Since the end of the Liberian civil war, there has been much discussion and effort by the government and its international partners toward generating significant interest among young people in agriculture.
Most projects being introduced in the sector are said to be aligned with the strategy of more inclusiveness for the youths and women to benefit.
However, participation of the youth still remains low in the sector and support for them is either lacking or limited. Even so, it is quite the understatement to note the poor morale among the youth demographic in the agricultural sector of Liberia.
The youth comprised approximately 65 percent of Liberia’s population that is now estimated to be over 5 million. Out of this number, only 3 percent of the youths are engaged in some form of agricultural activity, according to Agrotech, a youth driven organization.
Liberia, a food-deficient nation in the world, shows a bleak outlook in terms of food security without the participation of the youths. It is said that the farming population of the country is aging, with most farmers around the age 50 years and above.
With rapid urbanization taking place, leading to the decline of populations in rural communities, many of the young people in Liberia have migrated to Monrovia and other urban cities in search of better living conditions and perceived opportunities.
The UN World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in cities and, by 2050, the population will increase to 7 out of 10 people.
Limited or the Lack of Support for Youth
Though projects implemented by the government and its partners to encourage more youth inclusiveness, it appeared as though not many youths are currently accessing support for agriculture.
A young farmer, James Kollie Galakpai recently told the Daily Observer that he is yet to get any support for his farm project in his district.
James said he is managing a tree and food crop project in Zorzor District, Lofa County.
“For the past 2-years, I have developed a large portion of land with crops to raise income. But I am disenchanted because I haven’t gotten the needed support to expand. This is highly frustrating because I want to use agriculture to improve my life,” James told this newspaper recently in an exclusive interview.
He said if the young people will remain significantly involved in agriculture, there is a need that the government provides more support.
He named access to loans and farming equipment and machines as some of the support the youth really need.
According to him, he wants to operate a processing center for rice in his district.
He has called on the administration of President George M. Weah to increase investment and programs for agriculture for the youths.
President Weah has since pronounced agriculture a priority but support for the sector is still dismal. The government's support for agriculture mostly derives from external sources.
James told the Observer that he was recently recognized by some online media outlets for his role in the agricultural sector.
A resident of Wenwuta Town, Zorzor District, Lofa County James grows rice, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, vegetables, and other food crops.
Offering Youths a Voice
Young people in Liberia’s agricultural sector are not involved in decision-making processes both at local and national levels. This is something that has greatly hindered their participation and support for agriculture.
Agrotech is one of the organizations in Liberia that is involved in the development of young people in the sector, but support to such organizations is limited to encourage more young people in farming.
Jonathan Stewart, executive director explained to the Daily Observer that the youths are discouraged because policymakers have failed to ensure implementation of policies and programs designed to improve the lives of the youths in the sector.
Mr. Stewart said his organization has developed a communique and submitted the same to the Ministry of Agriculture.
According to him, the communique, when accepted or approved by the government, will help improve the living conditions of the youths in the sector.
“We have drafted this document and have delivered it to the office of the Minister of Agriculture for prompt action but have yet to get any response. It is our hope that we can get feedback from the Minister as soon as possible,” Stewart told the Observer.
It can be recalled that in 2021, Agrotech convened a meeting with young people engaged in agriculture across the country to dialogue on the critical agriculture programs in order to draw the attention of the government.
The meeting was held in Monrovia, attended by policymakers, including Margibi County senator, Jim W. Tornonlah, who chairs the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry at the Liberian Senate. Also attending the meeting was the Montserrado County District Number 1 Representative Lawrence Morris and some members from the private sector, mainly concessionaires.
During the meeting, both lawmakers expressed the need for young people to be given more attention in the agriculture sector.
However, since the end of the meeting, not much is being heard from the lawmakers about their commitment to youths’ involvement in agriculture. Lawmakers have approved the FY 2022 national budget allotment for agriculture far below the benchmark of the Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security. The framework mandates that every African government allocates 10 percent of their total national budget annually for agriculture.
Liberia has introduced numerous agricultural programs over the years. But many of these programs or training activities don't adequately address the empowerment of the young people to begin an agricultural business, after training. This is because the government has largely depended on donors for support instead of taking the initiative to do some of the things for the purpose of sustainability.
Like, the USAID Food and Enterprise Development (FED) that operated for five years in the country worked to develop the workforce capacity of the agricultural sector through the National Diploma for Agriculture (NDA). The NDA program was rolled out in three communities’ colleges including the Booker Washington Institute. Since the phasing out of the FED program in 2016, not much is being heard of the government’s support toward the NDA program.
Using farm machines is the surest way to attract young people to participate in the agriculture sector.
The government of Liberia has allotted US$ 1 million in the FY 2022 national budget to promote farm mechanization so that farmers can improve productivity.
The Ministry of Agriculture has also begun distributing different kinds of farm machines to smallholder farmers under its donor-funded project. But whether these interventions will directly address more support for youths is a question to ask?
Young people not working together in the agricultural sector as a group seriously hinders their chances to develop and to enhance production.
Agricultural cooperatives will empower young farmers economically and socially by involving them in decision-making processes that create additional rural employment opportunities.
But sadly, very few young people in the agricultural sector are working as farming cooperatives. Many of the farming businesses of the youths are not formalized.
Gala Toto, National Program Coordinator of the Rural Economic Transformation Project (RETRAP) of the Ministry of Agricultural told the Daily Observer that youths in the sector don’t greatly benefit from assistance because they are not organized.
RETRAP is a World Bank supported project that seeks to increase incomes of rural poor households through sustainable agriculture livelihood activities and improve access to marketing and infrustructures.
“We have a grant program for smallholder farmers currently, but not sure that assistance for youths in the sector is being well forthcoming or provided. The youths will have to form themselves into cooperatives and formalize their farming businesses if they are to develop,” he told our reporter recently at his office.
Awareness on agriculture
Awareness creation to mobilize the youths for agriculture is lacking both at local and national levels. There is yet a vigorous awareness program that will get more of the young people in agriculture. Thus, the youths are not getting the needed information about those opportunities that are there for them in the agricultural sector. This is because the Ministry and its partners are doing less to invest in communication to unfold information about the various projects existing at the sector that the youths could take advantage of.
It is recent that the Ministry has developed a communication strategy after the last five years to promote communication in the sector. The C4D communication strategy will seek to work with Liberian journalists to educate or inform the public about those major developments and success stories of farmers in the sector.
The challenges such as the limited support and training, lack of organization confronting the young people in the agricultural sector must be addressed by the government in order to make Liberia a food secure country. The Ministry of Agriculture needs to directly work with youth organizations in the sector for whatever assistance they are to deliver to the youths. This approach will help eliminate the level of disenchantment facing the young people.