SEATTLE — In an economy recovering from the Ebola crisis, the Liberian government and international organizations including USAID are focused on boosting small-scale farming within the country. Increasing food production in Liberia, and consequentially decreasing expensive imports, is considered essential for development.
Approximately 63 percent of the Liberian population lives below the national poverty line and rice, grown and imported, is the country’s staple food. FrontPageAfrica reports rice imports alone cost the fragile economy more than $200 million.
Subsistence and commercial farming have been repeatedly disrupted during the turmoil of two civil wars, past economic plunder, and most recently the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak. Continuing through 2015, Liberia suffered more deaths than any other West African country.
There is great potential for higher levels of food production in Liberia. According to the online publication Celebrating Progress Africa (CPAfrica), “Liberia has a climate favorable to farming, vast forests, and an abundance of water, yet low yields mean that over half of foodstuffs are imported.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) is also involved with increasing food production in Liberia and developing commercial farming opportunities. Through the organization’s Purchase for Progress, initiative farmers are connected to markets edging Liberia towards what the WFP reports is an “enormous potential” for “food and cash crop production.”
Government officials have repeatedly told the press that increasing food production in Liberia not only requires higher yields but also the incorporation of private sector solutions. The industry must support a value chain extending from improved land and water management all the way to better market access.
The USAID-sponsored Food Enterprise Development (FED) program which focuses on increasing food production in Liberia, will conclude in September 2016. The end of one of the United States’ biggest agricultural aid projects has prompted many parties involved to review the project and ask: What’s next?
During its tenure, the $75 million FED program has worked to increase food production by providing high yield seeds, training for thousands of farmers, and developing the National Agriculture Diploma Curriculum. USAID’s efforts are not limited to improved farming methods but also include developing food processing and ensuring crops reach the target markets.
In addition to increasing food security, growth in the agriculture sector increases opportunities for youth and women. USAID reports that in four years the FED program engaged nearly 100,000 farmers many of which were youth and women. The coverage by CPAfrica also notes, “The sector is very important for women as they are widely employed in it in comparison to the economy as a whole.”
The government has committed to ongoing food security programs and plans to increase the budget share for agriculture from approximately three percent to 10 percent by 2017 according to USAID. Some Liberian farmers have also called for an extension for the FED program to improve the country’s transition to food sufficiency.
The importance of agriculture is not overlooked by current President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who has repeatedly called for Liberians to join the fight against hunger, especially through subsistence and commercial farming. The Liberian Ministry of Agriculture’s website bears the motto: “Eat what you grow, grow what you eat.”