The United States African Development Foundation (USADF) has signed five grants totaling US$477,039 to support grassroots groups in Liberia.
The grants will benefit Agriculture Relief Services (ARS), Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy, Inc (COPDA). Kokoyah Multipurpose Cooperative and Development Society (Kokoyah), Mamadee Konneh United Blacksmith Shop, and SAMJAC Agro Industry.
USADF is a United States Government agency dedicated to expanding access to economic opportunities to the most marginalized populations in Africa, which currently operates in 20 countries on the continent. Over the past 25 years, USADF has funded in excess of $200 million in African initiated and led development projects.
The Foundation re-started programming in Liberia in 2006 at the invitation of President Johnson-Sirleaf, and Liberia’s current portfolio stands at eighteen investment projects totaling approximately $2.5 million.
Commenting on the grants, USADF President Lloyd Pierson stated, “Liberia is committed to economic development and food security projects. These grants will support community groups increase production, create jobs, and further support the local economies of Liberia.”
ARS provides agricultural extension services to the 350 smallholder farmers of Lower Tappita, where food production in Nimba County is concentrated. ARS has, according to a USADF statement, been involved in economic empowerment activities through seeds and tools distribution to 10,500 farmers and peace education for over 4,000 Liberian and Guinean citizens.
Farmers now have growing quantities of plantains, cassava, yams, and hot peppers for sale, but are unable to effectively access the main markets in areas such as Southeast Liberia and Monrovia. The statement said there is currently no cooperative association in Lower Tappita that can assist the farmers to organize themselves for more profitable sales. USADF will work with ARS to organize workers, provide training, and construct marketing booths, and purchase equipment.
COPDA works to alleviate poverty in rural communities in Liberia by providing technical assistance in human rights, peace, and economic development. Currently COPDA, according to USADF, is working with small grassroots farmers in Sanniquellie District to expand food crop cultivation by providing technical assistance, tools, and basic supplies as incentives.
Through these efforts, farmers from several of these isolated communities realized the need to organize themselves to achieve greater impact. Farmers in these areas currently produce cassava as their main surplus food crop, but are unable to access profitable markets due to high transport costs for fresh cassava and limited production capacity for processed cassava products USADF funds will be used to finance milling facilities, new tools, training, and hire local specialists who will assist farmers to establish cooperative associations.
Kokoyah is a farmers’ cooperative that promotes lowland rice cultivation and provides inputs, milling, and marketing services to its members in Kokoyah District of Bong County. The cooperative currently has 403 registered members, including 174 women. Kokoyah is reorganizing now to re-establish its rice production and marketing systems that were destroyed during the civil war.
This former rice exporting area currently does not meet local demand for rice because of the destruction of previously developed lowland rice fields and reduced cultivation due to displacement local residents.
With the return of residents to their communities, the statement noted, cooperative members see the national reduction of rice production coupled with rapidly rising prices for this staple commodity as a serious potential threat to security. USADF says it will provide funding for training, establishment of a crop purchase fund, and equipment.
Mamadee Konneh United Blacksmith Shop is a small business that provides metalworking services in Bong County. Farming is the dominant economic activity in Bong County, where reintegration of displaced residents and youth is central to improved physical and food security.
However, scarcity of metal farming tools and processing machines following the civil conflict in Liberia has limited the production capacity of local farms. The group manufactures agricultural tools and equipment for local smallholder farms and businesses provides blacksmith training to local youth.
The business currently trains youth and has provided apprenticeships for 25 young men in the community. Although the business is modestly profitable, it does not have adequate operating capital and equipment to satisfy the increasing the demand for these products and services.
Funds will go to establishing a larger workshop, the purchase raw materials, and training. Based in Margibi County, SAMJAC provides agricultural and marketing services to low income farmers engaged in producing hot pepper, peanuts, and cassava.
To date, most agricultural support projects have been of short duration focused on helping local residents to return and resettle in their communities, rather than strengthening and improving farmers’ capacity to engage in sustainable farming activities.
Little emphasis has been placed on helping farmers involved in similar production activities to pool their efforts to increase productivity and incomes. The grant will provide funds for training, a new milling facility, and technical assistance.