The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has released its COVID-19 food and nutrition security situation report that seeks to inform stakeholders and the public on the status of food security in the country amid the lock down instituted by the Government of Liberia to curb the spread of the virus that has caused disruptions within the food supply chains.
The COVID-19 food and nutrition security situation report of the MOA highlights challenges confronting smallholder farmers and other value chains actors in various areas of agriculture as the result of the lock down.
The report also announces the launch of the country first agricultural transport permit system, a tool that will enable agriculture authorities to grant temporary permission to agriculture actors to move between approved counties amidst the lockdown.
Additionally, the report considers the roles of the MOA and its partners in taking necessary steps such as making provision for farming inputs, equipment, seeds and other support to smallholder farmers, processors and traders to expand crop production and improve market opportunities during the global pandemic.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Liberia in March of this year, there are reports that smallholder farmers and other value chain actors are finding it difficult to increase production and access markets due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This situation has led to some stakeholders in the agriculture sector to call on the government to derive measures for agriculture in order to keep the sector alive during the pandemic to avoid panic-driven reactions that can aggravate disruptions and deteriorate the food and nutrition security of the most vulnerable.
Food Security Situation
For the livestock sector, the report outlines that although limited goats are bred in the northern part of the country particular Nimba County, the lockdown is causing a decline in the transport of goats to Monrovia where the highest consumer market is located. As for poultry, local poultry farmers through their umbrella group have complained of unavailability of poultry feed on the local market which is a major hindrance to their production. Feed is imported from neighboring Guinea which has closed its borders with the country, to contain the COVID-19 spread. Poultry producers have therefore called on the government of Liberia to persuade the Guinean government to reopen its borders to allow poultry farmers purchase feed, the report stated.
Rice is Liberia’s main staple but its production is still at a low scale thus making the country to depend heavily on imports to ensure food security for its citizens.
According to the situational report, the prices of rice have increased in Bomi, Bong, Cape Mount, Gbarpolu Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Margibi, Maryland, Montserrado, River Gee and Sinoe Counties where the virus has affected several individuals.
The report added that rice farmers in Bong and Rivercess Counties are impaired to continue farming because there are lots of seed rice with no buyers and access to markets because of the lockdown, while farmers in Maryland are craving for seed rice and farming implements for this planting season. On the other hand in Gbarpolu, River Gee and Sinoe Counties there are reports of uninterrupted rice planting this season in spite of the lockdown.
The report states that in Nimba County there are reports of stable prices of all varieties of locally grown food and imported ones.
Vegetables is one of Liberia’s most profitable crops but not enough of it is being produced locally as much of the produce is coming to the market through neighboring countries. This is partly due to the lack of improved skills and technologies to enable local farmers to produce more. And the COVID-19 has made it compelling to accelerate the growth of the crop to meet market demand.
Even though vegetable farming is taking place, but at a lower scale as MoA’s County Coordinators report fertilizer shortages in Bomi, Bong, Cape Mount, Maryland and Montserrado Counties. Fertilizers are needed to increase vegetable production, the report said.
Cassava is Liberia second main staple and if supported by government could help reduce hunger in the lives of the citizens and attract exports. It has been reflected as one of the priority crops under the MOA emergency food security plan.
The report shows that in Bomi and Cape Mount Counties, noted for large cassava outputs are not affected by the lockdown as cassava farming is taking place undisturbed.
However, according to the report MoA’s partners for food price monitoring, that includes Welthungerhilfe, Concern Worldwide, ZOA and SPARK, processed cassava prices have increased.
Also the cost of raw cassava and other inputs such as milk powder have increased, forcing the agro processors to increase the price of some of their goods. A range of cassava-based goods sold in 500g bags have increased in price between 10LD-25LD depending on the specific ingredients in the product”, the report said.
Cocoa and Coffee
The Cocoa and Coffee sector has been controversial for the past months prior to the coronavirus outbreak due to policies differences between the Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Agency (LACRA), which is the regulatory body of the sector and other actors mainly exporters. There is a bill that is still lingering at the House of Legislature that seeks to amend the function of LACRA to become the sole exporter of cocoa products.
Although the Minister of Agriculture is yet to provide a clear position on this matter, the situation report manifests continued cocoa faming activities in Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties. As for Lofa County, Cocoa and Coffee farmers report lack of inputs and improved seeds to plant because produce owners are no longer present in the market due to the lockdown, Lofa tree crops farmers complain that buyers are not giving them a fair share of their produce current market value, the report said.
MOA and Partners’ Roles amid COVID-19
The report indicates that the ministry is accelerating its procurement plans for farming inputs, equipment, seeds and support to farmers to expand cultivation through the Government of Liberia and donor partners endorsed COVID-19 food security response plan.
In some parts of rural Liberia, farmers’ foodstuffs are perishing due to lack of markets thus causing decline in their income and turnover capital to prepare for this year’s planting season that has already started, the MoA’s rural liaisons revealed.
The County Coordinators have been persuading local authorities at their respective areas of assignment to allow farmers do farming and cross-county movements of food crops.
As a way of properly organizing movements of farmers, the MoA has instituted, with endorsement of the National COVID-19 Response Committee, a mobile phone enabled pass granting system to facilitate cross-county passages of farmers, food producers and movements of basic agriculture produce and implements; and ensure food availability during the ongoing lock down.
As a result of those challenges, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, upon request from the MoA, on April 30 instructed County Superintendents to convey to all security actors deployed in the leeward to allow farmers to carry on their farming activities and transporting crops to markets without hindrances during this lockdown.
Accordingly, the Liberia National Police, through its Inspector General on May 1, relayed the instruction to its personnel at various checkpoints around the country to grant unhindered passage for farmers and food producers, the report said.
The report also disclosed that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has distributed 20 metric tons of assorted farming inputs through its emergency response intervention to 19 smallholders low land rice farmers in Voinjama and Zorzor Districts in Lofa County which directly benefit 899 farmers.
“FAO says it is supporting maize production to enhance animal feed production through the distribution of 10,750 kg of seed to farmers in Bong, Bomi, Nimba and other adjacent Counties with 1,250 beneficiaries predominantly women farmers from 11 districts across 24 communities,” the report further revealed.
President George Weah, on April 27, issued Executive Order No.101 which operationalized the National Food Assistance Agency (NFAA) – founded in 1970 –to handle food assistance programs with partners during this emergency and other future emergencies. This is the fifth of such Executive Order, directly linked to improving food security and agriculture, among ten such orders issued since his ascendency to the Presidency in January 2018. The Minister of Agriculture was also named as Chairperson of NFAA’s Board.
Liberia’s COVID-19 confirmed cases have jumped from 213 with 20 deaths and 101 recovery rate.
Another county –Gbarpolu – located in the diamond-rich and heavily forested northwestern region noted for rice and cassava farming, now has a confirmed case thus summing up to eight of the country’s 15 counties that are now affected by the virus.