Liberia’s agriculture sector took an upturn when 30 young entrepreneurs were launched into agri-business with a power tiller each by the United States Agency for International Development Food and Enterprise Development (USAID FED) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
The 30 power tillers costing US$189,000 were given to the young entrepreneurs in four counties under a cost share arrangement.
A power tiller is used for cultivating the soil before planting. In Liberia, soil cultivation before planting entails long hours of back breaking labor for many days under the elements using small tools such as hoes and cutlasses. With the power tiller, a farmer can afford to increase his rice production and other farming activitives.
Lofa County received 9 power tillers, Nimba and Bong counties each received 10 power tillers and a power tiller went to a youth entrepreneur in Grand Bassa County.
Making the distribution in Kakata, Margibi County, USAID FED Chief of Party Madam Agnes Luz said “This initiative is meant to empower the youth in Liberia’s agriculture sector and to ensure that Liberian farmers get access to mechanized services to allow them to expand lowland rice production and these youth groups are expected to cultivate at least one hectare of land per day.”
The distribution of the power tillers is also intended to strengthen and promote self employment of farmers in the country in order to advance the agriculture sector.
Madam Luz said the power tillers will help make rice production more competitive so that rice farming can be an income earner for the youth.
She also disclosed that the youth from the four counties will operate the power tillers in cultivating at least 1,440 hectares of farmland this year in the four selected counties at reasonable fees.
In remarks the Deputy USAID Mission Director Barbara Dickerson described the power tiller distribution as very significant in empowering youth entrepreneurs who are interested in farming.
Madam Dickerson thanked the youth for demonstrating their willingness to share the cost of the investment in activities designed to improve their livelihood and to especially encourage youth across the nation to emulate their good example.
The USAID Deputy pledged her government’s commitment to providing more support for the country’s agriculture sector and at the same time encouraged more youth to get involved in farming to improve food production.
“The United States government is committed to supporting Liberia’s agriculture through the USAID FED program to improve farmers’ productivity and enhance food security. Within the next few years, the program will continue to work with interested Liberian youths in the agriculture sector to ensure self employment,” Madam Dickerson assured.
The Chairman on the Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives, Fofi Baimba, in his remarks said, the Liberian government was highly grateful to the government and people of the United States for empowering the youths and increasing the productivity of small holder farmers through mechanization.
Representing the Ministry of Agriculture, the Director at the Central Agriculture Research Mr. Aaron Marshall urged the youths to work tirelessly to ensure that agriculture in the country gets a boost.
“It is about time Liberians open their arms and accept all kinds of interventions to improve the country’s agriculture sector,” he said.
Upon receiving the items, the lead farmer of Gbarnga Youth Group in the Phebe Community, Zokungay Mehn, thanked USAID FED for empowering the youth through the power tiller distribution.
“I feel very pleased to receive these tillers from USAID FED because we have suffered so much in terms of hard labor while using cutlasses and other small tools, which used to take us a long time to carry on our farming process, but with these power tillers, our work has become very easy,” he said.
He called on his fellow youths to make agriculture their priority, adding that agricultural activities earn more money to improve the living conditions of farmers and save lives through the maximum production of food in the country.
Meanwhile, USAID FED has promised to provide training on business management and also help to improve access to loans for the success of their power tiller and farming businesses.
USAID FED is assisting more than 28,000 farmers in 2015 to grow rice on 5,340 hectares of lowlands in Bong, Nimba, Lofa and Grand Bassa counties, utilizing improved production technologies and practices.
A labor market assessment conducted in 2012 by the USAID Advancing Youth Project (AYP) said the informal economy in Liberia is a significant source of employment opportunities for young people.
Additionally, lowland rice farmers in Liberia have limited access or no access to mechanized services. As such activities such as de-stumping and land preparation have to be done through manual labor, which increases production cost.
The USAID FED program aims to reduce hunger and promote food security for Liberians through increased agricultural productivity and profitability in rice, cassava, vegetable and goat value chains. It is implemented in six counties: Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado.