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