of land is already having negative consequences for West Africans. Most of the produce sold in markets is grown locally, and harvest time is approaching – if farmers continue to let their crops rot, Africans not only face a deadly Ebola outbreak, but a food crisis and a threat to their growing economy.
The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976, but the 2014 epidemic has been the deadliest outbreak since then. The first case of the West African outbreak was reported in March 2014, and the total reported cases has now reached almost 9,000. The disease is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood and saliva. The biggest risk to the global food chain are the consequences of the outbreak, such as less workers and the travel restrictions around West Africa.