… to overcome food security challenge
The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is having devastating effects on agriculture and food security of Liberians, mainly the vulnerable citizens majority of who are smallholder farmers. Many farmers have abandoned productive agriculture activities as the result of stringent measures instituted by the Liberian Government to contain the spread of the virus.
Significantly, access to good quality rice seeds to cultivate local rice, which is the main staple of Liberians, remains a challenge for many producers particularly during this planting period of the rice farming season.
To provide some remedy and help mitigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the lives of smallholder rice farmers, the Feed the Future Liberia Agribusiness Development Activity (LADA) implemented by Cultivating New Frontier for Agriculture (CNFA), with funding from USAID has supported approximately 1,500 smallholder rice farmers in Bong, Nimba and Lofa Counties with 58 metric tons of improved rice seed varieties to enable them overcome the increased food security challenge created as the result of the virus outbreak.
On June 4, 2020, LADA launched the Seeds Voucher Fairs under its COVID-19 Food Security and Early Economic Recovery Response for Smallholder Farmers. This initiative is part of efforts to complement the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Agriculture’s priority of providing seeds to farmers to mitigate the risk of food insecurity as a result of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19.
The program was held in Meleke, Jorkolleh District, Bong County attended by the Agriculture Minister Jeanine Milly Cooper and other top officials of the ministry, the local authorities of Bong County, private sector actors, including NGOs, processors, agro-inputs dealers as well as smallholder rice farmers. LADA worked with trained and certified agro-dealers to source the high quality rice seeds and distribute to smallholder rice producers in the targeted counties so that they do not miss the ongoing production cycle during this COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are very much impressed for the provision of seed rice, especially during this critical health crisis. Many farmers lack the funds to purchase seed rice and COVID-19 has made the situation worse for them,” said Musu Bartu, head of the Rural Women Farmers Cooperative in Bong County.
Madam Bartu vowed to work with the farmers to ensure that they access market for the produce during the harvest season: ‘As these farmers receive the seed rice for planting, we have all of the data on them to do follow up in order to ensure that the rice grown by the farmers can be purchased by us and put on the local market.”
However, Madam Bartu stressed the need for the Government to invest more in the agriculture value chain to sustain the works that LADA has done in the sector.
Peter Kollie of the Quapolu Agro-inputs store said: “we will continue to source more rice seed that farmers can buy at reasonable prices. This is a relationship the LADA has built between us and the smallholder farmers to ensure access to quality inputs”.
Awarded in December 2015, LADA is in its fifth year of implementation and aims to increase the income of smallholder farmers in Montserrado, Bong, Nimba and Lofa Counties through capacity strengthening and improving private sector investment in the agricultural inputs supply system. It also aims to improve the technical capacity of aggregators, and processors and increasing private sector investment in post-harvest handling and advocating for improved agricultural policy environment.
Over the last four years LADA has provided grants to agro-dealers, processors and farm support service providers through its co-investment fund to facilitate access to quality inputs, increase productivity to generate more income for smallholder farmers.
Amidst the current COVID-19 global health emergency, LADA continues to implement technical activities through remote technical assistance delivery mechanism such as the use of tele farming, mobile SMS, WhatsApp market linkages groups and distance learning platforms to sustain the gains of the project.