By Edwin Genoway, Jr
Monrovia - With a vast rain forest a several species of animals, Liberia has a large market for bush meat which is a source of livelihood for thousands of hunters and vendors who commute between interior counties including Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Gbarpolu, Lofa and other counties and urban cities. The majority of Liberia’s local delicacies are prepared using bush meat which makes the business a profitable one, generating thousands of dollars.
When the deadly Ebola virus broke out in March 2014, it led to an abrupt ban on the trade in bush meat by the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health, a decision that led to public outcry from the hundreds of Liberians trading in bush meat. The Ministry of Health announced that bush meat is one of the sources of Ebola, a virus known to have some animals mainly monkeys and chimpanzees as its natural host. Many of the marketers who were trading in Bush meat prior to Ebola during the outbreak cried out that have all gone out of business and were living in debts.
Liberia was only declared Ebola free on Saturday, May 9 and the marketers now believe that the Government of Liberia should lift the ban on the sale of bush meat to enable them get back to business. The marketers told FrontPageAfrica that the lifting the ban on bush meat will enable them get back to business and generate funds to pay their children's school fees and provide food at home.
"Government already crippled us by putting ban on our bush meat business, since the ban some of us tried to get involved in other businesses but it doesn't agree with us. For me I understand the dry bush meat business and I know how to sell and generate more profit to find food for my children and send them to school," Mother Victoria Carpet, a bush meat seller at the Rally Town Market in Monrovia told FPA.
The bush meat sellers are calling on the government to lift the ban describing the decision as unfair only intended to keep them out of business. The bush meat vendors claimed that they do not agree with health advice that bush meat is a source of Ebola, insisting that they have been in the business for years with no Ebola in Liberia during those periods.
"How will they say bush meat can give people Ebola when heat can kill the virus, listen to me my son, the hunter goes into the bush and kills the animal, butcher the fresh meat, play with the fresh blood without him being infected with the virus, then while will government tell me that bush meat should not be sold when we dry meat sellers go to buy the meat from the hunters who already prepare it with heat from the fire and sunlight something that can kill the virus, "Jestina Garjayou, 35 noted.
The marketers have complained that without the bush meat business they are unable to do different business and since the ban on bush meat sale in Liberia all attempts to engage in the other businesses have been unsuccessful. Teresa Taylor, a mother of 6 children has been selling dry fish, since the ban and is complaining that she cannot generate the necessary profit she used to generate from the sale of dry bush meat,
“When I used to sell dry meat, I normally used to sell and make 25,000 Liberian dollars as profit, but since the government banned the sale bush meat, I sat home for more than three weeks without feeding my own home. Because I never wanted to keep sitting I got into dry fish business, but because I don’t have any idea on this business the money I used to make before is not coming again,” Teresa averred. Teresa says she has been in the bush meat business for over twenty years.
No plan to lift ban
Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson said the government has no plan at the moment to lift the ban on the sale of bush meat. Minister Jackson said he is, however encouraging Liberians to abstain from eating bush meat, especially chimpanzees, monkeys and fruit bats, saying Liberia is Ebola free, but its neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone are still struggling with the virus.
Speaking to the FPA via mobile Thursday, Minister Jackson said if the government should consider lifting the ban on the sale and eating of bush meat it will be discussed by government and health experts along with the World Health Organization. But mush meat vendors are describing the decision by the government on bush meat selling as very bad.
"To be frank, we all know that the virus is real and were killing our people in the country, but I don’t think the bush meat is responsible for the virus. We are taxpayers and we have our families at home. They need to eat, and because of this ban we are not able to feed them. How are they going to eat?” said Sackie Morris, a major supplier of bush meat. Morris, who sold bush meat in the populated Duala Market, suggested further that since the government announced that the bush meat is a carrier of Ebola, hunters and meat sellers should be included in the research.
“We advise that they include sellers and hunters in their research in order to prove that the animals have the virus”, said Morris. Morris said, though he is not a medical specialist, he disagrees with the government’s decision on the sale of bush meat in the country. The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization have both declared Ebola free and citizens have gone back to their normal businesses including the reopening of schools among others but the bush meat market is still one of the affected.