Agricultural Inputs Cash Transfer Scheme in Response to COVID-19
This post is written by Sheryl Cowan, Vice President, Programs, Nega Berecha, LADA Chief of Party, and Victor Ngorbu, LADA Senior Agribusiness & Private Sector Advisor.
Liberia spends nearly $200 million per year to import rice, the main staple food for more than 80 percent of the population. But while the Government of Liberia aims to reduce reliance on food imports, the country currently produces only 30 – 40 percent of its domestically consumed supply of rice.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent domestic and cross-border travel restrictions will potentially result in even greater shortages of agricultural inputs such as seeds for rice production significantly impacting Liberia’s near- and long-term food security, and the economic resilience of its smallholder farmers to recover the crisis.
To ensure domestic production of this major staple crop, the USAID-funded Feed the Future Liberia Agribusiness Development Activity (LADA), implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), launched a cash transfer voucher scheme to supply agricultural inputs to smallholder rice farmers across Bong, Nimba, and Lofa counties. Often referred to as “food basket” counties, the activity selected these three counties due to their significance in agricultural production in Liberia. In this scheme, cash vouchers were purchased from agro-dealers and distributed to smallholder farmers intended to be exchanged for agricultural inputs. This transfer system aimed to build economic resilience across the value chain by stimulating local market systems and ensuring the future production of rice.
LADA initiated the cash transfer scheme by mapping and assessing the general production capacity of participating farmers to ensure their accessibility to input distributors, aggregators, and processors. This assessment was also critical to ascertain the effects of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers to provide the requisite support and resources that would enable them to remain connected to markets and participate in the planting season.
LADA also engaged and trained nine certified agro-dealers across the three counties to serve as distribution hubs to supply agricultural inputs to farmers in exchange for LADA’s vouchers and support the transfer of raw materials to local rice processing mills.
Within these hubs, LADA targeted 1,500 (more than 70% women) smallholder farmers who were willing to produce the appropriate market-demanded quality of rice, were within accessible range of aggregators and processors, and who had the potential to cultivate a minimum of one-hectare of upland or 0.5-hectare of lowland paddy rice.
In collaboration with the Government of Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the certified agro-dealers, LADA organized 13 community agricultural input fairs from June 1 – 15, 2020, to offer smallholder farmers access to improved varieties of rice seeds. The improved seeds were locally produced by more than 50 certified rice seed growers and selected by the agro-dealers to participate in the voucher scheme. This effort also facilitated sustainable business-to-business relationships which aims to support access to improved varieties of rice seeds for future planting seasons.
Keeping the pandemic in mind, the fairs embraced social distancing practices and provided hand-washing services to participants. LADA also set up an interactive WhatsApp learning group that digitally connects farmers and agro-dealers for the promotion of good agricultural practices among the targeted smallholder farmers. Key features of these groups included the ability to check prices and the availability of crop protection inputs to obtain technical assistance and advisory extension services directly from the agro-dealers. The platform also featured scripts, audio recordings, and visual aids on a wide range of crop production best practices — such as product storage, safe use of fertilizers and pesticides, mulching, nursery management and transplanting, and water and irrigation management.
Effective emergency cash transfer schemes such as the one developed by LADA for rice farmers recognize the dynamic interactions between different market actors and reinforce the resiliency of market systems to absorb shocks. By 2021, LADA’s cash transfer scheme is expected to cultivate more than 1,165 hectares of land and yield more than 2,800 MT of rice. The introduction of improved rice seed varieties is also expected to increase rice yields by 75% compared to the national average.
The cash transfer voucher scheme and the facilitation of a holistic system of market actors aim to support a resilient recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and a sustainable path towards food security in Liberia