Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
Liberia is situated on the North Atlantic coast of West Africa. Its climate is equatorial and it experiences heavy rainfall from May to October. The country occupies an area of 111,370 km2; and has a land area of 96,320 km2. Of this, 44 percent is covered by tropical forest; 28 percent is used for agriculture, and includes 5.2 percent that is used for temporary crops. Small-scale, traditional farming predominates.
In 1980 a military coup marked the beginning of 23 years of political instability and bitter conflict that included two civil wars. Millions of Liberians were displaced, hundreds of thousands were killed, and economic development stalled. A peace agreement was signed in 2003, and in 2005 free elections heralded the beginning of Liberia’s long and difficult recovery. The first post-war president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came to power in 2006 and was re-elected in November 2011. The next national election will take place in 2017.
Liberia is classified as both a least-developed country and a low-income, food-deficit country. With a population of approximately 4.4 million and a growth rate of 2.6 percent, the nation ranked 177 out of 188 countries in the UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Index. 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 lives on less than US$1.25 a day.
The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and inward 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.
The 2014-15 outbreak of Ebola has been enormously damaging to agricultural production and the wider economy, worsening Liberia’s already fragile food security situation. The Ebola crisis continues to have a grave impact on vulnerable communities.
Current issues in Liberia
Liberia’s population is subject to the combined effects of several problems. At present, these are:
Ebola outbreak (2014-15)
The Ebola outbreak has been intensely traumatic for the population and its impact on vulnerable communities has been devastating. More than 10,600 people were infected, of whom over 4,800 died. Survivors, and bereaved families still face prejudice.
The long-term effects of the disease are not yet fully understood but they include disabling joint pain, and visual and hearing impairment. Stigmatization and disability affect people’s ability to recover, both in terms of their health and economically.
Throughout Liberia, economic activity was severely disrupted. Border closures and movement restrictions within the country were necessary to contain the epidemic. Food imports by sea dwindled as fewer and fewer shipping lines visited the country.
Markets were severely affected and food prices rose exponentially due to scarcity. Because it became so hard for families to source and afford the food that they needed, many responded by eating fewer and less nutritious meals. Economic recovery to pre-crisis levels will be slow.
The fiscal debt has increased due to the cost of responding to the crisis; unemployment has risen; and both of the country’s main export sectors, rubber and iron ore, have been affected by low output and low commodity prices.
Poverty and food insecurity
Poverty and food insecurity are highly correlated: poor rural households, with informal sources of livelihoods, tend to be the most food insecure. In Liberia the chronic malnutrition rate remains high at 36 percent. In June 2015 the Food Security Cluster, led by WFP, carried out an Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) in Liberia.
It found that food insecurity affected about 16 percent of the population; 2 percent of all households were severely food insecure; and 18 percent of households were using emergency coping strategies (mostly begging) to meet their basic food needs.
These findings are consistent with those of a 2012 Government-led Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey (CFSNS), which estimated that, overall, 20 percent of households in Liberia were food insecure. In some rural areas the figure was as high as 55 percent. The most food insecure counties are located in the south eastern part of the country where physical access to markets is constrained.
Low education levels
In Liberia, primary school Net Enrolment Rates (NER) are low, although they increased 7 percent between 2013 and 2014, when they reached 27 percent. Girls face more obstacles to enrolment and are at greater risk of not completing basic education - especially those in grades 4-6, due to early marriage and pregnancy, and competing financial pressures.
Barriers to education in Liberia for both genders and at all levels include: poverty; heads of households’ low educational attainment; delayed entry into schooling; and a high proportion of single-parent, often female-headed, low-income households.
Further barriers exist within the education system itself, including: a lack of teaching and administrative capacity to provide basic education services; a centralized system that is inequitable, inefficient and unaccountable to students; a lack of school readiness for children; and a backlog of out-of-school children. 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.
High refugee population
Liberia currently hosts almost 39,000 refugees (December 2015), 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 opened humanitarian doors to receive the refugees. As of mid-February 2016, approximately 6,000 refugees had been repatriated.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Liberia
WFP’s work in Liberia 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.
With Liberia declared Ebola free on 14 January 2016, WFP’s assistance in Liberia will focus on supporting the national, post-Ebola recovery efforts; providing school meals to promote education; supporting rural livelihoods, assets and access to markets; and providing assistance to refugees hosted in camps.
Supporting recovery efforts after Ebola
From the beginning of the outbreak WFP worked on the front line, providing vital logistics support to the humanitarian community, as well as food to patients, orphans and survivors, and people in quarantine.
Post-Ebola, WFP is gradually redesigning its programmes to facilitate recovery by expanding school meals; resuming nutrition support; providing comprehensive agricultural and livelihood support to vulnerable communities; and deepening our commitment to capacity development for the Government in emergency preparedness and response. WFP is also working on contingency plans in case there is a resurgence of Ebola.
Support to education
The school meals programme is the largest conditional safety net in Liberia. WFP has been supporting education through school feeding since 2006. The meals help children to stay in school, concentrate and learn better. School feeding is a priority in the Government’s Education Sector Plan, Poverty Reduction Strategy and the National Girls Education Policy. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, WFP provides daily nutritious meals to 127,000 primary school students to reduce short-term hunger and improve attention span in class.
WFP supports more than 700 primary schools in food-insecure districts in 9 counties that have the lowest enrolment, highest dropout and repetition rates, widest gender disparities, and high stunting levels. In counties where gender disparities are highest, WFP also provides take-home rations of rice and vegetable oil to girls in upper grades. These act as an extra incentive to attend and remain in school.
WFP is working closely with Liberia’s Ministries of Education and Agriculture to develop the Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme. This provides school children with nutritious, locally grown foods, and can boost local farmers’ income. For more information on the rationale for HGSF, please see our 2009 report Home-grown School Feeding
Livelihood Asset and Market Promotion (LAMP)
The objectives of WFP’s LAMP programmes in Liberia are to:
- enhance the resilience of rural communities to economic shocks, food insecurity and natural disasters by promoting sustainable livelihoods and establishing community grain reserves;
- stimulate agricultural production by repairing roads and bridges to improve access to markets;
- reduce post-harvest losses and improve grain quality;
- support the rehabilitation of lowland rice fields and small-scale irrigation systems; and
- link farmers' organizations to markets.
LAMP activities include:
- food assistance for assets (FFA) projects in which participants create community assets in return for food or cash transfers, depending on the availability of food in the markets;
- establishing community grain reserves – these encourage complementary interventions among development partners, address local food security imbalances, and enhance linkages with markets.
Activities are implemented during the lean season in four counties with high food insecurity (Bong, Gbarpolu, Lofa and Nimba), and in four with chronic food insecurity (Bomi, Grand Kru, Maryland and River Gee).
Support to refugees
WFP’s refugee operation was launched in early 2011 in response to the influx of over 100,000 refugees who had fled Côte d'Ivoire following the election crisis in late 2010. Since then, the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire has resolved and security has improved; however, many refugees remain in Liberia. (In 2014, the Ivorian Government suspended repatriation from Liberia due to the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak).
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.
World Food Programme partners in Liberia
WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Liberia:
• The Government of Liberia and its ministries:
• Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture
• Liberia’s Ministry of Education
• Liberia’s Ministry of Finance and Development Planning
• The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
• The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
• The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
• The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
• The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)
• The World Health Organization (WHO)
Featured Liberia publications
A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.
Looking for more publications on Liberia? Visit the Liberia publications archive.