Bad roads, high transport costs inhibit sales to markets in Gbarnga, Kakata, Monrovia
Due to a host of difficulties including bad roads and the lack of access to financial credit, farmers and multipurpose cooperatives in Lofa County, according to sources, are transporting key locally produced commodities such as rice, oil, plantains and bananas to neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Farmers and business people producing such commodities told the Daily Observer in separate interviews that they are doing so due to deplorable road conditions that prohibit transportation of said produce to more valuable markets in Gbarnga, Ganta and Monrovia. The deplorable state of the Voinjama/Zorzor highway and the subsequent hike in transportation fares, they say, increase the risk of loss.
Managers of local cooperatives informed this newspaper recently that prices being offered in two neighboring countries for those same commodities, however, are so low to the extent that farmers invariably find themselves at the mercy of cutthroat middlemen, who unfairly price their goods.
Attempts by farmers involved in the cross-border trade to reject the unfair prices often prove difficult, basically because the lack of finance and deplorable road conditions leave them with no alternatives but to sell to the middlemen or to take their commodities across the border either into Sierra Leone or Guinea where their goods fetch comparatively low prices.
Two farmers who crossed over to Guinea last week, Elizabeth and Helen Tamba, said that locally processed rice was bought at a low price when so much was spent on transportation fares from Foya Airfield to the Guinea border. Furthermore, across the border, their items have to be transacted in Guinean Francs, a situation that causes them to lose more money when trying to buy back Liberian dollars after doing business on that side of the border
For Foya Statutory District, especially, there are always large harvests of crops such as lowland (swamp) rice, red oil and plantain and banana. However, most of those commodities end up being sold at very low prices across the border; otherwise, they end up going to waste.
In Kolahun District, majority of the local farmers produce upland rice, pepper, eddoes and peanuts. They experience the same hardships at the hands of Guinean and Sierra Leonean traders and middlemen across the border.
To alleviate such hardships, Saah R. James, General Manager of the Intofarwor Farmers and Multipurpose Cooperative Society (IFMCS), has appealed to the Liberian government to empower them through micro-credit or soft-loans that would enable them to procure equipment to process and add value to their harvested produce.
According to James, his group would need at least US$50,000. He also underscored the need to revitalize the Agriculture Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB), which played an important role in the growth and progress of farmers in the 1980s.
He also assured that Foya Statutory District as an agricultural hub, when given the necessary financial assistance, farmers can gradually scale up to meet local demand for commodities such as rice, plantain, banana, cassava and eddoes.
“We are prepared to produce the nation’s staple, rice and some needed vegetables for most of the urban markets during these critical economic conditions in our country,” Mr. James assured.
He also recommended the connection of feeder roads to areas that are high in agriculture production, such as Foya and Kolahun districts. Such road connectivity, James argued, would improve the socioeconomic conditions of local farmers and enable them to send their children to school.
Since the 1960s, Foya and Kolahun Districts are notably known for the production of cash crops such as cocoa, coffee, peanuts and eddoes as well as sugar cane and pepper.
Prior to the civil war, the general markets of Gueckedou, Foya and Koindu contributed immensely to the socioeconomic viability of the three Mano River Union countries in West Africa as traders on all sides played major roles in the economies of Foya and Kolahun Districts.
But, since the civil war ended in 2003, such commodities continue to be produced but, due to the perpetual and unending deplorable conditions of roads in the two agriculturally driven districts, farmers have found another by carrying same to neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone and Guinea, business people in the two countries continue to buy those commodities at very low prices and such unfair business practice is not making any significant impact in the lives of farmers of Foya and Kolahun District in Lofa County.