The UNDP-supported Growth Accelerator program recently awarded a total amount of US$239,000 to six agricultural cooperatives as a co-financing grant to empower the cooperatives in creating jobs and producing more food for the country.
The award ceremony, which was held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, was the final pitching and selection process that required the cooperatives to access an amount of US$40,000 each. However, one cooperative accessed the amount of US$39,000.
Beneficiary cooperatives include Rescue Women Micro-Agricultural Cooperative Society in Montserrado County (US$ 40,000), the Rural Women and Girls Promoters for Sustainable Development in Nimba County (US$40,000), the Makona River Farm Agriculture Services in Lofa (US$40,000), the Community Empowerment and Innovation in Agriculture in Nimba County (US $40,000) and the Rural Agriculture Promoters Cooperative Society (US $39,000).
Those cooperatives were selected from a group of ten semifinalists who were shortlisted to pitch their business plans in front of a high-level panel of five senior experts, comprising seasoned agriculturists and business entrepreneurs from the Cooperative Development Agency (CDA), the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), among others.
Along with other experts, they were able to assess 10 agricultural cooperative business models before narrowing it down to the best six.
Growth Accelerator Program pitching competition, which is a component of the Livelihood and Employment Creation Programme being implemented by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry with funding and support from UNDP Liberia, is aimed at giving emerging agricultural cooperatives a chance to make Liberia a food-sufficient country and create job opportunities for others.
It is also being run and managed by iCampus Liberia in partnership with Accountability Lab Liberia, BSC-Monrovia, Agro Tech Liberia, East Africa Market Development Associates, and GrowthAfrica.
Luther D. Jeke, CEO of iCampus Liberia, who provided an overview of the program, explained that the initiative is aimed at supporting impactful entrepreneurs and agricultural cooperatives to scale up through access to technical assistance, mentorship, and a co-financing grant.
Jeke said the program is in its second year and is primarily accelerating Liberian MSMEs and agricultural cooperatives to the next level of business.
“The goal of the programme is to strengthen business and enterprise development services by promoting access to finance, capacity-building and innovation that are responsive to the rights and needs for economic advancement of women, youth and PWDs,” he said.
According to him, in May of this year, the programme received 228 applications (representing 188 SMEs and 40 agricultural cooperatives) across nine (9) counties, and however, 14 SMEs and 10 agricultural cooperatives were selected by an independent selection committee to move on to the semi-final round.
Jeke said that over the past three months, these semi-finalist ventures and cooperatives have all participated in a series of business development boot camps, training workshops, and mentoring sessions and have made substantial progress toward developing actionable and high-impact business ventures and cooperatives.
He further disclosed that they have received pre-judging feedback and ventures are currently working with professional business development service providers and mentors to help them refine and improve their venture growth plans.
For his part, UNDP Resident Representative, Stephen Rodrigues, said the program started in 2021 based on the challenges they saw in Liberia, ranging from unemployment and the level of poverty that engulfs Liberians.
“We say we want to be a contributor to those issues and this is why we are supporting this program — because we saw an opportunity that we think Liberians can make use of and also support the government’s agenda,” he said.
He emphasized that there is so much opportunity in Liberia and the only thing that is needed is to create a platform for citizens to grow their businesses and make use of the opportunity, stating that it is the main reason for the program.
Rodrigues also hopes that the opportunity provided to business entrepreneurs and cooperatives will create more jobs for others.
He promised that the Growth Accelerator program would continue in Liberia to provide more space for others.
Speaking earlier, Wilfred Bangura, Deputy Commerce Minister for Administration, who spoke on behalf of his boss, Mawine G. Diggs, lauded UNDP, iCampus, and others for the collaboration which according to him is yielding results in the Liberian economy.
He expressed optimism that those selected after a competitive pitching and selection process will be able to enhance and provide livelihoods as well as contribute to the economic development of Liberia.