Controlling Ebola: International research project funded by the BMEL

The ebola outbreak which occurred in West Africa in 2014/15 is considered the biggest in history yet. More than 11,000 people lost their lives. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) now funds an international ebola cooperation project. The goal is to achieve better prevention by targeted research.

The Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Christian Schmidt, handed over the award document for a grant totalling EUR 1.68 million in Berlin on 27 September. Schmidt's counterpart from Sierra Leone, Professor Monty Patrick Jones, was among those present. His country was one of the states hit most severely by the ebola outbreak in 2014/15.

"Ebola Foresight: The importance of livestock, domestic animals and wild animals as a source of infection for Ebola" is the title of the 3-year research project. It is coordinated by the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), the Federal Research Centre for Virus Diseases of Animals, one of the BMEL's subordinate authorities. In addition to the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute, the partners include Njala University, School of Agriculture in Sierra Leone as well as the Institut Pasteur (foundation), in France/Conakry, Guinea.
It is hence the first BMEL-funded research project cooperation with Sierra Leone as a research partner.

Aim: Achieving a faster and more targeted response in the event of outbreaks

When handing over the grant award document, Federal Minister Schmidt made it clear that he expected the project to make responses to future zoonosis outbreaks faster and more targeted. "Ebola is a disease communicable to human beings, with several animal species being able to act as reservoirs and carriers for the virus and cause new disease outbreaks. Currently, there is still far too little knowledge available about the role of the different virus host animals and the exact routes of transmission to be able to make reliable projections and take effective precautionary measures. This is where we expect the research project to supply new findings," Minister Schmidt said.

Sub-Saharan Africa

For years the BMEL has advocated making a contribution to solving pressing problems in sub-Saharan Africa, also with the help of the research community. In this spirit, the Ministry particularly focusses on topics such as:

  • Boosting agricultural production by sustainable and resource-conserving intensification;
  • Avoiding major post-harvest food losses;
  • Improving food safety, making diets more balanced and preventing malnutrition;
  • Improving animal health and the early detection and effective control of animal diseases.

Although the 2014/15 ebola epidemic was contained, it is still very difficult to predict whether, and if so when, an outbreak could reoccur. The aim of the project is to find answers to these questions and create a high-quality scientific foundation for further research. It will focus on investigating potential sources and paths of infection, developing testing methods that are easy to handle and training local staff to use them. The project will also include the use of the new high-security laboratory of the Friedrich Loeffler Institute on the Isle of Riems. It is among the most modern of its kind worldwide.
For the BMEL, this project is not only about practical, implementable research findings. It also attaches great importance to the development of long-term durable partnerships between the involved agri-food research facilities at home and abroad.

Intensified cooperation between the BMEL and Sierra Leone

This project is helping the BMEL deepen its cooperation with the Western African country. Since last December, the two countries have been associated by a G7/G8 land partnership. The BMEL was the initiator for establishing this partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Sierra Leone. By improving legislation and administrative procedures, this special partnership aims at strengthening the tenure rights of the local population.

After all, three in four pending legal proceedings in Sierra Leone relate to conflicts over land use; secure land tenure rights and access to land are of existential importance in ensuring food security for the rural population of Sierra Leone; At the same time the country urgently needs investment in agriculture to promote economic growth and fight poverty. This land partnership is enabling Germany and the FAO to support the government of Sierra Leone in creating the legal and administrative parameters for responsible and sustainable investment in the agricultural sector. The cooperation dates back to a G8 decision of 2013, expressing the wish of G8 countries to act as partners in assisting developing countries to implement the Voluntary Guidelines.

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© Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture