ROME, Aug 28 — The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned of a looming food crisis in eastern Sierra Leone, under lockdown since the Ebola-hit west African nation announced a state of emergency.

FAO said many of the deaths in Kailahun district, at the epicentre of the outbreak, had been among those aged 15 to 45, leading to an acute shortage in farm labour.

An FAO report written at the end of a 10-day study of the district concluded that a government ban on fairs and other public gatherings had “prevented farmers assembling in large numbers to undertake large scale farming”.

“Hikes in prices of consumer goods have made people feed on cassava, bush yam, banana and maize, with many farmers mortgaging their plantations to make ends meet,” the report said.

The report said there was a shortage of safe crop seeds in Kailahun, where the main export is coffee and cocoa, resulting from the disinfections of households where Ebola deaths had occurred.

Impoverished Sierra Leone has been hit hard by the outbreak sweeping across west Africa, with 910 cases of the deadly haemorrhagic fever and 392 deaths, almost all in the east.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma appealed to the international community two weeks ago for help to fill an $18 million (13 million euro) shortfall in funding to battle the Ebola epidemic.

The president announced a raft of measures as part of a state of emergency in July, including quarantining Ebola-hit eastern districts and cancelling foreign trips by ministers.

In related development, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said it had shut its Kailahun laboratory after a health worker there was infected with Ebola, a move that may hamper efforts to boost the global response to the worst-ever outbreak of the disease.

At least 1,427 people have died and 2,615 have been infected since the disease was detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March.

The WHO has deployed nearly 400 of its own staff and partner organizations to fight the epidemic of the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever, which has struck Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. A separate outbreak was confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.

The WHO said it had withdrawn staff from the laboratory testing for Ebola at Kailahun – one of only two in Sierra Leone – after a Senegalese epidemiologist was infected with Ebola.

“It’s a temporary measure to take care of the welfare of our remaining workers,” WHO spokeswoman Christy Feig said, without specifying how long the measure would last.

“After our assessment, they will return.”

The WHO said in a later statement that staff would return after an investigation was completed, adding that testing would continue in the meantime at the Kenema laboratory.

The Senegalese medic – the first worker deployed by WHO to be infected – will be evacuated from Sierra Leone in the coming days, Feig said. He is currently being treated at a government hospital in the eastern town of Kenema.