Liberia: Urban gardens to boost food security
MONROVIA, 19 January 2010 (IRIN) – Farmers are turning to urban gardens as a way to boost food security in Liberia’s Montserrado County, where just one percent of residents grow their own produce today compared to 70 percent before the war.
Some 40 percent of Liberia’s population lives in the capital, Monrovia – located in Montserrado – after years of fighting sparked rural communities to move to the city. Many new arrivals had no access to land and have crowded into slums.
Over half of Monrovia’s residents live on less than US$1 a day, according to the World Bank.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is targeting 5,000 urban residents of Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Bong and Margibi counties, to encourage them to start market gardens or increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they grow on their farms. Participants had to have access to tools and some land.
The aim is to improve food security and nutritional status while boosting incomes, said project coordinator Albert Kpassawah.
Participants told IRIN they plant hot peppers, cabbage, calla, tomatoes, onions, beans and ground nuts.
Health and nutrition experts in Liberia say increasing fruit, vegetables and protein in people’s diets is vital to reducing chronic malnutrition, which currently affects 45 percent of under-fives nationwide.
Joseph Rogers has a half-acre market garden in Johnsonville on the outskirts of Monrovia, which he plans to expand. “I am planting cabbage… I used to [grow vegetables] before the war, but [my crops] were damaged in the crisis. It affected my family.”
When he lost his garden his family found it hard to eat, he said. Now he grows enough to sell part of his produce.
“Sometimes people come here to purchase huge quantities. I pay for the school fees with the money I earn,” Rogers told IRIN.
Paul Tah, father of six, had never farmed before he got involved in the FAO project. “I got interested in this project because of the lack of jobs in this country,” he told IRIN. He now makes $200 each season from selling peppers.
“My family is in fine health. This is my livelihood now. I don’t have to depend on a government job to survive.”
FAO assists primarily by providing seeds and training in techniques such as conserving rainwater and composting. The organization does not provide fertilizer, insecticides or tools – a concern to some participants. “You cannot grow cabbage without insecticide. It doesn’t work,” Anthony Nackers told IRIN.
Vermin, insects and poor storage destroy 60 percent of Liberia’s annual harvest, according to FAO.
And many of the most vulnerable city-dwellers – those with no access to land – cannot participate at all, FAO’s Kpassawah pointed out.
But he said he hopes the project’s benefits will spread beyond immediate participants, since all who take part are encouraged to pass on their training to relatives, neighbours and friends.
And there is ample scope to expand techniques learned from cities to rural areas, he pointed out. Just one-third of Liberia’s 660,000 fertile hectares are being cultivated, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.