Although growth in Liberia’s agricultural sector remained stagnant as the result of limited funding, the Ebola crisis, which began early 2014 seriously, stalled every effort by government and its partners to boost agriculture.
With a population of about 4 million people that still depends on food imports, despite much promise by the Liberian government to make agriculture a priority to ensure food security and also reduce poverty in the lives of rural citizens, the crisis has contributed to more challenges as farmers abandoned farms for fear of contracting the virus.
Also, all attention was placed on fighting the Ebola disease by government and partners.
The Liberian government struggled to secure food supplies in the wake of quarantines and border closures which were aimed at containing the Ebola outbreak that disrupted farming. It mounted pressure on food imports.
“The agricultural sector has been hardest hit by the Ebola crisis, which has crippled domestic food production,” said Dr. Florence Chenoweth, Agriculture Minister.
In 2014, before the outbreak of Ebola, the Government of Liberia through the MOA and its partners introduced some agricultural projects aimed at giving local farmers the opportunity to improve productivity and generate income. Such projects included the West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP- Liberia), the revamping of the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) quarantine livestock facility, and the initial production of foreign breed of chicks by Obassanjo farms for poultry farmers.
In March 2014, WAAP- Liberia’s ten-year agricultural project of the MoA with funding from the World Bank to increase rice and cassava production was introduced in eight of Liberia’s fifteen counties, including Gbarpolu, Mar-Gibi, Bomi, Bong, Sinoe, River-Gee, Grand Gedeh and Maryland counties.
According the World Bank assessment, “WAAPP- Liberia” shows some significant gains amidst the Ebola where 270 metric tons of improved seed rice was produced and distributed to more than 46,500 farmers and 12,100 hectares of cassava cultivated in the targeted counties. However, farmers in some of the counties affected by the virus abandoned farm land because of fear to contract the virus which lowers production.
As part of effort to revamp livestock production, the United States Agency for International Development Food and Enterprise Development Program for Liberia (USAID FED), in partnership with the Liberian government, in 2014 revamped the CARI’s animals quarantine facility in Suakoko, Bong County.
The facility has the capacity to house 500 animals but only 23 goats were initially supplied by Land O’ Lake, another partner under the livestock program, and distributed to local farmers in Bong, Lofa, Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties. Because of the Ebola technical support to animal producers in some of the counties, farmers were limited in raising livestock, as some of the partners scaled down.
For the first time after the war in 2014, Liberian poultry farmers gained access to the initial production of exotic breeds of chicks produced by Obassanjo Farm, reducing the burden on imported chicks.
Obssanjo farm is a multi-million dollar private investment established in 2013 in Grand Cape Mount by former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obassajo. The aim is to revamp poultry production in Liberia for the improvement of food security.
The marketing of poultry products from the Obassajo farm became a serious challenge as the three countries; Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia identified mainly for the markets, were affected of the Ebola outbreak.
Farmers in Liberia often lack access to credit due to a lack of credit worthiness required by traditional banks and also inadequate or no business records. The lack of collateral also serves as another barrier in getting loans. Many commercial banks thus consider it a risky venture to lend to farmers because of the misconception that farmers will not pay back these loans.
To improve access to credit for Liberian farmers USAID FED and the Liberia Entrepreneurial and Asset Development (LEAD) partnered to provide loans worth US$40,000 to nine farming organizations from Lofa County in December 2014. The farmers received loans ranging from US$1,750.00 USD to US$10,000 USD which they are expected to invest inimproving existing farm projects. Those are some of the farmers who demonstrating strong resilience in the midst of Ebola in Lofa which was heavily hit by the virus.
In order to further boost agricultural financing, President Ellen Johnson in her 2014 Annual Message announced US$ 9.8 million as a loan in the National Budget for Liberian farmers. However, not much is known on how Liberian farmers were able to access the loan due to the crisis.
Ebola affected farmers in small agri-businesses to get assistance from FAO
As a way to sustain food security, government and its partners got involved into the Ebola fight by sensitizing farmers on the prevention of Ebola to remain productive. The United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is one of the partners assisting farmers to overcome the effect of Ebola.
The FAO has disclosed plans to assist several farmers across the country affected by the crisis in improving their agri-businesses.
Moreover, the World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim in December last year promised an economic package for Liberian farmers to recover from the Ebola challenges.