The Ebola outbreak ravaging the Western Africa countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia will eventually be contained, officials from those countries said at the Borlaug Dialogue World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.
That said, the devastation left in the wake of the epidemic threatens to create a food crisis that will impact the entire region, not just the affected countries, they said.
Florence Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture in Liberia, said that more than 40% of the country's farmers have abandoned their land as a result of the current outbreak. Some farm families have been wiped out; others have fled to refugee camps to avoid the contagion.
In a nation where 80 to 90 percent of the food produced on small farms is consumed in the area, there is already a food security problem. Down the road that will get much, much worse she warned.
Ernest Bai Koroma, President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, echoed Chenoweth's concerns.
He said that in 2013, the country exported about 224 tons of potatoes to neighboring countries. This year, less than 22 tons will be exported.
"The impact on regional trade is already severe and will be getting worse," he said. "This is a country were 80% of the population are farmers. Once the humanitarian crisis of the epidemic is over, there will still be a food crisis. In some places there will be a glut of food because it can't be moved and in other places there will be extreme shortages because the food can't move there."
Chenoweth said Liberia was on a path to food security when the Ebola crisis hit. After decades of warfare, the country had re-established farms to grow seed and provide it to farmers and was self-sufficient in food production.
The Ebola epidemic has changed that, she said.
"When the epidemic is controlled, there will be a major crisis in food supply," she said. "Right now, we have warehoused food to meet the need, but not for much longer."