Farmers were provided with food crop seedlings to plant alongside oil palm and cocoa
With the spread of the virus instigating a lockdown for some period, the woes of smallholder farmers deepened as it hindered access to their farmlands. Farmers also struggled to feed their families due to higher food prices and limited purchasing power.
For smallholder farmers in the Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa, and Nimba counties, who are being supported under Solidaridad’s cocoa and oil palm programmes, their involvement in the Alternative Livelihood and Empowerment Programme — which seeks to promote crop diversification for increased income — built their resilience against the impact of the pandemic.
Through the programme, Solidaridad provides food crop seeds, training, and technical guidance on crop diversification for cocoa and oil palm farmers under the second phase of the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP) and the Sustainable West Africa oil Palm Programme (SWAPP), funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ghana, as well as the Liberia Cocoa Sector Improvement Programme (LICSIP), funded by the European Union in Liberia.
Crop diversification has helped to increase income for the farmers
Additionally, the farmers were trained in the establishment and management of vegetable nurseries, farm layout, proper ways of planting, and best management practices for vegetable production.
The farmers were also assisted to intercrop their cocoa and oil palm farms with the food crop seeds they received.
Better harvests helping families meet their needs during lockdown
After months of planting, the farmers started harvesting their produce. Over 230 farmers have harvested peppers, garden eggs, watermelons and cucumbers. Other food crops they harvested include corn (maize), cassava, groundnuts, cabbage, beans, and okra.
Helena Cooper, a 34-year-old cocoa farmer in Gowhua in Nimba county, who was excited about her harvest says she was able to buy additional food for her family during the lockdown period with the income she generated from the sale of her food crops.
“I got 12,500 Liberian dollars (63 dollars) from the six bags of 25 kg garden eggs I sold. From that money, I was able to support my family at the height of the pandemic,” she says.
Farmers were assisted to intercrop the oil palm and cocoa farms with food crop seeds
For Stanley Kollie, an oil palm farmer in Nimba county, his sales were unbelievable. “We do not always make this kind of money when we sell. But the alternative way Solidaridad taught us to plant vegetables has increased our harvest. I made 40,000 Liberian dollars (201 dollars) after selling 175 kg of cabbage, which helped me to cater for my family's needs during the lockdown,” he says.
Stanley indicates that he invested part of the income he generated into labour on his oil palm farm.
Reinvesting and scaling up
To sustain the intervention, the farmers have been encouraged to reinvest and scale up their farming activities with some proceeds they generate.
“Our alternative livelihood programme supports smallholder farmers to generate alternative short-term income from their farms while waiting for their cocoa and oil palm to mature. Solidaridad will continue to support farmers to plant food crops that are of economic value in the communities where they farm,” says Cyrus Saygbe Sr, Solidaridad oil palm manager in Liberia.
The programme has helped farmers weather the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
He adds that with farmers generating between 10,000 and 150,000 Liberian dollars (50-756 dollars) they were now in a better position to purchase improved cocoa and oil palm seedlings and inputs from small and medium enterprises, and pay for farm management services to improve their yields.
The Alternative Livelihood and Empowerment Programme activities enhance crop diversification for increased farm income and food stock. An outcome of the crop diversification is the improved management of cocoa and oil palm farms by farmers due to their frequent visit to the farms to nature their food crops.