The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has had a devastating effect on agriculture, livelihood and food security of many Liberians, mainly the vulnerable citizens, the majority who are smallholder farmers. During the earlier stage of the outbreak in March 2020, many farmers in food producing counties abandoned productive agricultural activities due to stringent measures introduced by the Government in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.
Considering the adverse impact the virus could pose on the lives of smallholder farmers and other actors of the value chain, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), took note and instituted measures to avoid the economic shocks brought on by the virus. MOA Smallholder Transformation Agriculture Revitalization Project (STAR-P) through its COVID-19 emergency proposal, attracted US$10.5 million dollars from the World Bank under the contingency emergency response component to mitigate the impact of the virus on agriculture and food security for Liberians.
The the Ministry has worked tirelessly to identify potential and qualified agribusinesses to access contracts that could boost their capacities to produce various food products to supply the GOL for distribution to vulnerable citizens.
The goal is to ensure that the citizens overcome the economic shocks the virus has caused.
On Friday, August 28, the MOA began its first awards of contracts to nine entities in the cassava and rice sectors. The program was held at the MOA central office in Congo Town, Monrovia, attended by the Minister of Agriculture Jeanine Milly Cooper and officials of the ministry, as well farmers and processors and other value chain actors.
The beneficiary entities include, Bravo Sisters, FALAMA INC, Global Agro, Destiny Women and the Liberian Business Incubator. Others are the Logan and Logan INC, Selma Development Agriculture Corporation (SDAC), Agriculture Infrastructures Investment Company (AIIC) and Fabrar Incorporated.
Expressing sentiments about the program, Minister Cooper, who took over the agriculture Ministry just ahead of the virus outbreak in Liberia, said that her ministry was pleased to empower agribusinesses under the COVID-19 emergency food plan.
She said that COVID-19 is a terrible disease that has disrupted agricultural production, leaving farmers and other value chain actors very vulnerable.
“Barely two and the half weeks after I had actually taken office, we worked during the crisis, which is abnormal. We noticed that there would be a severe impact on our agriculture sector and food security if certain measures were not taken. We then developed a proposal to seek funding from donors to support agriculture,” she said.
“This has been a long journey since we started but the interactions and procurement processes have been very tedious to allow us come thus far.”
Madam Cooper said that empowering local businesses, especially ones in the agriculture sector, is something that President George M. Weah has always urged her to prioritize.
“Since my ascendency to this position, the President has always told me to make sure that agribusinesses are empowered,” she said.
According to her the beneficiary entities are charged with the responsibilities to produce various processed food products to be supplied to vulnerable individuals and institutions.
She said that there are additional agribusinesses that are expected to soon benefit for the initiative.
Meanwhile, beneficiaries of the program have praised Minister Cooper for her farsightedness to seek funding from donors to assist them. They have called on the government to invest more into agriculture so that the country can become food secure.