Since 2007 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has played a leadership role in promoting community forest management and land tenure reforms in Liberia. Recognizing the significant link between poverty and poor forest use and management, USAID-funded activities in this sector have always been coupled with support to livelihood improvements in the targeted communities. As part of its overall goal, the People, Rules, and Organizations Supporting the Protection of Ecosystem Resources (PROSPER) program aims to reduce threats to biodiversity of community forests through improvements in sustainable economic livelihood opportunities that support biodiversity conservation and income generation. With limited resources available, it was evident that program investments would need to selectively target livelihood interventions that provide the best opportunities for increased and long-term income generation. Given the significant role of agriculture in all of the program’s target areas, this assessment was designed to determine which agricultural value chain(s) to support and develop in PROSPER communities.
The assessment was conducted using a variety of methods to collect information. The assessment team reviewed lessons learned from previous forestry programs in Liberia, conducted desk research on past studies and local publications, designed and implemented multiple surveys, and interviewed diverse stakeholders in the agricultural sector including farmers participating in the Farmer Field School, traders, marketers, transporters, women groups, representatives of associations, and agro-input suppliers in the PROSPER communities of Nimba and Grand Bassa counties. Eight selection criteria were developed in order to score and rank the various crops: suitability for target population; potential for value addition; existing demand and growth potential; potential to increase income; labor requirement; capital requirements; time between start-up and first returns; and impact on reducing threats to biodiversity. Nine crops were assessed: cassava, cocoa, coffee, hot pepper, oil palm, plantain, rice (lowland and upland), and rubber.
The forest communities supported by PROSPER are primarily involved in shifting cultivation for subsistence production. Even in communities where cash crops (cocoa, coffee, oil palm, or rubber) are grown, the majority of farmers work on two acres or less. Lack of infrastructure (mainly feeder roads) makes transportation costs high and puts many markets out of reach for program beneficiaries. These factors, in addition to the above-mentioned selection criteria, needed to be seriously considered by the program in assessing which value chains to invest in over the four remaining years of the program.
After careful analysis, cocoa, hot pepper, oil palm, and plantain emerged as the top value chains for consideration. Each proved to have a good balance of labor and capital requirements and high potential for reducing the threats to biodiversity, while also being suitable for the target population. These crops also have a strong domestic market and, in the case of cocoa, strong export market potential. In the case of oil palm and cocoa, previous and current investment by other donors has strengthened key aspects of these value chains, allowing PROSPER beneficiaries the opportunity to take advantage of these improvements. Upon closer review of PROSPER program resources and the remaining duration of the PROSPER program, these four value chains were finally narrowed down to cocoa and oil palm.