Liberia’s 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003, caused large loss of life and widespread displacement. It also ravaged the country’s social and economic infrastructure, making it difficult for people to access productive inputs, services and markets.
The political situation has since stabilised, allowing refugees and the displaced to return home, while economic growth has been on the upswing. Still, Liberia remains one of the world’s poorest countries, with nearly two-thirds its population surviving on less than USD 1 a day.
Slow recovery of agriculture sector
The majority of Liberia’s active workforce depends on agriculture for survival. Most are subsistence farmers, growing rice and cassava crops on small family plots. Years of war, mismanagement and neglect damaged the nation’s agriculture sector. Productivity plummeted, especially as people fled their homes, and agricultural value chains were left under-developed. The production of rice – the most important staple – fell by 76 percent between 1987 and 2005.
Agricultural production has increased in recent years as the sector slowly recovers, but yields are still well below the regional average and food insecurity is high. Productivity has been marred by a lack of quality inputs, pest infestations, damaged irrigation and drainage systems and limited capacity in post-harvest processing, especially among small farmers.
Reliance on food imports
Liberia only produces about 40 percent of the rice it needs to feed its population, relying on expensive imports to cover the rest. The country will likely need to increase rice imports in 2009 to meet growing consumption demands. It is precisely this dependence on food imports that has left Liberia exceedingly vulnerable to high food prices and fluctuations in the global market.
European Union Food Facility
With nearly € 4.5 million from the European Union, FAO has launched a 20-month project in May 2009 through the EU Food Facility to help the Liberian government revitalise its agriculture sector and ensure that rural and urban populations have ample and sustainable access to nutritious food.
This initiative forms an integral part of the Government and UN Joint Programme for Food Security and Nutrition wherein the European Union also supports related activities carried out by UNDP, UNICEF and WFP.
The project aims to boost food production through the distribution of certified rice seeds, fertilisers and integrated pest management inputs to 10 000 rural food-insecure households, and vegetable seeds and fertilisers to 6 000 food-insecure households living in and around urban areas. Training will also be provided.
Twenty production and post-harvest agro-processing groups, each with 12-20 male and female members, will receive labour-saving equipment and training to enhance production, primary processing and value addition capabilities.
One goal of the Liberian government is to expand the area of land under cultivation without encroaching on forests. FAO will provide technical assistance to development partners in rehabilitating lowland swamp areas for planting as yields are approximately 80 to 90 percent higher than in upland areas.
Linking up with WFP-supported school feeding programmes, around 110 school garden projects will receive inputs and technical assistance. The aim is to move towards the sustainable production of nutritious food.
The project will also provide substantial support to the national seed system, which was devastated during the war, and will help to strengthen the Ministry of Agriculture’s capacity to assess and monitor growth in the agriculture sector.
Other FAO activities
Since 2008, FAO has supported projects in Liberia aimed at reducing the impact of high food prices on vulnerable families including:
- two projects valued at around USD 3 million to boost rice production of small farmers through the supply of fertilisers and pest management inputs, thereby enhancing their nutritional intake and reducing the risk of malnutrition
- a project valued at USD 250 000 to avert an acute seed shortage arising from the influx of returnees from neighbouring countries
Liberia is also one of several countries included in a regional Technical Cooperation Programme project designed to help governments strengthen their capacity to monitor and analyze the food security situation.