Liberia Rainy Season

By Austin Peterson,
Empowering & Investing in Liberia’s Rural Women Farmers Fellow

The Liberian Rainy Season is well on its way and with the torrential rains, comes the majority of agricultural activities. The local weekly markets flood with rainy season crops such as pepper, eggplant, sweet potato, and cucumber, as well as other products gathered from the forest such as palm oil nuts and giant snails. While the influx of fresh vegetables is excellent for seasonal community nutrition, there is little infrastructure in place to prevent post-harvest spoilage, and the glut of produce on the market drives down the price of vegetables by as much as four fifths of the dry season price. The low economic return on rainy season vegetables is particularly hard on rural women farmers who are responsible for the majority of vegetable production in Liberia.
The Liberian Ministry of Agriculture, as well as other organizations focused on extension recognize the problems associated with extreme crop seasonality and are working on various initiatives aimed at smoothing out vegetable production over the course of the seasonal calendar. Those initiatives include efforts to reduce post-harvest spoilage through improved market access and infrastructure, and to improve community level post-harvest processing and food drying systems. Other extension initiatives are focused on promoting the production of vegetable crops during the dry season when market prices are high, nutritional intake is low, and communities have the most to benefit from eating and selling vegetable produce. However, despite on-going initiatives, the anecdotal evidence suggests that communities have been slow to adopt the dry season practices encouraged by extension agents. Unfortunately, there is little research data available in Liberia that addresses the gap between extended best-practices and community adoption, and even less that identifies specific gender-based barriers to adoption.

Over the past few weeks I have collaborated with the Department of Regional Development, Research, and Extension (DRDRE), and the Department of Gender at the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), as well as the Cuttington University College (CU) of Agriculture to develop a research proposal aimed at identifying gaps between extension and adoption for small holder farmers, with a particular focus on possible gender-based biases. If finalized and funded, the project will not only yield much needed community level data that the MOA can use to inform its extension strategies, but will also help build the standing of Cuttington University as a research institution and provide much needed research experience to the next generation of Liberian social scientists. As the woman farmer is instrumental to the future success of sustainable agriculture in Liberia, it is imperative for extension services to incorporate gender considerations and in so doing, constraints can be lifted and the contributions of these women can be fully recognized.

(Photo) Similar to French escargot, snails are a popular rainy season delicacy in Liberia and important supplementary source of animal protein. They are commonly sautéed in an onion, peanut, tomato sauce and served over rice.

Arrival in Monrovia

By Austin Peterson, Empowering & Investing in Liberia’s Rural Women Farmers Fellow
musuyounn-blog-1I arrived in Monrovia from Washington D.C. at 5:30am after 36 hours of travel through New York and Casablanca. Waiting for me at the airport in the pre-dawn heat was one of the Peace Corps Liberia’s “trusted drivers” Mohamed, a Guinean expatriate living and working in Monrovia as a member of a network of drivers who specialize in on-call, reliable transportation for the many western aid workers living in Monrovia. Driving into town, what struck me most were the painted wall murals and billboards serving as PSAs for Ebola awareness and prevention and pleas to keep the peace as the UN Mission Liberia (UNMIL) draws to a close. Liberia is a country in transition – moving further away each day from a violent chapter of civil war, and more recently, a devastating Ebola epidemic. At the center of that transition and affecting the lives and livelihoods of Liberia’s 4 million residents, is the agricultural sector. The majority of Liberian’s are engaged in agricultural activities for at least a portion of their incomes and for most rural communities, small farms are the only option for subsistence.

During the war, many of the young men in the country were killed or displaced to neighboring countries. As a result, much of the responsibility of agriculture falls on the shoulders of rural women. However, these women are hindered by highly patriarchal rural communities, inequitable land tenure practices, and an agricultural extension system that lacks the resources necessary to reach the communities that need their services the most. But the future is not bleak. At the forefront of positive change for rural agricultural women and men are Liberia’s new wave of Liberian women academics, researchers, and extension agents. Over the last two days I traveled to Bong and Margibi counties and had the honor of meeting three of these women.

Musu Younn, is the chief agricultural extension agent for the Margibi Country Agricultural Center (CAC) in Kakata, Margibi County. She is implementing innovative techniques in cassava farming on a 1.8Ha demonstration plot. She has also become the head community supplier of ducks, goats, and pigs, to farmers who would otherwise have no access to new animals and few other sources of animal protein.

abibatukromah-blog-1Abibatu Kromah is the Chief Officer for Extension and Food Processing Sciences at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County. After more than a decade working in women’s advocacy in Monrovia, Abibatu Kromah returned to school to pursue her Master’s degree in food science and technology from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria. She now oversees the institute’s research and extension of improved cassava processing techniques. She also piloted “CARI in the Community” a weekly radio broadcast on agricultural tips that ran from 2014 to early 2016 and is now in the second round of development.

Caroline Nyaplue is a lecturer and extension and gender specialist for the agricultural program at Cuttington University in Gbarnga (Banga). Recently returned from her doctorate program in Ghana where she researched the use and access of information communication technologies (ICTs) by rural farmers, she has committed to a four-year lecturer program at Cuttington University. There she will train the next generation of extension workers and academics, many of them women, on gender mindful extension practices.