– Insights from A Field Trip
Liberians benefit through various development projects funded by the European Union and its partners after the European Union allocated 279 million Euros to support Liberia’s Good Governance, Agriculture, Forestry, Education, Energy and Transport sectors for the period between 2014 and 2020.
In March 2020, the “European Union – Liberia Partnership Campaign for Young Media Professionals” gave eight journalists, four Liberians and their European counterparts, an opportunity to learn more about the impact of these projects on the lives of Liberians. The national campaign was implemented by the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia in partnership with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
The journalists traveled over 14 days visiting nine projects in seven counties. The visited communities and partnering organizations working with the Delegation had insightful stories to share.
Notably, the journalists met several communities taking impressive steps to improve their livelihood through agriculture. Through projects funded by the European Union, farmers improved their skills, and they have begun seeing the results of their hard work.
One of those farmers is James Ziankahn, who grows cassava in Portor Township, River Cess County. He has received technical training and assistance to improve his production methods and financial literacy.
“We had challenges with financing, but the PARTNERS program encouraged us to form a Community Savings and Loans Association. Today, we can get loans from our own savings and pay workers to help us make a very big farm. I will harvest more cassava soon”, Mr. Ziankahn said.
Ziankahn is one of 6,600 farmers from 220 communities who have since 2018, benefited from the PARTNERS Program.
Farmers engaged in cash crop cultivation have also seen increases in their yield. Alfred Domah is a cocoa farmer in Nimba County. For years, he harvested poor quality beans and had to sell them cheaply. However, with the introduction of the EU funded Liberia Cocoa Sector Improvement Programme (LICSIP), farmers have been trained in good agronomic practices to increase their yield. As a result, they have started receiving commercial rates for their beans.
“We used to sell our beans for $140 Liberian Dollars per Kilogramme, but now, we sell it for $310. We have started earning a good income from our farms”, he told the journalists.
Elsewhere, the journalists explored how the European Union seeks to help young people by training them in different areas of employment to increase their chances on the job market. The Youth Rising project is strengthening Liberia’s Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector in terms of equitable access to high-quality and demand-driven learning opportunities. Upcoming TVET training will be offered to the youth in six schools located in five counties.
The project is also targeting training women in male-dominated professions. Kpannah Varney, 26 years old, is a heavy-duty machine operator and a recent graduate of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Margibi County, Liberia. Although she was discouraged from pursuing a male-dominated course, she persevered. “People said it was too hard for a woman, but I took the course all the same, and today, I can operate the heavy-duty machine”, she said.
In addition, the journalists explored the budget support program where the European Union releases funds to the government of Liberia according to their achievement of specific development results. Other sites visited include the Rice and Fish project (Bong County) and initiatives supporting sustainable forestry (Sinoe County), wildlife conservation (Margibi County), and civil society (Grand Gedeh).
For the young journalists, the 14-day travel was very intense but highly productive. It provided face to face interactions between beneficiaries and the journalists. The campaign also offered an intercultural exchange among the Liberian journalists and their European counterparts which made it a unique experience for them.
One of the participants, Edward Blamo of “thekpataweepost” website, has specialized in reporting on natural resource management. Even though he had been writing about forest resource management for years, this was the first time he visited a logging concession.
“As a development journalist, the opportunity given through the campaign was worthwhile. I saw firsthand the impact of funding from a development partner, in addition to exchanging cultures with my European colleagues”, he said.
Another participant, Saywhar Nana Gbaa of ECOWAS Radio, was fascinated by the achievements of the women she encountered in each of the seven counties visited. Although there is still significant progress to be made in Liberia for gender equality, the European Union and its partners, are striving to make a difference; one woman, one family and one community at a time. After engaging with women in all the seven counties, she concluded,
“No matter where Liberian women are, with their shared challenges and responsibilities, our women are courageous and self-confident to make an impact in their lives however small”.
Fermin Torrano, a Spanish freelance journalist, now has a new perspective of Liberia:
“Before the campaign, I could say a few things about Liberia. Data, statistics and a historical approach. Now that I’ve met the people, I’ve fallen in love with the country, and I can’t wait to get back!”, he said.
The stories documented by the journalists will be published as short videos on the Facebook page of the Delegation of the European Union to Liberia in addition to the photo stories that are already online. A documentary film of the full campaign story will be screened at the next European Union Film Festival after the Corona Virus pandemic (exact date will be announced). The short videos and documentary will also be available on the European Union’s website.