Changing the Perception: Bomi County Strives to Become Liberia’s New Bread Basket

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There is a perception in Liberia that citizens from the lower Western part of the country, especially Bomi, which is just a stone’s throw from the capital, are a lazy group of people who do not engage in farming even to feed themselves.  According to this perception, the Bomi people do not even think about exporting to neighboring counties, especially Montserrado.

Bomi citizens are continuously criticized for coming to Monrovia to purchase simple garden produce such as pepper, potato greens,  cassava leaf,  eggplant—things that could easily be grown in their home gardens, or  even their farms. They have the soil, rainfall and other elements necessary for good cultivation, so why are they not growing their own food?

The county has also been a recipient of government assistance and remittances from many of its sons and daughters living abroad who send money to their people in Bomi.  Also, there are NGOs and other international organizations coming in to do projects.

There have also been a Social Cash Transfer scheme pilot project launched in Bomi County since 2009,  before they were extended to Maryland County a few years back.

The (SCT) Scheme is a regular payment of money provided to extremely poor and labor-constrained households to decrease poverty and reduce economic vulnerability.

These counties were chosen because of their relatively high food insecurity as determined by data from the Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey (CFSNS).

But the residents of Bomi, who say that such perception about them is wrong, are on the verge of changing what could be described as the “status quo” in their county.

With the emergence of the West Africa Agriculture Productivity (WAAPP) Project, started a few years ago, Bomi farmers through an Innovative Agricultural Platform, simply known as  (IP), things have begun  to change in the county, relative to the productive cassava production.

IP is an agricultural program dealing specifically with cassava production, with an introduction of technology in the production of a cassava value chain. It is an initiative of WAAPP in collaboration with Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (DW), formerly German Agro Action and implementing partners. The project is being implemented in eight of the fifteen counties.

Bomi County, according to the WAAPP’s Bomi  coordinator, Kemoh Sherif, is now leading the other seven counties involved in the IAP in the production of cassava and other value-chains in the country.

One of the leading farmers’ groups in the county, Youth for Positive Change (YAPC) located at Banana Farm, are leading the entire process in the county. YAPC, producer of the famous Bomi Gari, has some of the largest cassava farms.

Bomi is the home of several eminent Liberians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, House speaker Alex Tyler and Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly.

The farmers, at a meeting last week with officials from WAAPP and DW, said other Liberians have perceived them as being lazy as a result of the lack of support on the part of the central government and Non-Government Organizations that are involved in the agric-sector through farmers support.

The Bomi farmers were meeting with these partners to find other means through which they (farmers) may be assisted as the program comes to an in end in March.

“We want to change this wrong perception about us as being lazy and tell the Liberian people what we are capable of doing in this county, the Secretary General of the platform, Mr. Zinnah Quaye, said.

The platform said that farmers in the county are seeking support to ensure that their county becomes food reliant, but they need support to get involved in the production of other food crops, including vegetables and even raising animals, such as chickens and pigs.

“We don’t only want to be involved in cassava production but this is the only place that we are getting support. We have a vision as a platform for our county to become the next bread basket of the republic,” members of the platform told this reporter.

“The only thing that is keeping as back from engaging in producing our own food is support, but it is support which  will help us to make Bomi become food-sufficient and even a food  exporter. 

“We have the willingness and manpower but only the funds are lacking,” Mr. Quaye stressed.

The platform’s members are, however, in search of markets where their cassava products will be sold. “You know when you produce and the market is available you become more encouraged to do more and we have been saying that for a while now, but we need more customers for our Bomi Gari,” the platform chair said.

One major impediment to Banana farmers is the condition of the roads leading to their farms. The roads are in such a deplorable condition that it impedes quick movement. Sometimes farms are completely cut off.

Though they are trying the fix the roads manually in the absence of yellow machines, they are appealing to the government and others to come to their aid and recondition the roads.

The Bomi component of the project targets 30 farming groups in 30 locations in the county’s three districts, Dewein, Senjeh and Klay.

“The IP program is a one-year initiative that began in January of last year and should have ended this gone December.  “But,” said the DW coordinator, “due to the outbreak of the Ebola virus we had some setbacks. So we decided to extend the time to March this year.

 “This is meant to work properly along with these farmers to ensure that they get all the basic necessary logistics and business contacts so that when they produce  their products there will be a market for them,” Mr. Sensee L. Sirleaf, Human Development Foundation (HDF) executive director said. HDF is an implementing partner of DW.

The European Union (EU) and the United Nations Children’s Fund has been supporting government in its UNICEF Social Cash Transfer Program.

Meanwhile, about 64% of Liberians fall below the absolute poverty line and 48% below the extreme poverty line. This means, approximately 300,000 households are below the poverty line and about 50,000 households are extremely poor and labor constrained.

These 50,000 households do not have access to any temporary employment projects and have no formal means of support.

It is known that people below the extreme poverty line suffer from chronic hunger and cannot meet their most basic needs. While all members of a household feel the impact, its effects are particularly bad for children.

The Social Cash Transfer (SCT) scheme was created to protect children and the poor and vulnerable households from the worst impacts of food insecurity and the general deprivation caused by extreme poverty.

In developing countries, money is spent primarily to improve nutrition, but also to facilitate access to education and improve health, especially for women and children.

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