Liberia: Increased Support for Farmers in Bong May Change the Narrative

Farmers of the Fuamah District Multi-Purpose Cooperative at a program marking the visit of the new agricultural minister.

There was great joy on the faces of smallholder farmers in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County, recently as agriculture Minister Dr. J. Alexander Nuetah and his delegation promised increased support to them to expand production in order to take care of their families and to supply the market.

The farmers are members of the Fuamah District Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society in Bong Mines, Fuamah District, involved with the cultivation of rice and vegetable crops on a vast lowland acreage.

The Fuamah cooperative is one of the major cooperatives in the country that is being supported by the Ministry through the Rural Economic Transformation Agriculture Project (RETRAP) and the Smallholder Agriculture Transformation Agribusiness Revitalization Project (STAR-P). RETRAP and STAR-P programs came into being as a result of loans and grants attracted by the Liberian government from the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to stimulate growth in the agricultural sector of Liberia.

Both projects assist cooperatives, farmers and agribusinesses to make the government achieve its goal on the improvement of food and nutrition security.

Importantly, during the last farming season, RETRAP and STAR-P supported the Fuamah cooperative to develop approximately 500 hectares of the lowland.

The cooperative members received from the ministry improved rice seed varieties, cash for work and fertilizers, as well as equipment.

But that farming season has elapsed and the cooperative members anticipate additional support.

Addressing the farmers during his visit, Minister Nuetah said more assistance will be extended to the Fuamah Cooperatives.

Agriculture Minister Nuetah chats with the head of the cooperative

He said his ministry will develop nearly the entire field which belongs to the cooperative.

The move, according to the Minister, is intended to create income opportunities for many of the farmers and to increase the production of rice in the area.

“I am going to ask the projects to double the production of rice to 2,000 hectares. This is intended to create an income opportunity for more farmers in the community to better their lives and to increase production of rice,” he said.

Since the end of the civil war, many residents of Bong Mines have seen agriculture as their only means of income. Bong Mines is a mining community where China Union operates. But not many of the residents there are employed with the company. The majority of the residents are engaged in some form of agriculture activity and other business for livelihood incomes. 

Addressing the farmers further during his visit, the Minister said that his ministry is going to have the Fuamah cooperative farm as one of the farm mechanization hubs that his ministry is about to establish. 

The initiative, according to him, is part of an effort to increase or improve domestic rice supply within the country.

“We must do our best as a nation to improve domestic rice production. I will be calling on the government to reduce the importation of rice once we can increase domestic supply. I want to challenge the farmers to apply more seriousness as we stand ready to provide all of the necessary support they need,” he said.

The minister said that to improve domestic rice production, farmers must be supported in farm mechanization to increase production and more  investment done in processing.

He has promised to construct a modern warehouse and processing center for the Fuamah cooperative in order for the farmers to produce more rice for the market.

“I want the farmers to be able to produce more rice for consumption within their communities. I also want to see that the support provided to the farmers will help them make more money to send their children to school and to their families,” the minister said.

It can be recalled that Minister Nuetah, during his confirmation hearing a month ago, promised the nation the improvement of domestic rice production by 50 percent.

The Minister told the farmers that the use of cutlasses and hoes by Liberian farmers should be at thing of the past. 

He said that President Joseph Nyuma Boakai wants to see the lives of farmers improve and, as such, he as the minister will not fail to fulfill the mandates of the president.

According to him, the government’s ARREST agenda (Agriculture, Roads, Rule of Law, Education, Sanitation and Tourism) aims to use agriculture to transform the lives of farmers and to better the economy.  

At the same time, given the report of paddy rice market constraints, the minister has promised to intervene.

The minister said that the rice market should not be a challenge facing the farmers.

“There are concessions that want to buy more rice to supply to their employees,” he said.

The Minister instructed the head of the cooperative to immediately assess the quantity of rice produced by the cooperative in individual homes as his ministry is working to find buyers for the rice.

The head of the Cooperative, Prince D. Peter acknowledged the support the ministry provided last year through its donor’s projects.

He said with the help of the Ministry they were able to produce a lot of rice for themselves and the cooperative.

However, Peter explained that the cooperative is finding it very difficult to find buyers for the rice they have produced.

Peter said that the cooperative was able to develop 500 hectares last year. Despite this, he mentioned that the cooperative is lacking a better processing facility and warehouse to store their rice.

“We want the Ministry of Agriculture to assist us with a better processing center and a warehouse to store our food. Because of the limited processing capacity of the mill, we can’t process all of the rice that is being produced. Our members store the rice they grow in their various homes,” he said.

Peter stated that the cooperative has the potential to produce more rice for the country provided it is fully supported.

“We are appealing to the Ministry to assist all farmers for this farming season. Those of us who were assisted last year don’t have the cash to go back to production. We haven’t been able to market our rice. We don’t want the Ministry to only support new farmers. We will appreciate for the Ministry to continue with us until we are able to stand on our own,” Peter explained.