Several farmers are calling for an audit of institutions and organizations managing the agriculture sector in Liberia.
The farmers say there is lack of transparency and accountability in the management and operation of farmer cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and even banking institutions connected to agri-business.
“Cooperatives are not sincere and fair to us. Even loans that are sourced from the banks come not only with high interest rates, but also with assets like land as security, making it extremely difficult for us to access credit required to upgrade our activities. There is no trickle-down effect of the millions of US dollars support that is pumped into the sector by donors,” they said.
The farmers stressed the need to stamp out corruption. “We the farmers don’t trust especially government instititutions either spearheading or implementing various agriculture programs. Most times selection of beneficiaries is not transparent,” they said.
The farmers were speaking on 10 December 2021 at a validation of proposals for developing financing products and mechanisms from a Study carried out by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Government of Liberia and UNDP commissioned the Study conducted by UNCDF, with the objective of exploring mechanisms for financing the agricultural sector.
The Study found that farmers in Liberia are trapped in subsistence farming because most financial institutions in the country have not developed specifically targeted loan products suitable to the needs of the country’s farmers and how to spur Micro Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in the agriculture sector.
Venting their frustration during the validation, most of the farmers emphasized the need for donors implementing the proposed scheme to put in place effective and efficient monitoring systems and mechanisms that will ensure the proper management of funds aimed at improving agriculture, so that the money can reach actual farmers.
“Liberia is still importing our staple food, rice. Bring the money this time with a good monitoring team,” the farmers said.
Not all farmers are on the same level –effective needs assessment
Some of the farmers argued that the agriculture sector in Liberia is seen as “one size fits all” especially for smallholder farming which is not workable. They want donors and other financing institutions sponsoring the proposed Agri program to conduct proper needs assessment to incorporate all capable and productive farmers who are producing but not under the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) or the Liberia National Credit Union (LCUNA) frameworks to encourage them and add value to what they produce.
“With an effective needs assessment, building of capacity would mean upgrading to mechanized farming, thus graduating productive farmers to large scale farming. All groups of potential farmers deserve technological support and supply of farming implements to leave from subsistence to mechanize farming”.
They said experience has shown that whenever donor funds are available for the sector, “overnight” farmers or farming institutions emerge but cease to exist after the support dries up.
Stakeholders are recommending that UNDP and other development partners should not channel support only to cooperatives but set up a transparent committee to build the capacities of potential farmers. “CDA licensed cooperatives are usurping funding support”.
They also stressed that the only way agriculture will have the needed impact, is when farming is seen as a business that incorporates access to finance, good road network-especially farm-to market roads, climate change orientation, storage facilities, variety of crops, farming implements/equipment, exploring various methods of farming based on suitability, as well as duty free privileges among others.
The Government of Liberia has identified the agricultural sector as a key driver of national economic growth, a key source of employment and poverty reduction.
Speaking at the validation, Agriculture Minister Jeanie Cooper said the Study was an important part of a chain to build public-private partnership that targets access to finance and support Micro Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. (MSMEs) in the agriculture sector.
Minister Cooper noted that the Study would build on on-going initiatives by the Ministry that are beginning to bear fruits and its effective implementation will be evidence-based.
UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Violet Baffour expressed optimism that the vision to see Liberia feed itself in the near future is achievable if stakeholders and donors work together.
Ms. Baffour noted that access to finance by farmers would unlock the potentials that exist in the agriculture sector.
UNDP is working in partnership with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture to support the Government’s efforts to strengthen business and enterprise development services for MSMEs by promoting access to finance, capacity building and innovation.
UNDP’s five-year Livelihood & Employment Creation project is providing the assistance. The MSMEs Financing Study is one of the key deliverables of the Project.