Liberia, on the Atlantic coast of Africa, is classified as a least developed, low-income, food-deficit country. It ranks 176 out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index. Since the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement it has been recovering from a 14-year civil war that destroyed national infrastructure and basic social services.
An outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in March 2014 claimed 4,800 lives in just over a year and highlighted Liberia's fragility. Although Liberia was declared Ebola-free in January 2016, the crisis had a severe impact on the country’s economy. Economic growth for 2014 fell from a projected 5.9 percent to between 0.7 and 0.9 percent and the cumulative loss of output was equivalent to 7.7 percent of the gross domestic product.
Poverty and food insecurity are high across the country and are particularly acute in Liberia’s rural areas where 51 percent of the population lives. Some 83.8 percent of the population live on less than US$1.25 a day.
A 2015 emergency food security assessment found that food insecurity affects 16 percent of households, including 2 percent that are severely food insecure. For one fourth of Liberian families, food accounts for more than 65 percent of their total expenditures. Some 18 percent of households were found to be using emergency coping strategies (mostly begging) to meet their food needs.
Among the major underlying causes of poverty and food insecurity in Liberia is the low level of access to education, with official statistics showing only 26.7 percent of children were enrolled in school in 2014. The 2014-15 Ebola outbreak had a devastating effect on Liberia’s children: schools had to stay closed for most of the year to curb the spread of the disease.
The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment. Income from exports, mainly of natural resources, is not currently sufficient to support the population’s development needs. Agriculture is focused mainly on the cultivation of food crops and export commodities. Livestock farming is small-scale, poorly resourced, and unable to meet local demand for meat. Some 80 percent of the population depends on fish for protein. Management and harvesting of marine sources, however, are now threatened by rising sea levels and coastal flooding due to climate change.
As of December 2015, Liberia hosted almost 39,000 refugees, primarily Ivorians who fled their country during the 2010 post-electoral crisis. Those who live in camps are especially food insecure and vulnerable to food price fluctuations. In December 2015 UNHCR began a voluntary repatriation exercise after Côte d’Ivoire reopened its borders. As of mid-February 2016, approximately 6,000 refugees had been repatriated.
In Liberia, the World Food Programme (WFP) aims to provide safety nets to strengthen food and nutrition security through school feeding and social protection measures, and to strengthen Liberia’s capacity to own and implement hunger solutions.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Liberia
Supporting recovery efforts after Ebola
From the beginning of the outbreak, WFP provided vital logistics support to the humanitarian community, as well as food to patients, orphans, survivors, and people in quarantine. Post-Ebola, WFP is focusing on facilitating recovery, including through comprehensive agricultural and livelihood support to vulnerable communities; and developing government capacity in emergency preparedness and response.
WFP provided daily meals to children in more than 700 primary schools in nine in 9 counties with low enrolment, high dropout and repetition rates, wide gender disparities, and high stunting levels. WFP also distributed take-home rations to girls of oil and rice in upper primary grades as an incentive for families to keep girls in schools. These incentives are conditional upon at least 80 percent attendance in the previous month.
Assistance for refugees
Refugees have limited access to any tangible means of earning a living, rendering them heavily dependent on food and material assistance provided by development partners and the Government of Liberia. WFP provides monthly food support to some 30,000 refugees residing in Liberia’s three official refugee camps. The remaining refugees are living in communities and do not receive WFP food support.
To enhance the resilience of rural communities to economic shocks, food insecurity and natural disasters, WFP promotes food assistance for assets (FFA) projects in which participants create community assets – including roads and bridges to improve access to markets – in return for food or cash transfers. WFP also woks to establish community grain reserves and link farmers' organizations to markets.