In Liberia, the counties hardest-hit by Ebola—Lofa, Bomi, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado—are both poor and food insecure. At least 16% of the households surveyed in them were found by a 2015 emergency food assessment to be food insecure, with 18% using emergency coping strategies—or, in other words, reduced to begging to meet their needs for food. And, yet, together these counties are home to about 51% of Liberia’s population of some 4.5 million.
So what lies behind this food scarcity? Liberia’s subsistence farming makes it hard for Liberians to compete on the market with cheaper food imports, and agriculture has suffered as a result of the 2014 Ebola outbreak and prolonged civil crises.
And, despite a high degree of involvement by the local population in agriculture, the sector’s productivity remains low: little technology and poor pest management, combined with the extremely limited use of fertilizer and other modern cultivation methods, are some of the factors responsible for this. Other factors include the lack of good quality farm inputs, high pre- and post-harvest losses, and the lack of incentives to produce food beyond subsistence level, given that marketing is difficult because of poor road networks and high transport costs.
Nonetheless, the World Bank’s support of agricultural research in Liberia has seen progress in many areas, including technology and dissemination, the production of adaptive seed varieties, human capacity building, and work on a regulatory framework for policy.
The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (WAAPP-Liberia)—a regional project supported by the World Bank and Japanese Government—has provided a platform for this. The project helped fund the resuscitation of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Liberia’s only agricultural research institute, which was badly damaged during the country’s civil wars. WAAPP supported 32 young Liberian scientists, some of whom earned Masters’ degrees or PhDs at African universities, and all of whom completed their studies. Now they serve in Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture and at CARI.
One such beneficiary is 33 year-old Marcus Jones: under the WAAPP, Marcus earned a PhD in Crop Science from Ghana’s University of Cape Coast, its emphasis on Fertility Agronomy. He is now doing field visits and passing on his skills to Liberian student interns at CARI.