Nelly Bassily | February 4, 2008
Looking over his fields of rice, plantain, and root vegetables, Lincoln Yeneken sees a successful farm that lay fallow three years ago. Like so many other farmers, Mr. Yeneken’s family fled their home during Liberia’s civil war. Peace brought the ability to return, and the challenge of rebuilding livelihoods from scratch.In the Zolowee village of northern Liberia, one of the country’s breadbasket areas, Mr. Yeneken began with a small garden of crops he knew well. Today, the farm produces enough for the family to eat. Fish from the stream and game from the bush also provide food and income.
James Logan is Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture. He says the government recognizes that rebuilding agriculture will be key to rebuilding the country’s economy. As more than a million former refugees return home, the agricultural sector is needed for food and employment.
While farmers like Mr. Yeneken are focusing on their families’ survival, the government is encouraging farmers to move beyond subsistence, to produce extra food to sell or save as seeds.
But farmers striving to restore their fields must do so without the types of support they enjoyed before the war. Lusu Sloan is the chairperson of the Liberia Marketing Association. She says that, previously, farmers had access to microcredit loans. They could borrow money for fertilizer and farm tools, and pay back loans when they harvested their crops. Small banks also allowed farmers and traders to establish savings.
But today, without access to savings and loans, farmers are limited in their ability to purchase inputs and expand production. Roads are another obstacle. Much of Liberia’s road network collapsed during the war – either through deliberate destruction or neglect. The federal government says it has a master plan to rebuild the roads. But in the meantime, accessing agricultural tools and getting crops to market is a struggle.