Why did Liberia fail

Liberia: tillers instead of machine guns

Agriculture offers young people a future

By Travis Lupick and Al-Varney Rogers | 06/20/2012

Monrovia. With his outfit - baggy shorts, baseball cap and gold chains over his T-shirt - Junior Toe is no different from the unemployed young people who loiter on Monrovia's streets. But the agricultural technician has nothing in mind with life in the Liberian capital. He sees the future of the West African country in agriculture, where there are jobs and independent livelihoods.

"All you have to do is sow these pepper seeds and water them a few times and you will soon make money with them," explains Junior Toe to one of his students. The founder and director of the Community Youth Network Program (CYNP) has been training young people in agriculture and cattle breeding since 2007.

After the civil war (1989-2003), rural exodus and mismanagement, Liberia desperately needs more engagement in agriculture, because the country is still a long way from a secure food supply. According to the UN Development Program (UNDP), 30 percent of the land can be used for agriculture, and almost 90 percent of the arable land receives sufficient rain. However, this year the nutrition of 60 percent of all Liberians is not secure, as can be seen in the Liberian Outlook for Food Security for 2012.

A study by the World Agricultural Organization (FAO) in 2009 showed that between 1987 and 2005 the production of rice, a staple food, had decreased by 76 percent. "Recently, agricultural production has gradually recovered, but yields are below the regional average and the rice harvest is just under 40 percent of the nearly four million Liberians," the report said.

United Nations projects aimed at socially reintegrating former young fighters are considered to have failed. Toe, too, had gone through a week-long demilitarization program and reported: "A lot of people couldn't use it for themselves," he reports. "The men were traumatized. They knew how to handle weapons and were used to taking whatever they wanted."

That is why Toe decided in 2007 to set up its own agricultural initiative. The conditions were promising, because the soil is fertile and the warm and humid climate ensures good harvests.

CYNP now has a training center in Bensonville in the Montserrado district, just under an hour's drive northeast of Monrovia. Former course participants and partners cultivate their own or communal land on eight farms. The 'Young Farmers Forum' networks the young farmers and tries to attract additional participants.

500 trained young farmers

According to Toes, there are currently around 100 young people in Bensonville participating in six-month training and up to 500 former students work on community farms.

In an interview with IPS, Liberia's Vice Minister for Youth Development, Sam Hare, referred to figures from USAID that only three percent of young people in his country are interested in agriculture. However, that is gradually changing, he emphasized.

"We realized that agriculture can help us fight youth unemployment," he said. "Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and other interested parties, we want to make it clear to young people that agriculture can make them prosperous if they run it like a company."

The training goals would have to be realigned and based on the real needs of the country, explained the deputy minister. "This brings youth and agriculture to the fore."

In order to make agriculture more attractive for young people, work needs to be made easier, recommends FAO employee Joseph Boiwu. In 2010, FAO and other partners in Bong, Lofa and Nimba districts provided small groups of farmers with 24 motorized tillers. Tractors and heavy agricultural equipment are to follow.

Like Toe, Prince Sampson, who heads the 'Youth for Development and Progress' campaign in Bong, has learned from the failures of the retraining courses. "The former fighters were trained to be craftsmen such as carpenters or bricklayers, but afterwards there was nothing for them to do. As farmers, however, they now eat the rice they have grown themselves, sell their own vegetables and share the proceeds among themselves. They understand that despite the years wasted during the war, they will do much more useful work in the future. " (afr / IPS)

| Tags: Liberia, Agriculture, Demilitarization, Travis Lupick, Al-Varney Rogers