Liberia: How Urban Agriculture is Shifting the ‘Gender Role’
--- In bustling cities across Liberia, urban agriculture is becoming increasingly popular among women, offering a promising path to financial stability and a vital role in the local food system.”
Mercy Joe's story is one of unexpected changes. The mother of five, had for nearly half of her adult life, been relying heavily on her husband to provide for their household.
But, in 2017, fate dealt her a cruel hand. Her husband, who had been the sole breadwinner of the family, lost his job. Suddenly, the comfortable life they had built together became threatened. The days felt long and the nights even longer, as she struggled to make ends meet. And with no previous work experience and five children to care for, the prospect of finding a job seemed daunting.
That's when she discovered urban agriculture. At the back of her home in Zubah Town, Duport Road, lies a slum that she never imagined would hold the key to her transformation of being financially and economically independent.
“ At first, I never knew how to make an urban farm and I have never thought about making it,” said Joe, who is now in a position of taking care of five children and husband as a result of a stable income from her backyard farm. “But when my husband lost his job in 2017, and things became hard, I had to find a way to help contribute to his hustle in taking care of the home.”
“Urban agriculture has opened a world of possibilities for me, one that I never thought possible before and has become the catalyst that transformed me from being a housewife to a breadwinner. I used to overlook the swamp, but it has made me financially and economically independent. I am now able to contribute significantly to taking care of my home, with a single harvest earning me US$375. Urban farming has now become the primary source of my family income,” Joe added.
In Liberia's bustling cities, urban agriculture is becoming increasingly popular among women, offering a promising path to financial stability and a vital role in the local food system. Recent research by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations confirms its positive impact on women's livelihoods.
The practice involves cultivating crops and raising livestock in small urban spaces. In cities across Liberia, formal employment opportunities for women are limited, making urban agriculture a particularly valuable source of income. Women can then sell their produce or livestock and earn a living.
However, the practice of urban agriculture comes with several challenges such as a lack of access to land, water, fertilizers, and chemicals.
Despite these challenges, the financial returns continue to make it an attractive option for many women like Joe. Her primary crop is okra, which she harvests twice a year, yielding a total of US$750, and is sold to marketers Duport Road.
The population divide then plays in Joe's favor as okra remains a staple in Liberia's food culture. Joe however faces challenges in her urban farming endeavors as the cost of fertilizer and chemicals needed to maintain healthy crops is also rising, cutting into her earnings.
This has forced her to diversify her harvest by planting potato greens and corn. Potato green provides a steady source of income, as they are a household staple that is consumed daily, while corn is a seasonal crop.
“The price of fertilizer and chemicals are becoming very high nowadays. You need the fertilizer to avoid losing the harvest. Also, the chemicals drive away pests. So the price being up is a problem for us involved in urban agriculture.”
“But there is a constant demand for agricultural products in Montserrado County, so to increase okra harvest twice a year, I plant potato greens and corn to supplement the income and to buy fertilizer and chemicals. The greens are planted regularly to ensure year-round supply for marketers would boost profits. Greens provide a steady source of income, as they are a household staple that is consumed daily. While income from corn is a seasonal crop.”
In Liberia, agriculture remains an important sector of the economy, employing a large portion of the population as more people rely on it for their livelihoods, even though the number has steadily decreased over the past decade, as people move into the service and manufacturing industries.
According to the World Bank, agriculture accounted for around 22% of Liberia's GDP in 2020, down from around 30% in 2010. This is due in part to a shift towards other sectors such as mining and services.
Still, agriculture remains an important source of income and employment for many Liberians, particularly those living in rural areas. The sector includes small-scale farmers who produce food crops such as rice, cassava, and vegetables for local consumption.
However, growing vegetables in the city often faces ridicule, as farming is widely considered the preserve of the country’s rural poor.
“There are people who think it doesn’t really look good to grow food in town, that it’s a dirty job or not a classy thing to do,” Joe noted.
What they do not know is that urban farming is a profitable business, Joe added.
As Joe's earnings grow, life has begun to change in many ways. First, she found a sense of purpose and fulfillment in her work. She enjoyed the physical labor of tending to her crops and the satisfaction of seeing them grow and thrive. Second, she found a way to support herself financially and of the household as her farm produced enough food to sell at local markets.
Another urban farmer, whose life has changed as a result of urban agriculture is Neomie Wymah. The income she earns as an urban gardener helps her supplement her husband's income, which says is low.
“I’m involved in urban farming because It supports me and my family. My husband's income is insufficient, so the one I made from the farm helps us a lot,” Wymah said.
“I cannot sit down and fold my hands knowing that money is in the solid. You see, money is in urban farming but it's hard work. It makes you financially independent.”
Wymah also cultivates a plot of land on Duport road. She used the income from the farm to care for the children including paying school fees.
“I have to help my husband send the children to school,” she says. “I make an okra garden but this year the okra didn’t really come out good because the pest ate it. Only the corn and the greens came out well.”
Wymah, who started her urban farming work a few years back has since been growing and selling okra and corn and earning a lot of cash from it.