Farmers in Zorzor and Voinjama Districts in Lofa County have said that the county can feed Liberia as well as reclaimits previous title as Liberia’s breadbasketif the government has the political will to purchase the many thousands of tons of rice already harvested, improve farm to market roads in the county andprovide warehouses to store the rice.
During a visit on Monday to Kpadeh Village in Voinjama District, Mr. Sylvester S. S. Kpadeh, team leader of Kpadeh Village United Upland Farmers Association, said considering the increase in the purchasing of last year’s produce, the organization was motivated to cultivate 70 hectares of rice for this year.
“Through the buying of our produce, mainly rice, which brought changes to the lives of farmers, we decided to increase our farms for commercial purposes, but we are getting frustrated due to the lack of buyers,” Mr. Kpadeh said.
Mr. Kpadeh has three wives – two of them also farmers and one, a nurse. Together, they have 10 children, all of them in school this year, thanks to successful farming seasons for the past two years. However, this year could see interruptions in the education of some of his children as a result of the abundant harvest that has no buyers.
Like Kpadeh, many farmers were greatly encouraged by the successful results of the last three farming seasons, and had resolved to double or even triple their production. Many therefore reinvested their profits from previous harvests to expanding their farms, which meant acquisition of more tools and manpower that could cost more than 10,000 LD per day.
“Since we started the harvesting of rice this year, there has been no network to show that we will have a successful market or buying season.”
He said for the past three years, Mr. John Selma, a leading rice buyer, put a successful system into place and was able to purchase their harvests, which enabled farmers to build modern houses, own motorbikes, and ensure that their children remained in school.
Mr. Kpadeh said his organization lack storage capacity and processing machines, which may likely hamper next year’s farming activities. They also are in desperate need of buyers for all the rice they have harvested.
“The government of Liberia must see our problems as their own concern so that once they are addressed, we can produce food to feed ourselves in this country,” he said.
“We’ve produced 5,000 bags of rice for commercial purposes and many farmers still have some of last year’s produce remaining, which indicates that we are ready to produce enough rice to end hunger in Liberia.”
He said if the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) does not come to the aid of farmers through purchasing their produce, farming activities would decline in the county.
“Many nearby villages around Voinjama and Zorzor have been able to improve their living conditions through farming. We have farmers that can today boast of better living standards because of farming; and so with Liberian government’s support, Lofa farmers can make Liberia self-sufficient in our staple food, rice,” Mr. Kpadeh said.
He said his organization is currently engaged in the production of rice and plantain due to the high demand of these crops in Liberia.
With improved farm to market roads and the Liberian government’s acceptance to purchase their rice and other products,including cassava, potatoes, vegetables and eddoes, he said there will no longer be hunger in Liberia.
Mr. Kpadeh said the government of Liberia must focus on building the road network in Lofa County and other food-producing areas in the country so that farmers can be able to transport their produce after harvest. “Farmers will then not be encouraged if the government does not purchase their produce,” he added.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), he said, must decentralize its activitiesby identifying major farmers in the country that are helping to increase food production in Liberia.
He added that if farmers can get buyers for their produce this year, there would be huge quantities of rice, particularly from Lofa County. He hoped that authorities, including non-governmental organizations (NGO) would assist in buying rice from farmers in Lofa County.
A group of farmers who spoke with the Daily Observer over the weekend in David Selma Town, Lofa County said their farming activities have greatly improved their lives and brought development to the county.
“For the past three years, many farmers have engaged in commercial farming activities. Since the end of the civil crisis in Liberia, this year can be considered as the most successful year in terms of production. Due to the encouragement from buyers, we have produced more rice,” said Washington Wolobah, who spoke on behalf of he group.
He said farmers are seriously frustrated over the lack of buyers this year, which they believe has the propensity to hamper regular farming activities in the county.
“All you hear is Liberian cannot feed itself, but here are situations that farmers are faced with. If we have improved farms to market roads, we can truck some of our rice to Monrovia by ourselves and also purchase our own supplies with money we get from the sales,” Mr. Wolobah said.
He said commercial farming was a serious challenged for many farmers in Lofa County especially early 2000 to 2010 and Lofa can now boast of huge quantities of rice.
He has also been able to establish a well-recognize farming group that cultivated 70 hectares of upland rice.
According to Mr. Kpadeh, the 10 children are currently in school, thanks to the commercial farming activities and promise to provide better living condition for members of his team.
Kpadeh is one person who believes that children are the future leaders and must be given or provided the opportunity to acquire quality education.