Liberia: Ditching the Hoe for Modern Technology

United Nations Resident Coordinator to Liberia, Christine Umutoni (middle) flanked by a tractor operator (L) and one of the community beneficiaries.


…. UNDP, GOL empower farmers with modern farming equipment and tools to tackle food insecurity

An African woman with a hoe in hand is the default symbol of agriculture in  Africa, according to the late African academic and former Harvard Kennedy School professor, Calestous Juma. The deceased professor used that image to convey the drudgery-filled farming that workers, especially women on the continent, face.

The continent’s Women grow 70% of Africa’s food on smallholder farms, a task anchored by manual labor.

Now, with Africa’s population expected to double by 2050, the continent must ditch the hoe in favor of modern technology, which will complete the same tasks far more efficiently, Juma advised prior to his death. 

The UNDP seems to have heeded this advice and is doing exactly that. The UN development arm believes that transforming the Liberian agriculture sector from small-scale subsistence farms to mechanized, more commercially viable farms, is essential.

To realize this dream, UNDP, with support from the Liberian government, has donated equipment, basic farming tools and post-harvest processing machines to farmers in three of the 15 counties. The equipment aims to help enhance their labor capacity in making use of large-scale and a more mechanized approach to farming as compared to subsistence farming, which is more labor-intensive and time-consuming. The beneficiary counties include Bong, Rivercess, and Gbarpolu.

The equipment include 14 tractors and trailer, over 18,000 pieces of assorted basic farming tools, including rice, cassava, sugar cane milling machines, thirty-four sets of post-harvest processing machines, and a rice thresher were also turned over to the beneficiary communities at a ceremony on Thursday, July 21.

“The tools and equipment, valued at over US$600,000, will add value and help expand the agricultural base of each of the communities, thereby addressing the ultimate challenge of food insecurity,” UNDP Liberia Resident Representative, Louis Kuukpen said at the event. “They will be distributed to identified cooperatives and individual farmers in beneficiary communities in the targeted counties.”

Kuukpen said his organization is committed to addressing the challenges of food insecurity, safe drinking water, affordable energy, faced by the rural poor, especially as this is part of the overarching principle of the SDGs of “leaving no one behind” and the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and development.

The Liberian agricultural sector, like many other African countries, is still faced with huge challenges, key among these being low productivity due to lack of innovation. Many African farmers are still engaged in subsistence farming due to lack of access to modern farming equipment — a situation that is contributing to the acute food insecurity on the continent.

Currently, mechanization levels on farms across Africa are very low, with the number of tractors in sub-Saharan Africa ranging from 1.3 per square kilometer in Rwanda to 43 per square kilometer in South Africa, compared with 128 per square kilometer in India and 116 per square kilometer in Brazil.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a UN specialized agency that champions efforts to defeat hunger, Africa overall has less than two tractors per 1,000 hectares of cropland. There are 10 tractors per 1,000 hectares in South Asia and Latin America.

“We need to change this trajectory by empowering farmers with modern tools and equipment so that they can produce not only for their families but for commercial purposes,” the UNDP boss argued. “This is the only way the battle against food insecurity can be won.”

However, the farming equipment and tools are donated under the auspices of Accelerated Community Development Programme (ACDP) — an ambitious five-year initiative launched by President George Weah in November 2022 with a commitment of 100 million United States Dollars for the first three years, 2022-2025.

President Weah said at the launch last year that the ACDP will have an immediate impact on reducing poverty while accelerating socio-economic development in rural communities.

He described the initiative as part of the government’s commitment and determination to improve the country’s overall human development.

Kuukpen reiterated at Thursday’s event that the program will help reduce poverty and inequality especially in rural areas.

ACDP is a government led programme jointly implemented with UNDP. This model has been implemented in several countries including Senegal, Togo, The Gambia, and Congo; it has proven to be results oriented.

The five-year program was designed in a consultative process by stakeholders including the GoL,  represented by key line ministries, development partners and community representatives based on a feasibility study conducted in 2020.

The study identified 37 communities across the 15 political subdivisions and key challenges they are faced with including lack of access to affordable energy, safe drinking water and sanitation as well as feeder roads, food security and agriculture.

The program also seeks to help strengthen human capital and resilience to shocks and pandemics, as well as facilitates the implementation of the national pro-poor agenda to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030.

“We are pleased to be implementing this programme with the Government of Liberia to address the real and pressing needs of the most vulnerable rural populations of Liberia,” Kuukpen said. “It is worth mentioning that the procurement of the equipment and tools is as a result with an initial contribution of three million United States dollars from the government.” 

Meanwhile, as part of the ACDP program activities, the construction of 5 solar-powered multipurpose boreholes has commenced with drilling and pump testing of water for the first borehole completed in Donfa, Bong County, one of the beneficiary communities.

Drilling of the remaining boreholes is currently ongoing in Rivercess and Gbarpolu and expected to be completed by early October 2023, the UNDP disclosed.

The boreholes will address challenges of access to safe drinking water by communities and for irrigation. It will also reduce security issues for women and children vulnerable to gender-based violence while traveling long distances in search of safe drinking water.

The ACDP is also expected to accelerate the repair of 39 handpumps and construction of 14 new handpumps and additional 5 solar powered multipurpose boreholes in new communities.

The programme will also construct storage and processing facilities fully equipped with offices for agricultural cooperatives; construct 10 decent gender sensitive toilets, and procure additional basic farming tools, the UNDP boss noted.

“I wish to thank the government for this initiative , and for trusting us to steer in the pilot phase of implementation. However, there is still more work to be done and resource mobilization is key to this effort,” he said.