Liberia: Strengthening Farmers, Agripreneurs

Mayor River Women explain to journalists how they have utilized grants being provided under the STAR Project of the Ministry of Agriculture.  

— MoA’s project staff complete the Grant Utilization Verification Mission, which aims to interview the beneficiaries.

The Government of Liberia (GOL) through the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has strengthened the capacities of several farmers and agripreneurs with grants to enable them to increase productivity and commercialize.

The matching grant fund was provided through the Smallholder Agriculture Transformation and Agribusiness Revitalization Project (STAR-P), funded by the World Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) through the MoA.

During a two-week intensive grant utilization mission tour to the targeted counties, aimed at knowing how beneficiaries have utilized grants provided to them to upgrade their farming capacities, farmers and agripreneurs told journalists that they were grateful for the level of assistance being provided to them by the international partners through the Liberian government.

The beneficiaries, who used the grant to procure trucks to transport goods, purchase farm machines and other equipment to improve their farming businesses, however reported a few challenges that still confront their farming ventures and recommended to the government for additional support to enable them supply the market. 

The grant utilization mission covered six counties, including Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Bomi, Grand Gedeh and Margibi, engaging the beneficiaries on the assistance received and how they intend to use it to create jobs and contribute to the improvement of food security.

The grant comes at the time the Liberian government is still struggling with the improvement of food security and the economy.

It can be recalled that in September of this year, the MOA in a press release indicated that though the Fund Advisory Committee (FAC), which comprised the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning and Development, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, National Investment Commission, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, the Central Bank of Liberia, and others, approved 23 farmers, agricultural producers, and agribusinesses for grants.

The matching grant program is under the Liberia Agriculture Commercialization Fund (LACF), a component of the projects at the Ministry of Agriculture. The LACF is being managed by Deloitte West Africa, a Ghanaian financial firm.  

The release said the first batch of grants disbursed is valued at US$2 million and was intended to enable smallholder farmers, agricultural producers, cooperatives, and processors to commercialize and improve productivity.

It further stated that beneficiaries in the rice, vegetables and the oil palm value chains that were approved received between US$15,000 and US$200,000 each as grants to augment their production capacities and cover the costs of other agro-related expenses.

“We are so thankful to the partners, through our government, for the assistance provided to upgrade our farming businesses. We got US$71,900 as a total grant. And some of the money has been used to purchase land for the construction of a warehouse to store our produce. We also used the money to start the construction of a dam for irrigation purposes to enable us to grow rice twice a year and to address other challenges,” Tewa L.B Dunor, lead farmer of the Mayor River Women Initiative Farmers Cooperative in Foya District, Lofa County, explained to journalists during the grant utilization verification exercise.

“The second phase of the grant will address the purchase of power tiller, fertilizers and to procure improved rice seed for planting,” she added.  

The Mayor River Women Initiative Cooperative, comprises mostly women farmers who are engaged in rice and vegetables production. The cooperative cultivates a very large lowland that could grow rice in two cropping seasons, but the farmland lacks irrigation structure which is one of the challenges that the grant they have received aims to address. 

Dunor told journalists that their farming activities had been very challenging but, with the provision of the grant, they are hopeful to supply the market with more rice.

She however said that the cooperative was challenged when it comes to the marketing of paddy rice.

“We are calling on the Ministry to put in place a system that can address the constraint of marketing paddy,” farmer Tewa said.

She also called on the Ministry to provide more support to the group, stating that many of the women in the group are widows and they are aging.

Pastor Boston D.T. Devine, an oil palm farmer in Bomi County, said: “This grant has changed our production capacity at this facility as we were processing manually before. We have used a portion of the money to buy a vehicle that will enable us to transport farmers’ produce to the factory for processing. This is a very great initiative and we would like to thank the World Bank and IFAD for providing us this assistance.”

According to Devine, his farming business accessed a total grant of US$32,750 to procure a vehicle in order to transport the raw palm for processing and to upgrade his processing equipment

He said with the provision of the grant, his facility is equipped to some extent to create market opportunity for many of the smallholder oil palm farmers within the communities. 

Devine said he plans to expand on the facility once there is funding.

The oil palm sector is one of the sectors that the government has earmarked for investment to create more jobs, but there still exists low productivity in the sector.

“This facility is going to create jobs for many of the residents, especially the young people within the communities,” he told journalists.

For his part, a vegetable farmer in Margibi County, Alphonso Quamele mentioned that vegetables farming in Liberia is not yet a profitable venture for his group and others, due to many constraints.

Quamele said the marketing of vegetables still remains a serious challenge and there is a need that the Ministry of Agriculture link them with buyers, as well as introduce technologies for the group to produce high value vegetables.

He however expressed optimism that the assistance provided to his group will help address some of the challenges.

“Our cooperative received a total of US$21,000 and we have used it to purchase a truck to transport vegetables to the market, buy a power tiller, motorbike and other farming tools to increase our productivity. This help is truly going to make us do agriculture as a business,” the vegetable farmer said. 

In a few years, the matching grant program under the LACF is expected to benefit many smallholder farmers and agripreneurs to enhance their production capacities in order for them to supply the market.