Many smallholder farmers and agribusiness owners in Liberia lacked access to inputs and finance over the years, thereby affecting their livelihoods and incomes.
However, with the intervention of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to introduce the Liberia Agriculture Commercialization Fund (LACF), smallholder farmers and agripreneurs in the rice, cassava, vegetable, oil palm, rubber and the livestock value chains now have access to grants to increase productivity.
The LACF is a component of the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) funded projects at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Several of the beneficiaries recently informed the Daily Observer in an interview that they are experiencing changes in their respective farm projects as a result of grants obtained from the LACF program.
The beneficiaries said their production capacities and incomes have improved to some level.
The LACF, is managed by Deloitte, a Ghanaian financial firm, hired by the Ministry. It was launched in 2021 by President George M. Weah during the Annual National Agricultural Fair.
The objective of the program is to increase agricultural productivity and commercialization of smallholder farmers and agribusiness owners for selected value chains.
It seeks to achieve this goal by supporting smallholder farmers and agribusiness owners with grants to address challenges of production and marketing in order to ensure a commercialized agricultural sector for the improvement of the Liberian economy.
The co-investment fund, which according to the Ministry of Agriculture is valued at US$41 million for four years, has disbursed grants ranging from an amount US$15,000 to 200,000 over the period to several of the beneficiaries.
The beneficiaries are using the fund to purchase or repair mechanized equipment, buy inputs, improve irrigation structures and to construct modern processing facilities as well as warehouses.
Liberia’s Agriculture Minister, Jeanine M. Cooper, once described the LACF initiative as a great milestone intended to support the private sector to strengthen the economy.
“In Liberia, we are working with our international partners to access funds in order to support the private sector. This effort is yielding a very great result,” she told international partners.
Agriculture in Liberia is still being greatly funded from external sources.
Testimonials of the LACF
Mohammed Dukuly is the manager of the Senjeh Agricultural Production and Partnership that specializes in the production and processing of rice for the market within Bomi County.
Dukuly said two years ago, they started the business cultivating 19 acres using traditional methods and realizing very little yields and profits.
According to him, with assistance from the LACF, approximately 100 acres is now being cultivated using machines.
He expressed the hope of obtaining better profits from the business.
Senjeh Agricultural Production and Partnership is a registered farming organization and is among several businesses that have benefited from the initiative.
The Ministry of Agriculture is supporting businesses like Senjeh and others in the rice sector to increase domestic rice production.
Dukuly said the grant has enabled them to procure farm tractors to plough the field, a truck to transport paddy and processing equipment, as well as to begin the construction of a modern rice processing hub to create processing opportunity for the farming communities.
He stated that the construction of the processing hub is expected to be completed very soon.
Dukuly mentioned that they have identified 150 rice farmers in the farming communities of the county as out growers with the intent to support them with improved rice seed varieties so that they can supply the facility in a sustainable way.
He said they plan to extend processing opportunities to a nearby county.
Notwithstanding, Dukuly mentioned harvesting as one of the major challenges currently facing the company.
“We want the Ministry to assist us with a combined harvester and other equipment to overcome our challenges,” he said.
He disclosed that they are currently using reapers, a farm implement used to harvest rice which was provided by the Ministry.
“We are very much thankful to the World Bank and IFAD through the Government for their support. This is causing us to transition from subsistence farming,” he said.
Comfort Lovo Mulbah of the Destiny Women Processing Business, located in Bentol City, Montserrado County, is a beneficiary of the LACF grant as well.
She said that transporting and marketing of cassava was a very serious challenge for her business before learning about the LACF grant. But now, Comfort said, the situation is changing as the result of the assistance.
The grant procured a truck to transport raw cassava tubers to her factory for processing.
Comfort currently transports the raw cassava from the farmers’ farms and processes it for supply to the World Food Program school feeding initiative.
The Destiny Women Cassava Processing facility is one of the few industrial cassava processing facilities established by the Smallholder Agricultural Productivity Enrichment Commercialization (SAPEC) project. SAPEC was a donor funded project of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Comfort Lovo Mulbah, CEO of the Destiny Women Cassava Company
Because the facility is an industrial hub, it can create processing access for hundreds of farmers if more support is provided for the farmers to access planting materials and tools.
However, Comfort stated that the sale of processed cassava to institutional buyers like WFP has dramatically increased her profit margin.
I am now earning US$37,000.00 every month as a sale of processed cassava for the school feeding program. I want to become a millionaire in Liberia. Farmers should not always be looked at as poor people,” she proudly said.
She mentioned that the facility now has a solar panel acquired through the grant that has extended the production hours.
Comfort explained that in the past the farmers experienced losses when transporting their raw cassava to the factory, but with the provision of the truck the farmers are happy.
She said that she is buying the cassava from the farmers at an attractive farm gate price.
Meanwhile, Comfort has called on the government for the passage of the 10 percent cassava composite flour policy to better commercialize the cassava sector of Liberia.
She said the policy, when prioritized by the government, will create more market opportunity for cassava farmers and processors.
“The policy, when taken into consideration, is going to create better market opportunities for the cassava farmers and processors,” she explained.
The 10 percent cassava composite flour policy requires all baked products using flour to incorporate at least 10 percent cassava flour into the wheat flour.
Pastor Bosten Devine, oil palm farmer in Bomi County.
The small-scale oil palm sector is also one of the sectors that is experiencing changes as the result of the LACF grant. Some processors in the sector facilities have been upgraded to supply the market.
Pastor Bosten Devine, of the Rural Community Developers Enterprise in Bomi County, owns 25 acres planted with improved oil palm but used to process his oil using manual labor.
However, after accessing the grant, he now operates an industrial oil palm mill producing more oil for the market.
His facility is among several of the factories that have been transformed under the LACF grants.
“Before we were processing 30 tins of oil monthly. But since we transitioned to industrial processing we are producing 100 tins,” he said.
Divine said in order for the small scale oil palm sector to develop, the sector will need export opportunities.
He said the sector is yet to benefit from the RoundTable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a policy that certified producers for the export market.
Oil palm producers said members of the small-scale oil palm sector have met the criteria for the RSPO, but will require the Ministry to apply in order for the sector to benefit.
To date, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, approximately 125 farmers and agripreneurs have applied and have benefitted from the LACF program.
The Ministry also says that more than 38,000 smallholder farmers, and agribusinesses are expected to benefit from direct inputs and the grant to improve productivity and supply the market.