The agriculture sector in Liberia has experienced periods of change and transformation over the past decades. However, there is still a need for targeted and specialized actions toward critical areas. One of such critical areas that still requires more attention is the empowerment of women farmers who are active players of nearly all of the agricultural value chains.
Women farmers still encounter many challenges, including the lack or limited access to loans, farm machinery and inputs, extension services, and other constraints, despite past agricultural interventions. These challenges hinder the women’s abilities to become more productive. Gender inequality and inequity fueled by socio-cultural norms and male dominance also limit their abilities to thrive in their livelihoods.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) through its donors’ funded projects concluded a 3-day symposium over the weekend to share experiences and gain adequate knowledge about women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in agriculture.
The symposium provided the opportunity for participants, women and youths, to discuss gender equality, equity, and economic empowerment in agriculture; discuss the need for early learning and adult classes in agriculture education; and how to equip the next generation of agricultural actors for gender equality in the sector. Participants discussed mostly issues that confront women farmers.
It was held in Suakoko, Bong County from May 11-13, 2023, and was attended by women in agriculture selected from across the country, individuals in academia, donors, researchers, policymakers, and students, as well as officials and team members of the Ministry of Agriculture and its donors’ projects.
The program is part of a mandate for the Agriculture Ministry to mainstream gender in agricultural livelihoods for the transformation of the sector.
Addressing participants at the opening of the symposium on Thursday, May 11, Agriculture Minister Jeanine M. Cooper said her administration remains committed to improving the lives of women in the sector.
“When women do better, the economy does better. This means that we need to pay keen attention to women. By this I mean we need to be intentional toward our approaches,” she said.
She said that considering that women are greatly involved in food production and agribusiness, they need to be empowered.
Minister Cooper said that in 2021, President George M. Weah announced the three pathways of the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, which also underscored the need to improve the food system from production to marketing, considering the empowerment of women.
According to her, presently her ministry is creating opportunities for women when it comes to the issues of access to finance and the availability of inputs to make them productive.
“We are working on projects to address women’s concerns also in the cocoa value chain. More women are engaged in cocoa production but have limited access to resources and are not involved in decision-making processes,” she mentioned.
The Minister said that the cocoa project is part of the largest flagship of the Liberian government for the empowerment of women in the agricultural sector.
“This project when implemented is going to directly increase the incomes of the women farmers. Empowering women to showcase their participation in the agricultural sector is something that we must move forward with. This should not be about rhetoric but a practical action for the betterment of the economy,” she said.
Minister Cooper used the occasion to challenge the participants to take the symposium seriously and derive recommendations that could attract more opportunities for women.
Meanwhile, at the close of the symposium, the participants came out with a number of recommendations which they said, if considered, could move the lives of women forward in the agriculture sector.
Some of the recommendations include the need to adequately address the issue of women's access to land, more access to technologies in farming, access to finance, storage and processing facilities, and among others.
The participants also urged the Agriculture Ministry to continue to ensure that policies and programs for women in agriculture are implemented to its fullest.
A woman farmer from Gbarpolu County, Fatu Finda Jalloh, said, “Access to land and ownership still remains a challenge for us in the farming communities. The government needs to further work on this issue. And also we want the Ministry of Agriculture to relax restrictions on the matching grant criteria for more women to benefit.”
Also speaking at the symposium was Dr. Cheryl A. Williams, Gender and Social Development specialist at the RETRAP and STAR projects of the MoA, who said that women’s economic empowerment is very important and as such if nothing is done to empower women in the sector will create the issue of inequality.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has been working tediously to empower women since 2014, through the training of women and men on gender issues as well as land ownership for women in agriculture. Currently, the Ministry is working to train more women so that they can be able to train others,” she mentioned.