The inability of Liberian commercial poultry farmers to increase production has made Liberia to depend largely on imported alternatives since the end of the civil war. According to stakeholders, the country spends nearly 1 million United States dollars annually to import poultry and meat products to ensure food security.
Passion Farm, a local poultry enterprise located on the outskirts of Gbarnga City, Bong County, is working to change this trend. The facility currently produces 5,000 affordable eggs for the Gbarnga market on a daily basis, to afford rural residents to improve nutrition and help reduce Liberia’s dependence on food import.
Established in 2019, the enterprise provides employment for several vulnerable youth and women. There are five permanent staff and several daily hires.
According to Tornola Varpilah, owner of the poultry farm, he plans to expand on the facility within the next few weeks as the supply of eggs is expected to increase to 20,000 daily, which will extend the market to Ganta, Totota, and major surrounding towns.
Mr. Varpilah, former Transport Minister during the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke to the Daily Observer recently on his farm in an exclusive interview.
The significance of the farm
Varpilah stated that he has established the farm to enhance food security and create employment for the residents as well as support social programs within the community.
“With the existence of the farm, many residents and businesses in Gbarnga are no longer depending on imported eggs. Passion Farm eggs are now dominating the market,” he said.
According to him, since the farm was established, students have obtained contracts to generate money to further their education. The farm has also provided employment for women to generate incomes to avoid dependence on husbands or boyfriends who most of the time use domestic violence against them.
“The issue of gender-based violence was high in the communities. But this farm is now helping to reduce the effect of the menace as the women are working to raise monies. Many rural men use women to do most of the farm work which makes the women tired, and the men beat on them when they cannot fulfil their sexual desires,” Mr. Varplah said.
Varpilah added that he is also using income from the farm to provide scholarship for less fortunate children and support recreational activities for kids.
The Liberian poultry farmers further said that he has begun to establish the aquaculture (fish farming) and vegetable components of the farm to increase the level of employment.
“We are contemplating developing a large fish pond and constructing irrigation and building a storage facility, to ensure the supply of fresh vegetables for the market. When these projects are completed, women and youth will be given loans to produce vegetables that we can buy to place on the market.
“I am also ordering equipment for feed processing very soon to make poultry feeds more affordable for farmers,” he said.
According to Varpilah, Obasanjo Farm in Gbartown, Grand Cape Mount County, is the only farm that is producing feed, but it is very costly for farmers.
“I find it very difficult to access quality feed for my farm. If not Obasanjo farm, we have to travel to Guinea to import the right kind of feeds for the birds,” he said.
The Coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating effect on every aspect of agriculture in Liberia. Due to the stringent health restrictions, poultry farmers are finding it difficult to access feed; border closure has limited the availability of poultry feed for many smallholder farmers. Varpilah told this paper that though his farm has remained open during this outbreak, the virus has, however, slow down production because of delays to get equipment from China where the virus started.
“The pandemic has not had a significant impact on the business though, except that the ordering of our equipment is delayed. I have encouraged my workers to remain safe while working on the farm by observing the various health protocols,” he said.
The retired government official and farmer said that if Liberia is to become self-sufficient in food, there must be increased private sector investment.
He said the Liberian Government must encourage the private sector by providing grants and loans to enable the farmers to engage in mechanized agricultural production.
“To sustain agricultural production, we must prioritize mechanized farming. The government should provide loans for farmers to expand production so that we can put an end or reduce food importation. The Ministry of Agriculture needs to formulate policies that will attract more Liberians to agriculture,” he concluded.