The USAID Food and Enterprise Development (FED) Program is a flagship USAID-funded Feed the Future (FtF) Initiative development program in Liberia that was launched in September 2011. USAID FED uses an all-inclusive strategy incorporating micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise (MSME), farmers, processors, suppliers, women, and youth while partnering with the Government of Liberia (GoL) and local civil society to achieve food security.
The goal of USAID FED is to increase food availability, utilization, and accessibility by building an indigenous incentive structure that assists agricultural stakeholders in adopting commercial approaches.
This incentive structure is built upon:
- Improved technology for productivity and profitability
- Expanded and modernized input supply and extension systems
- Commercial production, marketing, and processing
- Enterprise services
- Workforce development
USAID FED works with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), civil society, and the private sector in providing communities access to agricultural inputs, extension services, nutrition messages, processing services, market information, transportation, credit, agro-business education, training, and business development services.
In five years, USAID FED’s thrust to expand market linkages is expected to lead to substantial increases in income and job opportunities. USAID FED aims to significantly boost the production, processing, marketing, and nutritional utilization of rice, cassava, and vegetables, and to enhance the productivity of goat farming in the counties covered by the program.
These initiatives are being carried out in Bong, Lofa, Nimba, Grand Bassa, Montserrado, and Margibi counties. USAID FED focuses on these counties because they are situated along regional development corridors that are crucial in promoting intra- and inter-county commerce. These growth corridors are expected to improve food availability and access for all Liberians.
USAID FED’s methodology is market-led and value chain-driven; it is committed to indigenous capacity building, with a specific focus on Liberia’s women and youth.
USAID FED is implemented by five partners: Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), Winrock International, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), Louisiana State University (LSU), and The Cadmus Group.
In spite of the Ebola virus disease outbreak, USAID FED has seen overwhelming success in program implementation in fiscal year 2015 (FY15). The project has exceeded targets in 19 out of its 25 indicators, and met or almost met targets in five other indicators, with one indicator—installed milling capacity—to be completed in the first quarter of FY16.
The team has been highly motivated by the positive results of programming in FY14, especially the dramatic increase in rice production that resulted in a surplus unprecedented since the war. In addition to achieving the targets, several highly notable milestones were accomplished that set the stage for sustainability of initiatives and continuing development of the food-based value chains.
Rice Value Chain Development
A total of 19,389 farmers engaged in rice production in FY14 harvested in FY15 on average three metric tons of rice per hectare—150 percent higher than the previous average production of 1.2 metric tons per hectare. As a result of their surpluses, farmers sold approximately 65 percent of their produce from the FY14 crop, whereas they used to sell only 15 percent at the beginning of the project. A total of 7,685 metric tons have been reported sold for US$3.15 million. The timely support of USAID FED to the establishment of Liberia’s first industrial rice mill, Fabrar Liberia, the 10 community rice mills housed in rice business hubs (RBH), and the massive procurement by the Ministry of Agriculture made it possible for the surplus produce to be absorbed. Sales went up by 457 percent from US$565,025 in FY14 to US$3,146,171 in FY15; exceeding target for FY15 by 135 percent.
In FY 15, USAID FED opened 3,547 ha of abandoned lowlands. This brings the total lowlands rehabilitated and developed by the project to 5,300 ha. A total of 11,800 ha of lowland and upland were planted with improved varieties of rice by 50,000 farmers with FED support. A total of 51 power tillers have been distributed to demonstrate efficiency, cost reduction, and the ability to reach scale via mechanization. Mechanization together with more efficient use of fertilizer through urea deep placement (UDP) effectively demonstrated that cost can be reduced to $7 per 50 kg bag of paddy rice. This is very important as it addresses the issue of the ability of locally produced rice to compete with imported rice. Harvesting is expected to happen in Q1 and Q2 of FY16 and is anticipated to reach 35,000 metric tons. In anticipation of more surplus production, USAID FED has commenced the construction of nine more rice business hubs equipped with a thresher, solar dryer, rice mill, de-stoner, and warehouse. Total output capacity of rice mills (i.e., Fabrar and the 19 RBHs) established with FED support will reach 29,000 metric tons by November 2015. These rice mills can absorb approximately 45,000 metric tons of paddy rice.
A notable milestone in FY15 is the emergence of entrepreneur-traders who carried out the function of bulking and transporting the paddy rice to processors. In FY 16, more aggregators for paddy rice will be needed. In addition, the distribution channel for locally produced and milled rice has to be established up-country. USAID FED has obtained the commitment of the two largest importers of rice for procurement and distribution of local rice in milled form in Bong and Nimba counties. Meanwhile, paddy rice traders in Lofa are being assisted to also be the distributors of milled rice. The challenge for these small entrepreneurs is financing, especially to cover operating costs in rice-trading, both in paddy and milled form.
A major challenge faced in FY15 was the competition with the private sector posed by the MoA by buying paddy rice at prices that are prohibitive to the private sector. USAID FED campaigned against this market distortion by the government through policy forums and meetings with GoL officials as well as key stakeholders. The President announced during the inauguration of the Fabrar processing plant that the MoA has to stop buying paddy rice. The new Minister of Agriculture also reaffirmed in September 2015 that the MoA will not be involved in buying rice and will instead support the private sector. USAID FED also insisted on local rice procurement for the rice distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) under the Ebola Response Program in order to not undermine the efforts of the project. Fabrar Liberia and three of the FED-supported RBHs supplied milled rice to WFP for distribution to Ebola-affected communities.
Cassava Value Chain Development
In FY15, a total of 17,091 farmers harvested approximately 43,000 metric tons of cassava tubers from 2,400 ha. They obtained 18 to 22 metric tons of cassava tubers per hectare, approximately 2.5 times more than what they would traditionally harvest without USAID FED’s intervention. They sold 83 percent of their harvest for US$2.15 million, which is US$1.19 million more – or 125 percent higher – as compared to what they would have earned from their traditional harvest.
Eighty commercial nurseries have been established and are now propagating improved cassava varieties and supplying disease-free cuttings of higher yielding varieties to farmers. Processing capacities of 33 processors have been upgraded from the previous output capacity of 240 metric tons per annum to a current capacity of 480 metric tons.
An additional 13,373 new farmers (bringing the total to 31,016 beneficiaries) were supported with tools, training, and cuttings to grow improved varieties of cassava on 3,565 ha using improved practices. This crop is expected to be harvested starting Q2 of FY16 through Q1 of FY17. Production in FY16 is anticipated to reach 71,000 metric tons. This additional volume of approximately 43,000 metric tons of cassava will further bring prices down, making it more competitive for processors. Investing in large scale processing could now be more attractive to the private sector. To ensure expanded market access for this surplus production, USAID FED has proposed to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) to put in place a 10 percent Cassava Composite Flour policy. This policy would require baked products using flour to incorporate at least 10 percent cassava flour into the wheat flour. Up to 25 percent cassava content does not have a significant impact on the taste of bread. It is attractive to bakers, as it could mean cost-savings of approximately US$4.6 million due to the lower cost of cassava flour. It also means reduction in the importation bill of approximately US$8.6 million. More importantly, it could mean an additional market for approximately 43,000 metric tons of cassava tubers. The Minister of Commerce is supportive of the policy. To support implementation of the policy once passed, there is a need in FY16 to identify and support investment in a large scale cassava flour/starch processing plant, as well as support the downstream markets, such as the bakeshops in adapting their equipment and processes to implement the policy.
Vegetable Value Chain Development
Off-season production of high value and domestic vegetables has been made possible with the introduction of improved varieties of higher value vegetable species, good agricultural practices (GAP), establishment of 40 rain shelters, and provision of 188 pumps and drip irrigation kits to 4,617 vegetable farmers. Improved packaging, such as plastic crates, low-tech, affordable cooling technologies, and refrigerated containers have been introduced as part of the efforts to reduce post-harvest losses and extend the shelf life of vegetables. This comprehensive assistance has resulted in a 35 percent increase in production per ha from 4.6 metric tons in FY14 to 6.2 metric tons in FY15, 72 percent higher than FY13. The higher value of the species and improved quality has resulted in better prices, on average 185 percent higher in FY15 in comparison to FY14. The combined increase in volumes and prices resulted in a 526-percent increase in sales from US$251,107 in FY14 to US$1.57 million in FY15, exceeding the fiscal year target by 145 percent. Gross margin per ha has increased by 544 percent from US$1,125 in FY13 to US$7,245 in FY15, and by 500 percent relative to FY14.
USAID FED was gearing up to support the export of okra to Paris, but found a high unmet demand for this in Monrovia. Supermarkets expressed strong desire to buy the okra and all the other high-value vegetables that USAID FED beneficiaries are producing. The prices locally are twice the price offered by the buyer in Paris, hence it was decided to sell the produce locally.
A major challenge for the vegetable growers is access to good quality chemicals for pest and disease control, and USAID FED will focus on addressing this in FY16.
Goat Value Chain Development
The goat value chain suffered from the Peste de Petite Ruminant (PPR) virus outbreak, especially in Lofa and Nimba counties, in the third quarter of FY15. Despite this, the goat herds of USAID FED-supported farmers exhibited dramatic improvements. From a beginning inventory of 5,419 animals, the herds have grown to 16,665 animals at the end of FY15, 63 percent higher than target. Production has increased 218 percent from 3,700 animals in FY14 to 11,755 in FY15, which is 80 percent higher than target. This success in goat production is attributable to improved technologies, such as the use of shelters, vaccination and deworming, improved feeding and animal husbandry, introduction of fattening before selling, and product standardization. USAID FED’s objective was to improve the weaning rate from 54 percent at project inception to 80 percent. At the end of FY15, the weaning rate was at 98 percent. In the last three fiscal years, 7,479 kids were born and only 94 died. This means 3,346 kids have been saved as a result of the improved practices. This shows that the USAID FED approach at re-stocking is effective. Sales have increased by 185 percent from US$346,214 in FY14 to US$625,583 in FY15. Herd size of the 3,896 farmers directly benefiting from the shelters is expected to grow by 24 percent and reach a total population of 20,678 by end of FY16. Sales are expected to grow by 72 percent from 6,049 in FY15 to 10,426 animals in FY16. In addition to the 3,896 farmers, USAID FED has trained in FY15 2,500 goat farmers from surrounding communities on mineral salt lick and disease prevention.
Improving Human Nutrition
The mainstreaming of nutrition messages in training and extension delivery has reached approximately 60 percent (65,100) of USAID FED beneficiaries based on a study conducted by the project. Additionally, preliminary results of a household diet diversity survey show that approximately 22,355 households supported by the project since FY14 have improved their diet diversity. Further, preliminary analysis on another study done by USAID FED showed that the increase in incomes of farmers in the rice value chain is resulting in improved diet diversification, as evidenced by a 14.6-percent increase in USAID FED-supported rice farming households now buying vegetables.
Additional major milestones by the end of FY15 are:
- The introduction of “tuk-tuks,” motorbikes with trailers that can carry up to 1.5 metric tons of cargo, which will help farmers in transporting cassava, rice, goats, and other produce to the markets.
- Rice value chain integrator model established in Lofa with FED support to entrepreneur John Selma, who provides inputs to 195 farmers and will buy back their produce, mill it, and distribute it to retailers for sale in community markets. This is also a platform to promote adoption of fertilizer use via embedded financing. This will be replicated in other major rice producing areas in FY16.
- A total of 400 metric tons of “certified” rice seeds was harvested in FY15 from 160 ha by 1,375 FED-supported farmers who were trained on seed production by the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) and Africa Rice in FY14. Regular inspection was performed by 15 seed inspectors on these seed production areas. A total of 3,432 trained seed producers planted foundation seeds on 435 ha in FY15 with FED support. Another 164 ha seed production area was jointly supported by FED and Africa Rice. A total of 2,124 metric tons of certified rice seeds of the Nerica 8 and Nerica 19 varieties are expected to be harvested in Q1 of FY16. Total “certified” seed produced will reach 2,524 metric tons by January 2016, representing 84 percent of the FED LOP target.
- Storage capacity was increased by 7,676 cubic meters.
- The database system for the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has been developed; the data collection and reporting tools have been developed and piloted in the Bong County Office of the MoA.
- Eleven special studies and surveys were carried out, including on diet diversity, women in agriculture empowerment index (WAEI), impact of increased rice production on household economics, technology adoption, and VSLA as a financing platform for agriculture.
- USAID FED carried out a survey in August and September 2015 on post-harvest losses. Preliminary results of the survey indicate a possible reduction of 8 percent and 7.27 percent, respectively, for rice and vegetables—from 30 percent in 2011 to 22 percent in 2015 for rice, and from 45 percent in 2011 to 37.3 percent in 2015 for vegetables.
- Extension curricula for goats, rice, cassava, and vegetables have been standardized and training manuals and farming guides have been developed and validated by stakeholders.
- The ECOWAS seed, pesticide, and fertilizer regulations have been domesticated.
- Rice policy that recommends replication of USAID FED’s approach has been submitted to the Rice Policy Technical Working Group (TWG), which was to submit a rice policy recommendation to the President.
- A total of 358 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) have improved their profitability as a result of USAID FED’s assistance, and 314 MSMEs have been registered as businesses, exceeding target by 143 percent.
- A total of 22,205 MSMEs, including farmers, have been assisted in accessing US$930,362 in financing (124 percent of target) through 573 Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), microfinance institutions, and embedded financing.
- Four Centers of Excellence (CoEs) have been established with a National Diploma in Agriculture (NDA) program. Syllabi and lesson plans for 30 courses of the program have been prepared. Modern science laboratories have been constructed and outfitted with equipment, power, and water supply. Textbooks and reference materials for effective delivery of the NDA have been provided, and instructors have been trained to deliver the NDA courses.
- A total of 52,254 or 59 percent of USAID FED beneficiaries who are implementing improved technologies are youth. This represents 132% of FY15 target. Additionally, 25 peri-urban agriculture (PUA) projects involving 500 youth were assisted and are now growing and selling high value vegetables; 86 youth entrepreneurs generated and 124 youth employed in ancillary businesses supporting the value chains.
- Women constitute 46 percent (49,836 out of 108,340) of USAID FED beneficiaries who received training in FY15, and 36,312 of the 88,152 (41%) of beneficiaries who actually implemented improved technologies are women.