The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) through one of its food crop projects, the West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP-Liberia) has engaged local farmers from four counties on the production of rice and cassava to enhance the country’s food security.
The counties are Bong, Mar-Gibi, Bomi and Gbarpolu.
The engagement exercise started last Monday in Gbarnga, Bong County and concluded on Thursday in Bopulu, Gbarpolu County.
It is expected to resume early this month with counties in the south-east.
WAAPP-Liberia is a ten year agriculture program aimed at increasing rice and cassava production in the country, with funding from the World Bank and the government of Japan.
It is a regional program carried out in 13 West African countries.
In Liberia, the program is being implemented in eight of the fifteen counties, including Grand Gedeh, River-Gee, Maryland, Bong, and Sinoe Counties among others.
In interviews with the Daily Observer newspaper at the meetings held in the above counties mentioned, farmers expressed the hope for the program to help improve their productivity and increase income generation.
According to them the project should help to address some of the challenges faced by farmers in the agricultural sector.
They named constraints such as inadequate provision of farming tools, poor marketing, and lack of access to land as some major obstacles confronting them in their various counties.
John Lahai, a farmer in Swakoko district, Bong County stated to our reporter that WAAPP’s program was a welcome gesture in his county.
“With the education received concerning the program farmers specialized in producing rice and cassava in Bong County are very happy. It is our hope that it would help us improve in farming to support our families.
Lahai said that getting farm land in his county is a serious problem that requires urgent attention.
“There are many in the county engaged in rubber farming instead of growing food crops. This is making land scarce for us,” he lamented.
He estimated the cost for renting farmland in his county as U.S$ 500 yearly per acre. Farmer Lahai said that renting land at this price seriously reduced his annual earning.
He stressed the need for government to derive a land tenure policy for agriculture to improve farmers’ income.
For her part, Sarah Brown, a farmer from Margibi County, said that female farmers in her county were determined to grow more cassava for the market but are lacking tools to farm.
“We would like to appeal to the ministry of agriculture and its partners to assist us with the needed tools,” she requested.
In his opening statement on Monday, February 24, in Gbarnga, the acting national project coordinator of WAAPP-Liberia/Monitoring and Evaluation officer, Edward Borlor, said that the WAAPP program was designed to address challenges in the agriculture sector of Liberia in order to increase food production.
He said that human resource capacity building in the sector, infrastructure upgrading, and support to local farmers in terms of the provision of improved planting materials, modern technology and the creation of a market for farmers to sell their produce are some of the input the project seek to provide.
According to Borlor since the launch of the program in Liberia in November 2012, 37 students in Liberia benefited from scholarships for advance studies in agriculture and other disciplines at various African universities.
He said that the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Swakoko, Bong County has also been partially revamped through the project to meet the research needs of farmers.
Borloh further disclosed that the program seeks to prioritize the inclusion of up to 40 percent female farmers in order to reduce vulnerability among women in the agriculture sector.
Also speaking was Assistant Minister for Extension and Research at the MoA, Paul Jallah. Mr. Jallah asked farmers to take the program seriously so they could produce more food for the country.
Minister Jallah spoke to farmers in Kakata and Bopolu cities during the engagement meetings.
He deliberated on the topic: “The benefit of extension for Liberian farmers.
According to him, there are many farmers who want to engage in commercial farming but lack the modern technology.
“The ministry will be providing tractors and power tillers and other modern equipment to ensure that farmers are able to increase their yield,” he disclosed.
Speaking at the close of the meeting in Bopoplu, the superintendent of Gbarpolu County, Allen Gbowee, called on his citizens to venture into agriculture so they could make the county food secure.
He welcomed the program and promised to play a monitoring role for the smooth implementation of it in Gbarpolu County.