P4P Liberia: Building relationships and growing businesses

In many post-conflict countries, an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion may make collaboration among smallholder farmers challenging. In Liberia, P4P has assisted smallholders to overcome this challenge. By helping farmers to re-build relationships and grow their businesses, the pilot has been driving a shift of mind-set among farmers and their communities. 

More than a decade of civil war in Liberia left the agricultural sector in pieces. The limited infrastructure in place prior to the conflict was destroyed, and displaced communities returned to overgrown land. The few remaining farmers’ groups were loosely organized and struggled to produce high-quality rice in large quantities. When the P4P pilot was initiated in 2009, mistrust was pervasive among farmers – of one another, of the Ministry of Agriculture and of WFP. Identifying cooperatives to join P4P proved difficult, and members were wary of working together and therefore hesitant to hand over their rice to be sold collectively to WFP.

“Farmers were worried they wouldn’t get paid, especially since cooperatives didn’t have the capital to pay them immediately at the time when they delivered the rice,” says Lonnie Herring, who was working with Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Many Liberian farmers also doubted that producing high-quality, local rice in greater quantities was possible or worth the effort. Local rice, traditionally milled by hand, was sold by the kilo or in “sardine can” quantities, and was considered inferior to imported rice. Without trusting that their efforts would pay off, many farmers were unwilling to invest the time and resources needed to increase production.

Increasing capacity and trust

Addressing these issues proved challenging, in part due to a lack of supply-side partners in the field. However, P4P, in collaboration with FAO, other UN agencies and the government’s Ministry of Agriculture, soon began supporting smallholders to rebuild relationships while developing their production capacity in a culturally relevant manner. Groups worked together to rehabilitate lowland production areas, using an approach which mirrors the Liberian concept of kuus – communal farming groups that work together to prepare and harvest fields. While lowland production areas are more environmentally friendly and produce three times as much rice as upland areas, the rehabilitation process is lengthy and labour-intensive.

“Working in the swamps, which even had leeches in them, wasn’t easy,” recalls Danlette Dillon, the deputy chairlady of the Welekemei Rural Women’s structure in Sanoyea. Despite difficulties, the group came together to prepare the swamp area for rice planting. The group then joined P4P and was able to deliver the full contracted amount of 35 metric tons (mt) (35,000 kg) in the 2013 procurement season.

Improving community

Connections within farmers’ communities have also been reinforced as participants have shared the benefits of capacity development. For example, the War-Affected Rural Women’s Structure was contracted by WFP to process rice for another farmers’ organization, benefitting both groups. The Welekemei Rural Women’s structure has begun passing on their knowledge by voluntarily providing training to other farmers in the region, particularly focusing on youth. With the money earned from sales to WFP, they’re hoping to build a guest house, hut and training area to expand their work.

In many areas, P4P has been closely connected to other WFP projects. The Kpayaquelleh United Women’s Association was originally a participant in WFP’s community grain reserve (CGR) project. The CGR programme not only develops smallholder capacity by providing them with training and allowing them to gain experience managing money, but also encourages individuals to work together to benefit themselves and their communities.

Building businesses

One of P4P’s greatest achievements in Liberia has been the building of trust among smallholders, enabling them to work collectively and take ownership of their businesses. Far from the mistrust which once made collaboration difficult, today farmers’ organizations function as businesses, with more timely deliveries and fewer defaults. Plus, groups have reported increasing membership as other farmers are more interested in participating.

For WFP, this shift has made local procurement easier and increasingly efficient, though Liberia’s lack of adequate roads still poses a major logistical challenge. “Instead of waiting, we have groups calling us saying ‘these [farmers] have rice, when are the trucks coming?’” says Herring.

Lessons learned from P4P in Liberia have highlighted the importance of timely funding for WFP food procurement in order to ensure reliable and consistent demand. Without sufficient funds to buy food, WFP cannot keep its commitment to the smallholder farmers and risks endangering the trust and relationships built.

Today, a sense of entrepreneurship has been built by the P4P-supported farmers’ organizations. For example, the Kpayaquelleh farmers’ organization is expanding their labour force and farm size, while the War-Affected Rural Women’s group has opened a bank account for the whole group. These business decisions reflect a larger shift among farmer groups. “Everyone in P4P is business-minded now,” says Danlette Dillon.

Korpo Kwala echoes this sentiment. “We want to be the best business people around,” she says.

Story by Eliza Warren Shriner


Read more about P4P in Liberia:

Tweet about it: