Liberia: Ebola survivors form farmers’ union

| July 6, 2015

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Sarah Yarkpawolo’s husband and two children died from Ebola—but she sought treatment early and survived.

The entire nation was affected when Ebola hit Liberia in late 2013. Farmers fled their farms for fear of contracting the disease. But because no new cases had been reported since June, many farmers have returned to their villages and are planting crops like swamp rice and cassava.

Mrs. Yarkpawolo says: “Too many of our farmers died from Ebola. They never knew the danger of Ebola and so they didn’t seek early treatment. ” The 45-year-old farmer from Lofa County started a farmers’ union for those who were affected by the outbreak but, like her, were treated and survived.

Ebola affected the entire Liberian farm sector. Many lost everything. Mrs. Yarkpawolo says that birds and animals damaged abandoned farm buildings and fields. She says, “Our houses were spoiled … Most of our members lost their husbands or wives to Ebola.”

More than 500 farmers have joined the Ebola Farmers’ Union to help each other.

The Union’s objective is to support survivors and promote their welfare. Mrs. Yarkpawolo says: “We noticed that we are being neglected and stigmatized in our communities. Some NGOS have even denied us rice seed. So, we [organized] ourselves to talk with one voice and to advocate for all farmers who survived Ebola in Liberia.”

Ciapha Laim holds a machete in one hand as he walks through his farm. The 56-year-old Ebola survivor cannot remember such a disaster affecting his family and friends in his lifetime. Mr. Laim lost seven family members to Ebola.

He joined the Union as a part of his recovery from Ebola. He has finished preparing his farm and is waiting for the rains to slow before he plants cassava.

Lorpu Pewee lives in Zorzor, a village in Lofa County. She has just finished building a kitchen on her new farm. But like many farmers in the area, she does not have a single seed to plant this season.

Ms. Pewee says: “When we came back, the little rice seeds we had, we ate—because there was no food. Now we are left with nothing. We are strong people but Ebola has paralyzed us. We need urgent help.”

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture, who requested anonymity, says that his office is aware of the situation. He says that help for farmers is on the way. The official claims, “[The Ministry is] getting these complaints from all around the country and so the government will look into it.”

But farmers who joined the union like Mr. Laim are resilient. As he waits for the government to help, he says, “I will not give up. I feel hurt today, but I will put my life back together.”

Photo: Women harvesting rice in Carysburg, Liberia. Credit: Panos/Aubrey Wade