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Analytical summary - Food safety and nutrition

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In Liberia, agriculture, including fisheries and forestry, represents 61.5% of gross domestic product and provides the primary source of income and employment for many people. Food insecurity was heightened during the civil conflicts, reducing nutritional levels in children and resulting in low weight-to-height ratios.

Food insecurity’s lingering effects are reflected in the sampling of opinions in the country. In 2006, more than 40% of the population was highly vulnerable to food insecurity.[1] According to the Ministry of Agriculture, imported rice accounted for 42% of consumption in 2007–2008. Since rice is the nation’s staple, its exposure to the volatility of international commodity markets is undesirable.

Measuring height of children in Liberia

The Core Welfare Indicator Questionnaire shows that food insecurity is still a challenge. Only 2% of rural farmers have access to fertilizers, while 60% use rudimentary methods of planting. Increasing volumes of rainfall deplete soil nutrients, force farmers to relocate regularly to improve yields and result in slash and burn agricultural practices. This, coupled with lack of resources to develop adaptive capacity; lack of public awareness, education and training; and improper waste disposal, impedes progress in reaching food security.

Data from the Liberia demographic and health survey 2007 show that 39% of children aged under 5 years are stunted; that is, have a Z-score below -2 standard deviations (SD). Children aged 24–35 months (49%) and 36–47 months (49%) are most likely to be stunted and those less than 6 months are the least likely (9%). Male children are slightly more likely to be stunted than female children (42% compared with 37%).[2]

The extent of stunting decreases as the size at birth and mother’s nutritional status increase. The level of stunting is higher in rural areas (43%) and lower in urban areas (31%). Stunting varies by region; it is highest in the south-eastern and north-central regions (45%) and lowest in Monrovia (30%). Stunting also decreases with the level of mother’s education and wealth quintile.[2]

In addition,the 2010 Comprehensive food security and nutrition survey found that nationally 42% of Liberian children aged under 5 years are stunted, increasing their risk of dying from normal childhood illness and risk of chronic illness later in life.[3]

Measuring upper arm circumference, Liberia

Wasting represents failure to receive adequate nutrition in the period immediately preceding the survey and may be the result of recent illness or of seasonal variations of food. Overall, 8% of children aged under 5 years are wasted. Wasting is highest among children aged 9–11 months (17%) and is lowest among children aged 48–59 months (3%). The level of wasting varies slightly with sex, birth interval and residence. The extent of wasting decreases as mother’s nutritional status improves.[2]

Overall, 19% of children are underweight, which may reflect stunting, wasting or both. More children aged 18–23 months are likely to be underweight (22%) than those aged less than 6 months (10%). The percentage who are underweight decreases as birth interval, size at birth and mother’s nutritional status increase.

The National Nutritional Policy was developed in 2009 to improve the nutritional status of the population, especially children. The National Food Security and Nutrition Strategy is multisectoral and oriented toward communities, households and individuals to reduce the high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.


  1. Comprehensive food security and nutrition survey. Strengthening emergency needs assessment capacity (pdf 1.54Mb). Monrovia, Government of Liberia, Ministry of Agriculture, and World Food Programme, 2006
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Liberia demographic and health survey 2007 (pdf 2.5Mb). Monrovia, Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare National AIDS Control Program and Macro International, 2008
  3. The state of food and nutrition insecurity in Liberia. Comprehensive food security and nutrition survey (pdf 2.93Mb). Monrovia, Government of Liberia, Ministry of Agriculture, and World Food Programme, 2010