Our vehicle growled its way up a steep hill, slowed down by the roadside, and came to a screeching halt on the flanks of a sprawling upland rice farm. We disembarked and were greeted by the humming and chanting voices of farmers harvesting improved LAC 23 White varieties.
“You are welcome here. My name is Philip. We are doing agriculture because it is very important for our lives.” As we walked through the ripened rice field, Philip Suah became more persistent in convincing us about the crucial role of agriculture. “When you help someone in making his own farm, that’s agriculture. It comes with tools, people, seeds, and a good harvest.”
It’s harvest time in Kpolay Town, Nimba County, northern Liberia, where the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Government of Liberia-supported farmers said more than anything else farming was their primary source of livelihoods.
With eight children, Gorlon Karnuah said her husband was deceased and the farm was her only source of support. “it has not been easy but now thank God that I am a satisfied farmer. This farm is doing a lot for me and my children.” At first, Gorlon was not interested in farming because she had no tools, seeds, and helper. “Then things changed. When I looked, I saw them helping us with hand tools and seed rice and today I have this nice type of rice,” she said pointing to the healthy rice panicles. She agreed with Philip Suah that agriculture was important for rural people. “Agriculture is my husband, my father, and my mother. I intend to assist at least six other famers with seed rice and still have enough for my family.”
Titled, “Improved food security and nutrition for Ivorian refugees and host families in Liberia”, the project is funded by UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The project came into existence as a result of a survey conducted by FAO and partners which indicated the lack of enough food stocks that would lead to vulnerable populations being at risk as in the previous years. There was thus a possibility that these groups would apply vulnerable coping mechanisms like the reduction of number of meals per day, meal sizes, or eating less nutritious food and the problem could increase particularly during the lean season when stocks of local food were depleted and also household would need cash to purchase.
CERF therefore agreed to fund a food production effort to ensure the continuation of assistance to support livelihoods saving activities for vulnerable groups. The project commenced in the first quarter of 2013, with the aim of improving the food and nutritional security of Liberian hosts and Ivorian refugees affected by the Ivorian crisis’ in Nimba, Gedeh, and Maryland Counties.
This time, Philip Suah, 37, sat on top of a fallen tree to outline the multiple benefits he and his family would accrue as a result of a successful farming year. “Agriculture can help us in many ways: it gives me money, makes my children go to school, and feed me and five children.”
Beatrice Suah, 49, mother of six, said the inputs and technical support from ARS, FAO, and MoA together with hard work landed them this far. “This is good for us. Look, it will cost more than L$30,000 to send my children to school and this farm will make it happen.” She wanted to make one key point: “I want to say thank you to ARS (Agriculture Relief Services), FAO, and the government people for helping us. Please continue so that hunger will not return here again.”
ARS is the local implementing partner of FAO and Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), using their expertise, language and culture knowledge to support farmers in the county. A leading Liberian agriculture development organization, ARS has the responsibility to carry out project implementation at field level in collaboration with MoA, FAO, and other agriculture sector partners in Nimba County. They do help identify and create awareness among beneficiaries and local authorities, and work toward ensuring farmer participation and crop productivity.
FAO’s Richard Sherman praised the commitment and resilience of the people and their determination to succeed. “Although it has not been an easy task especially when it comes to the difficult road situation, the farmers’ attitude was good mainly when they received their inputs on time, which gave them the enthusiasm and impetus to achieve this milestone. Local authority cooperation was very, very unique – superintendent’s office represented by Gbelegeh Statutory District Superintendent Gbatua Gbatua, LRRRC’s Allen Kromah, MoA, and the various town chiefs. They were excellent.”