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Liberia: Returnee farmer profits from sweet potatoes

Boakai Sheriff returned from neighbouring Guinea after Liberia’s post-war election. He had been in exile for 13 years.

Mr. Sheriff worked as a commercial driver in the early 1990s. But he lost almost everything escaping the war and, after returning to Liberia, found it impossible to find work. Though he had no land, the 51-year-old decided to take up farming.

Mr. Sheriff is from Palala, a major vegetable-producing community in Bong County, about 190 kilometres northeast of the capital city, Monrovia. As a returnee, Mr. Sheriff was given ten hectares of land to farm. He chose to grow cassava. But, he says, “Two years of cassava farming did not bring in enough money for my family because of the low demand in the market.”

In 2009, he decided to try a different crop—sweet potatoes. Mr. Sheriff didn’t know how to grow the crop. But a local non-government organization which promotes small-scale farming as a business offered a workshop on how to grow nutritious and flavoursome orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and Mr. Sheriff attended.

The training helped him a lot. Mr. Sheriff explains, “I learnt how to prepare potato beds and can better record … my expenditures. I [earn] more money from potato farming than cassava.”

Mr. Sheriff’s wife, Asata, worried that switching to sweet potatoes wouldn’t make marketing any easier than cassava. But they were able to establish links with vendors in Monrovia.

In 2014, Mr. Sheriff earned over 500,000 Liberian dollars [US$5,400] from selling 200 bags of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. In addition, he creates employment for local people by hiring them to work on his farm.

To build on his success, Mr. Sheriff plans to expand his farm. He says, “This year I am investing about fifty thousand dollars [$US540] on this farm, and I am expecting to earn not less than [US$6,000] from the next harvest.”

He plans to buy a pump to supply water to his farm. This would allow him to continue farming during the dry season.

Mrs. Sheriff wasn’t keen on her husband’s decision to get into farming, but her interest was warmed by his enthusiasm. She is proud that her husband has gained respect in the community through his hard work.

Indeed, his success has generated a great deal of admiration. Binda Flomo also farms in Palala. He says, “I have learned a lot from Mr. Sheriff about how to [improve] potato farming to maximize my profits, and this year I am going to plant sweet potatoes for myself.”

Mr. Sheriff’s community chose him to be a lead farmer for sweet potatoes, in recognition of his work and his investment of time and effort on his farm.

He provides well for his family. He says: “I have purchased a pickup to transport my potatoes to town. I have also acquired land in the city, opened a grocery store for my wife and—the biggest result of all—my eight children are all in school and are doing very well.”

Photo credit: Jefferson Massah