Residents in Paynesville and Careysburg grow food amidst COVID-19, under the Triumph Garden initiative.
Triumph garden is a type of garden practiced by people during an emergency period with the objective to ensure food security, especially for poor household families. The program, implemented by Agro Tech in Montserrado County, was introduced by the Government of Liberia this year, through the Smallholder Agriculture Transformation Agribusiness Revitalization project (STAR-P), a Work Bank supported project under the Ministry of Agriculture. It seeks to support urban residents to overcome food shortage that affects their families, should there be shock in the food system, as the result of the pandemic or other national emergencies.
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country in 2020, President George Manneh Weah issued a Proclamation of a State of Emergency, which included a dusk-to-dawn stay-home order to contain the spread of the virus. The rising COVID-19 confirmed cases created panic and uncertainty among farmers, thereby hindering farming activities.
Now, the third and more deadly wave of the coronavirus in Liberia presents more uncertainties concerning food security in the country. What would happen to our food system once more in case of a lock down, especially where nearly all of the foods consumed by Liberians are imported?
The coronavirus pandemic must be considered as an opportunity to accelerate food production, especially in parts of the country most affected by spread of the virus. The agricultural sector of the country, during this time must continue to be kept alive. This is why the Triumph Garden Program plays an important role.
According to Jonathan Stewart, executive director of Agro Tech, the organization implementing the Triumph Garden Program, the program has benefited 970 household families to enable them establish backyard gardens and other projects to improve their food nutrition, since June of this year when the program was launched.
He said that the garden program supports people mainly with low incomes.
“This program is able to raise additional incomes for residents in urban areas during this health crisis,” he explained.
According to him, they have assisted farming organizations and schools with tools, seedlings to promote their crops production.
He said beneficiaries of the program are highly delighted to get support from the Ministry, particularly during this time of the health crisis.
“This is the time that we need to work with community people to enhance their food nutrition. If the virus continues to persist, then it may become difficult to get food from neighboring countries,” he warned.
“The strategy is to encourage young people in the schools to develop interest in gardens. Also, we have worked with a women’s group and some members of the military to improve their garden practices, Stewart added.
However, Stewart did not fail to mention some of the challenges confronting the program and the need for the program to continue beyond the stipulated time frame so that more residents can benefit.
He said the program has suffered some setbacks due to late implementation.
“We have suffered the effects of climate change because we didn't start the program on time. Also, due the underfunding of the program, we couldn’t adequately support the beneficiaries. Many people in the communities are also wanting support to start their own gardens,” he said.
Stewart, also mentioned the delay in the procurement processes to get support to farmers in a timely manner.
Some beneficiaries of the garden program told the Daily Observer that their crop production has been promoted as a result of the program.
They said it would be good for the program to continue during the next farming season to enable them to expand.
According to one of the beneficiaries, James Mafolon, of the Mamie Pepper Group of Farmers in Careyburg district, with such a program, especially when more support is provided, they should no longer depend on the purchase of vegetables from the market, during this COVID period.
“We would like to see this type of program continue. But the time at which the project was implemented was not opportune as we suffered the effect of flooding in the field. We would also like to see the Ministry provide inputs in a timely manner,” he said.
Mafolon said that they were growing vegetables on 2 acres and would need a power tiller to expand production.
STAR-P coordinator’s clarifications
The national coordinator of the STAR-P, Ansu A. Metzger, said that unfortunately, the triumph garden program implementation will not be extended as people may expect.
According to him, due to lack of funding, his institution is expected to halt the program. Mr. Metzger mentioned that this time, they are to focus their garden program, primarily for people in Bomi and Grand Gedeh counties.
According to him, the decision to take the garden program to those two counties is predicated upon a food security survey carried out in 2018 that reported serious food security problems in those parts of Liberia.
“There is a serious food security issue in Bomi and Grand Gedeh, thereby prompting our decision to intervene there. A lot of children are suffering from malnutrition and stunted growth,” he said.
However, Metzger stated that based on the success stories coming out of the triumph garden program, his institution might likely support residents, but in a different manner.
Metzger said that they may decide to provide technical support to farmers who are benefiting from the triumph garden program.
He was, however, not clear how such support will be directed through Agro Tech or STAR-P.
Access to food during this pandemic is critical to ensuring food security, especially for poor families in Monrovia and its environs, where the virus is raging. STAR-P needs to review its plan for the triumph garden program, since the coronavirus pandemic is still affecting the economy. Secondly, in as much the triumph project is being piloted for a period of six months, and that a lot of people are yearning for support, the project should see reason to attract funding for the program to enable it to continue.