Liberia: Biodiversity Projects Kickoff with Vigour in Affected Communities in Nimba

Farmers benefiting from ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Biodiversity and Conservation Program in communities of impact in Nimba County have begun vigorous farming work following the launch of the program in Kpolay and New Yekepa two months ago. 

The launch of the program led to purchasing tools, seeds or seedlings, and fertilizers for farmers to commence work in their respective communities. Twenty-nine farmers in Sehyee-Geh in Yarmein Administrative District are not taking lightly their oil palm and swamp cultivation projects. 

In a week, they gather two times at their site to work.  According to the farmers, they want to prove to AML and the implementing partners that they are serious to engage in the “Farming as a business” idea that has been introduced under the Biodiversity and Conservation Program.

“We are willing to work and anxiously waiting for our palm seedlings to plant them on the land that we have cleared.  We want to tell ArcelorMittal and the Agriculture Relief Service (ARS) that we are prepared to work and to get the benefits of our labor, and surely, we will not disappoint them,” Paul N. Gantu, adviser for the Gboundeamon group of farmers in Sehyee-Geh said.

ArcelorMittal Liberia has committed a little over $116, 000 to the Agriculture Relief Service to support farmers in 14 communities among which Sehyee-Geh is a part.  The money, among other things, is used to purchase tools including rainboots, seeds, fertilizer, shovels cutlasses, and files for the farmers.  It is also used to get animal farmers some breeds and food for the animals.

Martha Y. Menleh, ARS Technician assigned to the farmers' group, stated in an interview that the Gboundeamon Farmers group has members who are excited and willing to work as indicated by their two times work schedule they regularly observe.

“Know that these people, 29 in number, have their individual farms and family to carter to, but two times in a week they come here with joy to work on their project farms. As they come, we assemble them first to teach them how to lay out the swamp and measure the distance that must be between the palm trees that they have brushed this big space for.  Sometimes the major problem we can have involves land issues because after engaging a parcel of land, the owner will drive the farmers from there when it is developed,” Menleh said.

Austin N. Wehyee, the Senior Project Supervisor for Biodiversity Conservation Program at ARS, commended AML for the support to the farmers but noted that the farmers did not commence their project soon because of a delay in getting the funds. 

Nevertheless, Wehyee said since it is the first time that Sehyee-Geh people are joining the Biodiversity and Conservation Program supported by AML, the group is encouragingly striving to convince its stakeholders by making the first two farms amid challenges posed by rain and food shortage.

The Biodiversity and Conservation Program is intended to reduce the subsistence farming pressure on the upland forest by prioritizing lowland cultivation and animal husbandry.  The farmers are taught to make ‘farming a business’ through which they can support their families.

In the town of Gbobayee near Blaye Mountain, the Rural Integrated Center for Community Empowerment (RICCE) which also received US$94, 621.17 from AML brought together farmers on June 28 in a teaching session to learn more about “Farming as a business.” 

The farmers came from Suakazue and the host town, and the facilitator whose messages were translated in the local vernacular taught the farmers how to calculate principal and interest in business and how applicable it is to farming.

The local farmers, so much accustomed to subsistence farming and bush fallow, were informed about how commercial farming in nearby countries has helped individual farmers to develop their families and to contribute meaningfully to national development.

Teaching farmers lowland cultivation and making farm as business are two primary goals of RICCE under AML’s Biodiversity and Conservation Program.

Samuel Peter, AML’s Agronomist working with the farmers, expressed excitement over the cooperation of the farmers in ensuring that the objective of the company for the biodiversity program is achieved.

“ArcelorMittal Liberia is taking iron ore, but at the same time, it must leave something with you so that after all, you will not be left with nothing.  One of the means is to empower you, the farmers, to produce foods that you can sell to help your families and communities.  This program is also meant to help make sure that we do not brush down the forest; for if we cut all the forest down, we will have climate change that will cause us to have a dessert that does not support food growth,” Peter clarified to the groups in the separate locations.

He assured the farmers that AML is committed to its promise of empowering them, stressing that the company is arranging to have a farmer’s trade fair that will allow them to showcase the products that the company and others will buy.  He added that there will be farmers' exchange programs that will allow them to visit one another’s sites for learning purposes.

The two towns visited by the AML team in recent times are geographically surrounded by dense rainforests.  With the moisturized cloud characterized by sunshine at this time of the rainy season, both areas prove better for agriculture as indicated by the springing maize and other vegetables in the fields.