Liberia: Farming in the Heat – How Changing Weather Pattern Could Be Altering Liberia’s Agriculture
Over 80% of Liberia’s 4.5 million population earns less than $2 dollars per day and relies primarily on small-scale subsistence farming for their for sustenance.
Traditional shifting cultivation which is dependent on heavy rainfall and sunshine has for centuries been used as the chief method of farming in the tiny and yet impoverished West African nation.
Over the past decade, this method of farming that feeds almost all of the Liberians in the interior has come under unhurried pressure due to increase in temperatures of land and water bodies across the country.
Agriculture Ministry officials agree that the farming season is being altered by the realities of climate change. There is an erratic change in weather patterns that could affect nutrition for generations to come.
Between mid-October and April, farmers would expect that dry season will last here, making way for them to identify farm land, form cooperation that will brush the land, fell trees and burn.
Women begin scratching the farmland by the middle of March, and as the rainy season begins mid-April, it enables crops planted to grow healthy.
Keen human observation can tell that this has changed over the years. For example, September is the wettest month of the rainy season, but farmers have been shocked this year to see that for nearly three weeks in September, there was not a full day of rainfall.
Farming in the changing weather
Shifting weather pattern continues to become more visible as according to Annie Yeahgar, an indigenous farmer in Grand Bassa’s Wee-Statutory District, she was “frustrated” over “slow rainfall” this year compared to years back.
Said Annie Yeahgar: “I don’t know what next year will bring.” Stating further, he said, “all we did this year was in vain. The sun shines beyond our expectation and the crops did not come up well.”
The situation of the emerging erratic nature of the Liberian weather seems uniformed across the country.
On the road to “Little Bassa”, 2miles off the main Cuttington Tree-Buchanan Highway, this reporter met three women harvesting rice.
Mamie Waham, the head of the women, said she had been into subsistence farming all her life, but is confused how rice farming is becoming increasingly difficult given less rainfall, more sunshine and increased heat.
“The rice didn’t come up well and we are afraid next year could be even bad” she said adding “this year it has almost been an all dry season with very little rainfall”
According to her, their husbands have complained of “increased heat” (hot sun) while felling trees on the farm land and at a point “they almost discontinued.”
Nancy Willie, a colleague can be seen from the back where the interview is ongoing. She holds her right hand beneath her cheek and glimpses with dismal.
What do you think about farming this year, I asked her and, of course, she wasted no time with an expected reply “It na easy ooo” (it’s not easy).
For Nancy, a poor rice harvest this year is clearly detrimental and puts pressure on poor wives and husbands to look somewhere else for additional resources to purchase imported rice.
But she is concerned that her husband is not working and makes no other income. “No job for my husband and we have four children. How do they go to school if we don’t make a farm to sell the produce?” she asked.
Not just rice production has been affected by this changing weather. Ransey Tarpeh, in District Two Grand Bassa County confirms this saying: “my boasman cocoa has really suffered from prolonged sunshine. Even though September is known to be a heavy rainfall month, it was almost dry”. “We had to even water the cocoa for weeks in September. The sun was so hot.”
According to Tarpeh, this has been going on for “some years now” but this year, local farming got the biggest surprise . He could not however state what he thinks is responsible.
Strange scenarios are happening: we are witnessing lightning & thunderstorms in November, December and January. Unusual though.
But part of the problem is that climate education is a rare topic in Liberia. And too often, get affected knowing.
In Liberia, people popularly refer to the “Harmattan wind” which blows dust and dryness from the Sahara Desert south as “Yanopaepae”. It would normally come between the end of December and the beginning of January each year. The dryness from the wind can split lips and impose rough skin on people and for this, many would jokingly say, it was the season that “ugly peopl can be distinguished from the fine ones’ ‘. Sadly, about five years now, Harmattan wind has failed to reach the shores of Liberia. People think it’s normal.
Clearly, sudden changes in temperature with more sunshine than rainfall; from hot and humid to cold and windy are said to be on the rise threatening the mode of local food production, especially rice farming.
Climate Change Could Disrupt Agriculture – MOA
Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture admitted to rising temperature, low “water shortage” in the face of climate change could worsen farming.
Alvin Wesseh, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development Research and Extension said the “dry season” in Liberia has become longer than the raining season over a couple of years and this has caused shortage of water supply to Agricultural areas in Liberia thus leading to low productivity.
Temperature he said “is one of the most troubling factors affecting low crop yield in the sector”.
This increase in temperature could, according to him, lead to sea level rise that might probably cause deaths of plant species.
Wesseh didn’t not say what the Ministry of Agriculture and its partners are doing to solve the problems caused by climate variability and extremes in the agriculture sector.
Halala Willie Kokulo is the Director for the Division of Land Development and Water Resources at the Ministry of Agriculture. A graduate of the University of Liberia with BSc in General Agriculture, and MSc in Integrated Watershed Management, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, he is the principal technical focal poison for land and water resource management.
Kokulo is frightened that disturbances in weather pattern “will increase encroachment on shallow swamps and wetlands” that could further result to “low production and shortage in distribution.”
“You need to have enough or surplus in a locality before thinking of transporting for distribution to another location. Less rainfall is a serious production challenge to a country like Liberia that doesn’t have a good Agriculture irrigation and water management (water harvesting) systems.”
“Yes we are heading to such a production crisis if we do not put the proper mechanism into place considering water as a natural resource like forest and other minerals, we will certainly lead to such.” the technician said.
“Global warming situation in countries with poor water management programs” he argues “will suffer serious decrease in food production.”
Liberia Yet to Submit Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for Agriculture
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Liberia office says, the Government of Liberia has developed several agriculture, food security and nutrition policies but lacks the political will and resources and capacity (institution and human) to ensure implementation of sustainable agriculture policies and programs.
There is no communications strategy for the sector, that’s according to the FAO, and other related issues such as policy assistance, advocacy and dialogue. Currently FAO is supporting the development of the Country’s National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP).
Liberia is yet to fulfill its requirement since negotiations pursuant to the “Bali Action Plan” concluded at COP 18 in Doha. Developing countries like Liberia under this agreement would take Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in the context of sustainable agricultural development which aims at mitigating climate impact on food chain.
Since December 2012, Liberia has yet to submit its NAMAs. Ghana, Gabon, Madagascar, Gambia have submitted policies directed at transformational change within the agriculture sector, or actions across sectors for a broader national focus.
Climate Change could Worsen Liberia’s Food Supply Chain if Unchecked
According to the International Trade Administration, farming activities including forestry, is the primary livelihood for more than 60 percent of Liberia’s population and accounted for 31 percent of Liberia’s 2020 real gross domestic product (GDP).
For years, it has provided sustenance for many households engaging in cassava, rubber, rice, oil palm, cocoa, or sugarcane production.
Cassava and rice are the primary staple food crops. More households engage in cassava production than any other food crop. However, overall agricultural productivity is low and could get worse given the creeping erratic nature of Liberia’s meteorological conditions which has become apparent due to global warming.
Climate change could complicate Liberia’s food supply chain given the level of vulnerability, the fact that it imports more than 80 percent of its rice, which makes the country susceptible to global food price volatility.
Poorly integrated, the agriculture sector of Liberia lacks basic infrastructure such as machines, farming equipment and tools, farm-to-market roads, fertilizers and pesticides, and food storage capacity. The main cash crops and foreign exchange earners are rubber, oil palm, cocoa, and timber.
With Climate Change raging environmental havoc across the world, poor countries like Liberia with absolute low financial and technical capacity to adapt or mitigate, it is fair enough to say that many lives are at risk if climate sensitive actions are not taken to protect traditional farming.
What Does the EPA Say?
In the Agriculture sector, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it has committed the country to reducing agricultural GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 40% below business-as-usual (BAU) levels by 2030 (reduction of 13 GgCO2e) through promoting low-emissions rice cultivation and reducing the burning of field residues.
According to the EPA, it will also seek to reduce GHG emissions from the livestock sector by 40% below BAU levels by 2030, a reduction of 211 GgCO2e, through incentivizing improved feed with “legume fodder species, to reduce enteric fermentation (reduction of 103 GgCO2e), improved waste management, e.g. with bio-digesters and composting (reduction of 108 GgCO2e).”
To achieve this, the EPA’s Nationally Determined Contribution recently submitted to the UN Fremwork Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has it that Liberia will roll out incentives and programs to promote low-carbon agriculture practices, including conservation agriculture, improved lowland rice cultivation, multi-cropping, organic fertilizers, composting, crop rotation, and sustainable agricultural waste management.
The NDC states that “1,500 agricultural households will be made to adopt sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry, soil conservation, and organic/manure management practices by 2030 as well as allocate $400,000 per year in funding for research on sustainable agricultural production and GHG mitigation potential from the agriculture and livestock sectors in Liberia by 2025”.
While these targeted deliverables are mouthwatering ventures aimed at achieving mitigation and adaptation to shifting nature of Liberia’s climate and by extension its effects on farming, the government’s capacity to deliver climate-related interventions can be called into question. The fact is that the EPA is one of Liberia’s most underfunded entities with poor salary and benefits for staff.
In the NDC, the EPA does not state from which revenue string the government intends to accrue funds for its climate ambition.
It however notes: “the extent of implementation and achievement of the targets as proposed in this updated NDC are mainly conditioned upon the provision of adequate means of implementation (financial resources, capacity building and technology transfer, etc.) by the international community.”
Note: This story was produced under the NAREP Climate Change Media 2021 fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.