Farmers in Liberia under their umbrella organization, Farmer Union Network of Liberia (FUN), are appealing to the government and its international partners in the food and agriculture sector to do what is necessary to ensure that rural small-holder farmers receive access to money for improving their production capacities.
FUN says the procedures and interest rates involved in accessing micro loans from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and other commercial banking institutions are not in the interest of small-holder rural-farmers trying to sustain production.
The disclosure was made at a one-day stakeholder’s technical consultative meeting held under the theme: “Land Grabbing,” at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) on Wednesday, February 12.
50 farmers representing various farming communities across the country attended the meeting.
According to FUN, having access to grants would give farmers the opportunity to purchase the required agro-chemical farm implements and provide wages for farm workers to improve their livelihoods.
FUN is also requesting the Legislature to ensure the US$9.3 million pronounced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her State of the Nation address, is directly reflected in the 2014-2015 national budget to support small-holder farmers in Liberia and boost food production.
In her Annual Message, President Sirleaf maintained that agriculture remains the key sector in the economy for local employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income generation; as over sixty percent of the population depends on this sector for its livelihood.
The President, however, admitted that the sector had been under-supported by both the public and private sectors.
Speaking at the close of the meeting, Paul Jallah, Assistant Minister for Extension at the MoA, urged farmers to become more productive in their farming activities and consider agriculture a business “because of its potential to put money into pockets and place food on the table.”
He lauded the FUN for the level of unity and togetherness that exists among the farmers in Liberia.
In an interview with the Daily Observer newspaper on Thursday, February 13, via mobile phone, Montserrado Representative and president of FUN, Josephine Francis explained that their appeal— if accepted by government and partners— would help improve the production of many small-holder farmers in the country unable to afford collateral for access to loans from commercial banks.
According to Rep. Francis, FUN’s concern comes against the backdrop of an agricultural loan provided last year by the CBL to local banks. This money was not accessible to ordinary farmers due to strict requirements carried out by some of the banks; most notably the Afriland First Bank.
“Many poor farmers could not meet the requirements to access some of the U.S$ 7.5 million agricultural loan last year. This is why we are asking for the US$ 9.3 million that President Sirleaf recommended to be put in the 2014/2015 budget officially,” she explained.
Honorable Francis, who is also the chairperson on the Houses’ committee on agriculture, requested that Liberian farmers be part of the budget hearing on the allotment made for the agriculture sector in order to ensure ownership.