Olivia McClure, Motsenbocker, Carl E. | 11/13/2015 3:07:11 AM
News Release Distributed 11/12/15
BATON ROUGE, La. – After years of civil war and a struggling economy, farmers and entrepreneurs in Liberia are learning the skills they need for success with help from LSU AgCenter experts and others that are part of a federally funded project.
The five-year, $75 million Food and Enterprise Development project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The project began in 2011 and has three main goals: increasing agriculture productivity and food security, improving educational opportunities, and creating economic growth and a better business climate.
“The LSU AgCenter’s role is to support the project effort with food security and building human resource capacity,” said Carl Motsenbocker, a horticulture professor and the principle investigator for the AgCenter’s part of the project.
Two AgCenter employees, Doe Adovor and Sam Duo, are working full time on the project in Liberia.
That nation continues to face a difficult economic and humanitarian recovery brought on by a period of political turmoil and two civil wars that lasted from 1989 to 1997 and 1999 to 2003. The recent epidemic of the Ebola virus that caused thousands of deaths in West Africa exacerbated ongoing problems, closing schools and interrupting public services for several months.
Improving access to food and education are critical steps toward a better quality of life in Liberia, Motsenbocker said.
Liberia currently imports the majority of its food. Teaching people to raise staples like rice, cassava, vegetables and goats helps the country’s food supply become more sustainable and nutritious, Motsenbocker said.
Adovor, an extension specialist, is using radio advertisements and production manuals along with demonstration plots to educate farmers about ways to make better crops and generate more income by finding new markets. Project personnel have worked to involve women and young people in as many of those activities as possible.
The government employs an agricultural coordinator – a role similar to an American extension agent – in only 51 of Liberia’s 136 districts, Adovor said.
“If you do the math, you’ll quickly come up with a farmer-to-district agricultural coordinator ratio of roughly 58,824 to 1, which unfortunately guarantees that the bulk of rural farmers will never have access to extension services,” he said.
By the project’s end in 2016, Adovor expects it to train more than 1,000 extension personnel. That includes district agricultural coordinators and people who work at saving and loan associations, processing facilities, radio stations and nongovernmental organizations.
The country’s infrastructure, which remains heavily damaged from the civil wars, poses another hurdle for economic development. Roads are needed to transport crops to markets, but they are mostly in poor condition. A lack of running water, electricity and telecommunications makes it difficult for people to take care of basic needs, let alone get an education, Motsenbocker said.
Things are slowly getting better on that front, too. On a visit to Liberia in summer 2014, Motsenbocker saw new roads being built.
Just a few weeks ago in Nimba County, a cold storage facility that offers low-cost storage to local vegetable growers opened.
“This provides an opportunity for growers to improve the value chain, link to markets with the promise of generating higher incomes for farmers and also a more diverse diet for the Liberian people,” Motsenbocker said.
AgCenter personnel helped develop the two-year National Diploma of Agriculture (NDA) program, which launched in spring 2015 after being delayed by the Ebola crisis. The first class of the diploma program will graduate in fall 2016.
“The NDA is a two-year program designed to rigorously train young people with marketable and enterprise-development skills in agriculture that will enable them create jobs for themselves and their communities in Liberia,” Duo said.
The development project has worked with three community colleges in three Liberian counties and a high school to provide teacher training and to help set up libraries and computer and science labs.
“The community colleges are important because a lot of people had a disruption in their education,” Motsenbocker said. “If you were 10 years old 15 years ago, you didn’t have school because of civil war. People need the training; they need the education. And the country needs the expertise to continue being able to develop.”
New soil science labs have also opened recently at the collaborating institutions to provide a teaching resource and to help local farmers optimize production practices and profitability, he said.Olivia McClure