The United States Agency for International Development, in collaboration with Liberian Entrepreneurial and Asset Development (LEAD), last week launched an agribusiness initiative to assist Liberian farmers to enter the money economy.
The program is designed to help farmers graduate from subsistence farming to commercialization by empowering them to grow their crops successfully and on a larger scale and bring them to the market.
The donors will provide loans ranging from LD180,000 to LD500,000 to help vegetable farmers improve upon their agribusinesses. The money will be used to expand their farms by purchasing farming inputs such as implements, seeds, fertilizers and insecticides. The farmers would also be able to employ workers to ease the labor burden and make it possible to expand their acreages.
Three counties will initially benefit from the program—Montserrado, Margibi and Nimba.
It would be good if, in addition to the funding, a way could be found to further empower these farmers with technical assistance provided by agricultural extension agents. In the absence of these, we wonder if USAID and LEAD could engage a cadre of agricultural technicians to serve this purpose. We confess that this is asking a bit much, since we cannot realistically expect donors to do everything for us. This part of the work should be done by the Ministry of Agriculture, which should be deploying ag agents throughout the country to enlighten and empower farmers with modern techniques and skills. Alas, the Ministry’s extension service across the country seems to be very limited. That is why we think LEAP should go the extra mile.
It is sad that the Agriculture Ministry has not kept its pledge, made over three years ago, to have ag extension agents crisscross the country to engage the people in Liberia’s largest work sector—farming.
Should LEAD and USAID be able to provide such ag technicians, this would help the farmers to succeed and repay their loans. As these initial farmer succeed, the lending program would be extended to the other counties.
There is a wonderful opportunity for urban farming in Montserrado County. Look at all our swamp land all over this county. The Ministries of Agriculture, Lands Mines and Energy and the Land Commission should jointly mark off ALL of these swamp lands and reserve them for farming. Otherwise, they will soon be swallowed up by unscrupulous land grabbers to build houses.
PRAY TELL US, WHY SHOULD THE LIBERIAN GOVERNMENT SIT SUPINELY AND PERMIT THIS TO HAPPEN, WHEN WE HAVE A VERITABLE FOOD CRISIS IN THIS COUNTRY? We pray that these three very relevant agencies—Agriculture, Lands and Mines and Land Commission, would get busy and preserve and conserve our swamplands to encourage agricultural production.
There is one problem we see in the USAID-LEAD program: the 16% interest rate is too high. We suggest it be reduced to eight percent, in line with what the Central Bank of Liberia is doing in its micro-finance initiatives around the country. This would attract more lenders and make it easier for them to succeed.