AGRO-ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT AND FOOD SECURITY

Food insecurity remains a serious problem in many parts of Liberia. Food insecurity hampers all development efforts by negatively affecting both physical and mental abilities of people, and have potentially negative effect across generations: Food insecurity or worse; malnutrition of mothers and children affects children’s growth and development and increases the families’ vulnerability to a range of health conditions including infectious diseases and anaemia. It is therefore crucial that food insecurities are addressed at different levels from productivity to better access to markets and building of personal safety nets (savings).

EDUCARE has a fourfold approach to food security; we help the communities in

  • Securing livelihoods through increased productivity, better post-harvest management for profitability
  • Increasing food security and nutrition through diversified crop production
  • Accessing markets and financial instruments for farmers
  • Increasing the farmers’ knowledge and response to climate change

Our experience and evidence from different parts of the world show that enabling access to financial services such as savings mechanisms, insurances and bank accounts is a powerful way to reduce poverty and vulnerability to economic shocks and to increase economic resilience in the society. Improving women’s access to financial services increases equality and enables women to make more sustainable choices for their families: to cover cost of education for their children and buy more durable goods. It also strengthens women’s bargaining power and thereby improving their participation in decision-making in the household.[1] However, women and girls continue to be deprived in both access to financial services and in remuneration for work done, which is why EDUCARE focuses on equality in financial inclusion, controlling earnings and equal pay in its programs.

Under this strategic priority, we will continue to strengthen mechanisms to support sustaining of livelihoods and thereby food security particularly in rural areas in Liberia by focusing on two specific areas: supporting food crops production of small holder farmers by building both value and supply chains thereby supporting access to markets.

Increasing food security by supporting increased production, improved value and supply chains management and supporting smallholder businesses

Increasing food security sustainably demands developing livelihoods through both social and material capabilities and assets transfer: Social capabilities and assets refer to community members’ status in his/her community, social networks including trust and social safety nets to be able to function and earn a living in the community. With material capabilities we mean physical (machinery/equipment, livestock, roads) natural (land, water resources, forest) and financial assets of an individual or a household. Taking an integrated approach with other thematic areas, our programs have focused on both aspects with the objectives of empowering communities, increasing cash crops by providing technical support and know how, and by providing necessary equipment and infrastructure, for example irrigation systems.

Liberia is one of the 20 countries within Africa where USADF programs supports local African staff and partners to provide oversight and technical expertise to grow and expand community enterprises to ensure security, stability, and prosperity in particularly conflict and post-conflict areas in Africa.

With support from the USADF EDUCARE provides technical assistance to community enterprises that receives direct investments in seed capital, agricultural equipment, storage including warehouses and processing facilities, post-harvest management support as well as technical skills support to early-stage agriculture enterprises in poor and vulnerable communities. Operational assistance grants allow EDUCARE to work towards empowering groups to achieve greater food security and income stability. Enterprise expansion grants help community enterprises to expand production, achieve greater market access and capture follow-on funding and linkages to new markets.

Developing of nutrition through diversified crop production

Nutrition starts with what we eat, the production of the food and agricultural sector. We can improve our diets and our health by working on the way we produce, collect, store, transport and distribute food. Without agriculture there is little food or nutrition, however, availability of food from agriculture does not yet ensure adequate quality nutrition. We must therefore reinforce relationship between the two fields of agriculture and nutrition.

Bridging the gap can be achieved with a wholesome approach by 1) increasing food production and / or diversification of food produced, which may have an impact on both the quantity of food available for household consumption and the price of diverse foods; 2) agricultural income for expenditure on food and non-food items; and 3) women’s empowerment, which affects income, caring capacity and practices, and female energy consumption.

 

Supporting farmers’ access to markets and financial instruments

EDUCARE has a strong experience in supporting local communities and individuals in developing small businesses, making business plans, developing business organizations and supporting them to access markets and financial services. We believe that pooling resources and improving access to markets enable further investment in both assets and human capital and thereby building resilience of households in the long-term. Our projects have, amongst others, targeted to establishing and strengthening of Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) platforms, which have reached over 10,000 women farmers in six counties: Lofa, Nimba, Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi and rural Montserrado, providing the beneficiaries vital financial management skills and a structure to pool resources and increase savings for further investments.

In the coming years we will continue establishing VSLAs in additional districts and counties. We will also help community groups to set up cooperatives and other forms of agro- based enterprises and provide them both basic financial literacy skills training and deeper knowledge and skills to run their micro-enterprises. In addition, while we continue to focus on enhancing local production and local supply and value chains, we will explore opportunities to develop markets for exports. Exporting local products is however subject to positive macro-economic situation, investment and business climate for which EDUCARE’s influence is limited. Opportunities will therefore be seized as they come.

Agriculture and climate change

Changes in agricultural cycles are already experienced in Liberia. According to our experience and feedback from the farmers, seasonal changes have become more volatile and harder to predict. Environmental shocks make rural communities even more vulnerable and increase both food and income insecurity. In the coming years, we must closely monitor the situation to understand the nature and direction of the environmental changes and build local resilience towards external shocks. We must also work in close collaboration with environmental protection organizations in order to find constructive, innovative and sustainable ways to boost agricultural productivity and reduce crop fragility on the one hand, and halt negative impact of agriculture on biodiversity de-forestation on the other.

Thematic priority 3: Youth skills development and empowerment

A lack of education and professional skills and henceforth opportunities among youth is one of the most acute challenges to overcome in the efforts to reduce poverty in Liberia. Liberian population is young: around 60 % of the total population is under 25 years old. Whereas lack of individual opportunities leads to other social problems such as drug abuse, structural problems including weak social protection systems remain a concern that should be primarily tackled at the macro-level by systems building. Our role is to continue to upscale youth vocational training and skills enhancement p

rograms, and plan to reach out to greater numbers of young people in several counties.

Through our programs we have covered a range of actions from the provision of basic life skills and literacy training to governance and particularly civic education for peaceful electoral processes, basic financial management and micro-enterprise development, leadership skills, technical support and individual coaching. While our project experiences have been overall positive, more needs to be done to ensure the youth’s commitment to continue their enterprises in an environment that potentially puts multiple barriers on their way to self-sustainment. It is therefore important that pilot project experiences can be upscaled to additional locations, but also that the beneficiaries are offered adequate follow up and further longer-term mentoring.

Sub-theme 3.1: Provision of life and literacy skills to youth

Under this thematic priority we continue to provide basic literacy and numeric literacy training for youth that have limited access to formal education. We will also support adolescence to develop a vision for their lives, and will develop additional, tailored training programs for youth in communities where specific needs are identified, by considering opportunities “on the spot”; developing livelihoods and income generation locally and thereby decreasing the pressure to leave homes to seek jobs in cities. Through our coaching programs we aim to providing systematic – long-term and regular – coaching and guidance for youth in order to build their self-confidence, sense of responsibility and trust in the society.

Sub-theme 3.2: Increasing youth’s business, financial management and digital skills

Creating jobs and employment, especially self-employment, requires a set of administrative, financial, digital and job-specific skills. Building on our programs that provide basic literacy skills, we will strengthen follow up and further training of youth in order to equip them with professional skills. This will entail basic skills to navigate in the administrative system, encouraging formal sector development by registering businesses, basic knowledge on legal requirements of running a business, and negotiating skills. With the priority geographic focus in locations where basic training programs have already been carried out, these may include for example organizational development, developing of business ideas and innovations, and drafting of business and financial plans, budgeting, marketing, development of online sales networks by using social media, finding ways to sustain business activities and customer service.

Sub-theme 3.3: youth development for employment

We in EDUCARE believe that provision of positive prospects including meaningful employment for youth acts as an effective preventive means for grave social problems such as violence and crime, drug abuse and other threats. Whereas youth employment is a structural economic issue affecting the whole nation and should be therefore also addressed with enabling national policies, EDUCARE can contribute to youth development by providing positive role models, by mentoring on the personal opportunities and creating trust among youth to positive future. To that end, we continue to provide information and create linkages between youth and vocational training institutes, grants and loans for education, promote on-the-job traineeships and provide individual career coaching.

 

 

 

Thematic priority 4: Digital solutions for curbing poverty

Experience shows that digital platforms can be an effective way to overcome restrictions caused by geography and poor infrastructure, and increase access to critical services especially in rural areas.[2] The use of mobile technologies is a fast-emerging field, and there is an immense potential in introducing new technologies for financial, social and civil services for Liberians also in hard-to-reach areas.  However, EDUCARE’s experience shows that illiteracy including digital illiteracy, hinders individuals, especially women, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by new technologies. This means that there is a need to equip rural populations with the necessary basic skills to use mobile technologies. In addition, access to and affordability of power sources are a challenge in many parts of the country, and although improving access of rural populations to energy sources in Liberia is one of the government’s priorities, very little has been done to provide off-grid solutions, such as solar power.

With the positive results of our pilot project, which was carried out in 30 communities and aimed at increased usage of mobile money in partnership with Orange, we envisage strengthening of our interventions in the area of digital development. In the coming years EDUCARE will also explore cost-effective and durable solutions for the introduction of renewable energy sources in the most remote areas, which will not only support the usage of digital platforms in rural areas, but also improve general living standards and productivity.

Sub-theme 4.1: Increasing digital literacy among communities

Education in digital literacy has unquestionably become as important as literacy in its traditional sense. Digital literacy requires both cognitive and technological skills to take advantage of and convey information through digital means. It also entails ability to be critical about the information shared through technology and understanding the importance of privacy and data protection. Furthermore, it is a source of personal cost, and it is important that users understand financial implications of using technologies, the risks that are involved in accessing harmful contents for example in the case of children and adolescence, and that they use technologies within the legal remits.

EDUCARE’s core interests in this area lie in exploring and introducing digital avenues to exercise one’s civil rights and take advantage of the business opportunities through online applications and digital technologies. We plan to develop new programs to increase digital basic skills with specific focus on mobile technologies, connectivity and access to information in the coming years.

Sub-theme 4.2: Support to development of digital platforms and networks for productivity and income generation

Under this sub-theme our actions will focus on introducing and increasing understanding of the opportunities that digital technologies offer in building of business communities, access to financing and marketing. For example, SMS, WhatsApp and Facebook are widely used in Liberia to share information, news, and to connect different professional and private communities. These media have so far untapped potential in building of clientele, marketing local products and developing of services and products according to the needs of the customers.

While we plan to develop new concepts to market and sell products (virtual shops) via mobile technologies, with the encouraging results to date, we also plan to upscale projects that introduce the opportunities that mobile money can bring. The results thus far have shown high potential in both employing women in running mobile money kiosks in urban and rural areas, and in encouraging women to use mobile money for personal banking and savings.

In the area of mobile sales and marketing platforms, we embark on designing both online and SMS-based applications to cater for areas where connectivity remains limited. We will search experiences from other countries in the continent, as well as develop new partnerships with private sector and/or international NGOs that have experience in developing similar systems.

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