The World Health Organization reports a drop in the Ebola cases in the three Western African countries hit most by the disease. However, as farmers abandon their fields in the infected areas, a new problem seems to emerge: a food crisis.

Many agricultural fields have been abandoned as people retreat from Ebola. Image via World Bank.

Liberia only reported 48 cases in the past three weeks, but Sierra Leone is still struggling, with 769 new cases over the past 21 days. But even that is a decline compared to previous months.

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“Sierra Leone has now reported a decline in case incidence for the second week running, and recorded its lowest weekly total of new confirmed cases since the week ending 31 August 2014,” WHO said.

This is not the first Ebola outbreak ever, but it’s the first time over 500 people were infected in one outbreak. The official number of infections is 21,261, though the likely number is much higher. However, as the number of Ebola cases seems to dwindle down, a new problem starts to emerge – a food shortage.

The International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), a UN body that finances agriculture in poor countries has warned that if quick action isn’t taken soon, a food crisis is set to take place in the area. As early as September 2014 the Liberian government reported that large parts of the rice crop could not be harvested because of a shortage of labor. People are abandoning the infected areas – and for good reason.

“In Sierra Leone, we have information that up to 40% of farms in the hardest-hit areas have been abandoned,” IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze told Africa Renewal. In Guinea, similar disruptions in population movements have had “devastating effects on food production and exports”.

Agriculture is one of the main drivers of the West African economy, contributing up to 40% to the total economy. It’s also the main form of subsistence for the poorest people, who have no other way of supporting themselves.

It’s estimated that for the 90,000 households in dire need of help, some $30 million would be needed to alleviate the effects of the upcoming crisis.