Vegetable farmers in Liberia grow traditional crops such as potato greens, eggplant and chili peppers that are already widely available on the local market but have limited income potential.
In 2014 when 20 farmers from Dennis Farm village in Montserrado County first joined together to form the Careysburg Vegetable Farming Group, they were struggling to find consistent markets and attract decent prices for their produce.
With the support of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative in Liberia, the group diversified into producing high-value vegetables such as cucumber, radish, lettuce, onion, cabbage, okra, and tomato.
The group was provided with tools, fertilizers, seeds, and rain shelters, and offered training and extension services to improve their productivity and postharvest handling skills. They were also assisted in connecting with high-end buyers such as hotels and supermarkets in Monrovia.
These linkages have created an opportunity for the farmers to boost their revenues and profits beyond their expectations.
Today, two years after coming together as a farming cluster, the 18 men and two women of the Careysburg Vegetable Farming Group are selling their vegetables to high-end hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Luxury hotels like the Royal Grand Hotel, which has three onsite restaurants, signed an agreement facilitated by USAID Feed the Future to regularly purchase selected high-value vegetables and fruits from the farming groups at an agreed price.
The farming group has also signed agreements with a commercial vegetable distributor who supplies large institutional markets to luxury hotels, popular beachside restaurants and several supermarkets.
International buyers have also shown an interest. In the spring of 2016, USAID Feed the Future in partnership with Brussels Airlines shipped samples of okra grown by the group to a potential buyer in France. After sampling, the buyer requested regular, small shipments of two okra varieties, asked to sample varieties of cucumber and eggplant, and is willing to explore possibilities of supporting cashew nut production in Liberia.
The increased sales have had a significant impact on improving the lives of the group’s members. Currently, the members are earning an average of US$500 per month from the sale of high value vegetables, far exceeding the meager incomes they received from the sale of more traditional crops.
“Prior to USAID’s help, whenever we harvested our produce, either we ate them ourselves or they would get rotten, because many people are producing vegetables and selling them at low prices,” said Augustin Otas, the lead farmer of the Careysburg farming group.
“Now with a more stable and relatively high-priced buyer, our income is growing and our lives are changing. We are able to send our children to school, continuously feed our families and take care of other things that our families need.”
The farmers’ profits will increase steadily as the group continues to contract with more high-end buyers, add to its hectares, and take advantage of newly constructed rain shelters, which will allow them to grow during Liberia’s long rainy season. Within the first eight months after the establishment of market linkages, USAID estimates sales from high-value vegetable contracts for these farmers will increase more than tenfold to $6,000 a month.
With the increased profits, the farming group was able to expand its production area from 0.02 hectare to 2 hectares. The additional land space has enabled group members to grow more crops to further increase their sales and profits.
While the numbers for the Careysburg farmers group may appear small, developing stable local and international markets for high-value agricultural products is crucial for Liberian farmers to become sustainable entrepreneurs.
Additional market linkages facilitated by USAID Feed the Future will encourage other farming groups in both Montserrado and in Margibi Counties to scale-up high-value vegetable production which will result in significantly increased incomes.
By the end of 2016, USAID estimates more than 35 farming groups consisting of more than 700 farmers will benefit from high-value vegetable market linkages.