Farmers benefiting from ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Biodiversity and Conservation program in affected communities in Nimba County have started vigorous agricultural work after the program was launched in Kpolay and New Yekepa two months ago.
The launch of the program led to the purchase of tools, seeds or seedlings and fertilizers for the farmers to start working in their respective communities. Twenty-nine farmers in Sehyee-Geh, in the administrative district of Yarmein, do not take their oil palm and swamp cultivation plans lightly.
In one week, they meet twice on their site to work. According to the farmers, they want to prove to AML and implementing partners that they are serious about committing to the “Farming as a business” idea that was introduced under the Biodiversity and Conservation program.
“We are ready to work and are eagerly awaiting our palm seedlings to plant on the land we have cleared. We want to tell ArcelorMittal and the Agriculture Relief Service (ARS) that we are ready to work and benefit from our work, and surely, we will not disappoint them”, Paul N. Gantu, advisor to the farmers’ group Gboundeamon. in Sehyee-Geh said.
ArcelorMittal Liberia has committed just over $116,000 to the Agriculture Relief Service to support farmers in 14 communities of which Sehyee-Geh is a part. The money, among other things, is used to buy tools including rain boots, seeds, fertilizers, shovels, cutlasses and files for the farmers. It is also used to provide breeders and animal feed.
Martha Y. Menleh, an ARS technician assigned to the farmer group, said in an interview that the Gboundeamon farmer group has enthusiastic and willing to work members as indicated by their two-shift work schedule that they observe regularly.
“Know that these people, 29 in number, have their individual farms and their families to take care of, but twice a week they come here with joy to work on the farms of their project. As they arrive, we first assemble them to teach them how to arrange the marsh and measure the distance that must be between the palm trees for which they have grazed this large space. Sometimes the major problem we may have is land issues because after committing a piece of land, the owner will kick out the farmers from it once it is developed,” Menleh said.
Austin N. Wehyee, senior project supervisor for the biodiversity conservation program at ARS, praised AML for supporting the farmers, but noted that the farmers did not start their project quickly due to a delay in obtaining funds.
Nonetheless, Wehyee said, since this is the Sehyee-Geh’s first time joining the AML-supported biodiversity and conservation program, the group is encouragingly making efforts to win over its stakeholders by establishing the first two farms in amid the challenges posed by rain and food shortages.
The Biodiversity and Conservation program aims to reduce the pressure of subsistence agriculture on the mountain forest by giving priority to lowland cultivation and livestock raising. Farmers learn to make “farming a business” through which they can support their families.
In the town of Gbobayee, near Blaye Mountain, the Rural Integrated Center for Community Empowerment (RICCE), which also received $94,621.17 from the AML, brought together farmers on June 28 in a session course to learn more about “farming as a business”.
The farmers came from Suakazue and the host city, and the host whose messages were translated into the local vernacular taught the farmers how to calculate principal and interest in business and how it applies to l ‘agriculture.
Local farmers, so accustomed to subsistence farming and bush fallowing, learned about how commercial farming in neighboring countries has helped individual farmers grow their families and contribute significantly to the national development.
Educating farmers about lowland culture and making farming a business are the two main objectives of the RICCE under AML’s Biodiversity and Conservation program.
Samuel Peter, AML agronomist working with farmers, expressed his enthusiasm for the cooperation of farmers to ensure that the company’s target for the biodiversity program is met.
“ArcelorMittal Liberia takes iron ore, but at the same time it has to leave you something so that after all you are not left with nothing. One way is to empower you, the farmers, to produce food that you can sell to help your families and communities. This program also aims to ensure that we do not sweep the forest; because if we cut down all the forest, we will have a climate change that will cause us to have a dessert that does not support food growth,” Peter explained to the groups in the different places.
He assured the farmers that AML is keeping its promise to empower them, pointing out that the company is hosting an agricultural trade show that will allow them to showcase the products that the company and others will buy. He added that there will be farmer exchange programs that allow them to visit each other’s sites for learning purposes.
The two cities visited by the AML team lately are geographically surrounded by dense tropical forests. With the humid cloud characterized by the sun at this time of the rainy season, both regions prove to be better for agriculture, as indicated by the growing corn and other vegetables in the fields.