Producing food to make Liberia self-sufficient remains a strong concern for young farmers studying agriculture at the Nimba County Community College (NCCC) in northeast Liberia. Despite the Ebola crisis, which has led to the abrupt closure of schools across Liberia, at least 15 students from NCCC’s agriculture department are committed to following through with land preparation, planting and caring for NCCC’s lowland rice and cassava demonstration sites.
“It is very unfortunate to consider that our country has yet to become self-sufficient in food production and we still depend on other countries to feed us. Although the Ebola crisis has stopped us from being in school, a few of us decided to volunteer our time to continue our school’s agriculture projects,” explains J. Tiatoue Zogbay, the campus agriculture coordinator at NCCC.
Within the next few months, the students could harvest up to 5.5 metric tons of rice from the lowland project, giving the students hands on experience with improved methods of preparing, planting and harvesting rice and other crops.
The student agriculture project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development Food and Enterprise Development Program for Liberia (USAID FED) and forms part of the NCCC’s agriculture curriculum. The demonstration plots give students the opportunity to gain practical agriculture skills that will prepare them to become better farmers and more competitive candidates for employment opportunities in Liberia’s agricultural sector.
The lack of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce in Liberia’s agriculture sector presents a major challenge to the future of farming. The majority of today’s farmers are over 50 and the country’s youth views farming as difficult and a poorly paid job.
In 2011, USAID FED began developing Centers of Excellence for Agriculture at several vocational institutions in Liberia. USAID FED and those institutions’ administration and faculty members work together to strengthen the educational centers, from the agriculture department to the library.
Then, in 2013, USAID FED partnered with the Ministry of Education to develop the country’s first two-year vocational agriculture degree known as the National Diploma in Agriculture. The official roll out of this program at the Nimba, Lofa, and Grand Bassa Community colleges, as well as the Booker Washington Institute, has been delayed due to school closure, resulting from the ongoing Ebola crisis.
At the NCCC Center of Excellence in Agriculture, USAID FED provided tools, fertilizers, improved seeds and cassava cuttings for the student demonstration sites. A goat shelter is also underway for construction on the institution’s campus. In addition, the program has provided materials and technology to improve the institution’s library so students have a place to study and conduct on-line research.
J. Tiatoue Zogbay used to teach, but left teaching to get skills in the field of agriculture in order to combine his ability to teach with agriculture.
“I decided to do agriculture because I want to ensure that local food production increases. When I completed my agriculture studies, I preferred becoming an extension worker to reach the people in various villages,” he added.
The NCCC’s agriculture department is comprised of three instructors, who hold the Bachelor’s Degrees in Agriculture, and there are 182 students currently enrolled in the National Diploma in Agriculture at the NCCC.
“The program is designed in such that students spend 60 percent of their time in the fields doing practical. We are hoping that the Ebola crisis will soon subside to allow us to recruit more students for the program,” said Dr. Yar Donlah Gonway-Gono, President of the NCCC.
“We are greatly overwhelmed with the supports received from USAID FED in making the NCCC one of the most vibrant and motivated institutions in the area of agriculture,” she added.
Liesseh Zarpoe, a female agriculture student, asserted that young people must be encouraged to prioritize agriculture to alleviate unemployment. “The agriculture sector of Liberia can rescue more Liberian youths, provided the youths see the reason they need to acquire the skills.”