Liberian farmers, mainly those in the food crops sub sector, are still experiencing serious difficulties when it comes to marketing their farm produce, despite previous interventions by government and partners to improve market access.
Farmers still do not get good prices for their crops when they carry them to communities and urban market centers. This is especially true with markets situated in the vicinities of Monrovia, where most food crops are sold. The markets are being controlled by women who dictate to farmers on the prices, thereby causing frustration for the farmers as they give out their perishable produce for little money, for fear of more losses.
Consequently, the role of the government is critical to ensuring that farmers have access to better markets by building the capacities of value chain actors.
Firstly, who are value chain actors? Value chain actors in agricultural production are those who support farmers by improving their products, through the enhancement of capital and technology to make food available on the markets for consumption. They include processors, agro-inputs suppliers, distributors, traders, manufacturers and transport providers, who are the first actors to add value to crop commodities. They play an important role in improving market access for farmers. In Liberia, we have a very few of them located in farming communities with most of them situated in urban cities. The capacity of most value chain actors is limited, thus hindering more support to farmers to improve production and access better markets.
Challenges that Gov’t should address facing value chain actors
There are numerous challenges that still face value chain actors in Liberia that the government needs to address if we are to improve market access.
Challenges such as limited infrastructure facing the sector is something the government needs to seriously tackle for value chain development. There is a lack of storage and preservation facilities at nearly all major market centers within the country. Also, in rural parts of the country, farmers still suffer to get their produce to the market due to deplorable road conditions.
Though the government has made some efforts in addressing the infrastructure gap in the sector, more needs to be done. Liberia can only boast of a few major rice processing facilities currently. Most processing facilities are said to have run aground, due to lack of spare parts and repair on the one hand and lower than required operational capacity on the other. Enhancing rice processing is key to improving farmers’ incomes.
The Chairman of the Liberia Vegetable Sellers Association (LVSA), Sumo Mulbah, once told the Daily Observer that the lack of storage and preservation facilities serves as a greater impediment to the improvement of market access.
He said the government needs to construct storage facilities at major market places.
“We do not have storage facilities at most major market centers. This is causing more vegetables to spoil on the market. We are appealing to the government and partners, to construct for us a storage facility at the Omega market,” he once told this paper in an interview.
Another major challenge facing value chain actors is the issue of the limited credit opportunities.
The President of the National Rice Federation, Mohammed Kamara, has said that his Federation will need loans to disburse to its members so that they can ensure a market for rice farmers through the sale of paddy.
“To improve the rice sector, processors need to be empowered with loans to transact business with farmers.”
According to Mr. Kamara, under the administration of President George M. Weah, the rice sector has received very little assistance.
However, despite the important roles that value chains strive to play in improving market access, and the need for the government to empower them and the lack of networking or coordination are serious issues that value chain actors need to enhance.
Finally, for the value chain actors to become more functional in contributing to the improvement of market access, the government must build the capacity of value chain actors with loans. This could mean getting a commitment from relevant functionaries to make an allocation every year in the National budget to support the activities of value chain actors. With such intervention, they, as members of the private sector, can work to establish storage and processing facilities and other needed projects to improve market access. Also, to improve market access for farmers, the government should force institutions to prioritize the purchase of local produce from farmers as recommended from the National Zero hunger strategic review report.