Covid-19 pandemic threatens years of efforts to recover from war in Liberia

Victoria Banks fights for the survival of her family in Liberia. Credit: Zwannah Kimber

After years of recovery from Liberia's civil war, Victoria Banks was finally able to make a living from farming. Until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Photo credit: Zwannah Kimber

“Our usual two meals a day has been reduced to one meal a day. This is a serious problem for myself and my children.”

Grand Gedeh – Victoria, is a Liberian 55 years-old farmer and mother of Seven Children who was finally able to depend on farming to feed her family after years of hardship during the civil war. But that was before the Covid-19 outbreak. Now, everything has changed for the worst. “This sickness is causing us a hard time, because we were doing farming, but we can’t get support from anyone.”                                                                

On the road to recovery

Until before the pandemic, Victoria could count on support from Oxfam to get through the difficulties caused by years of civil war in Liberia. She has benefitted from agricultural training intervention under the German Development Bank (KFW) -funded Reintegration and Recovery Program (RRP) in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh county. The program contributed to the consolidation of Liberia’s peace process by improving the living conditions of people in the Southeast through agricultural training and development.

Victoria is grateful for this support because it helped her put money in her pocket and contributed to her children’s education. Her husband is ageing, and she is the only parent engaged in farming and trading to maintain the family.

“Right now, the only thing I need is support, says Victoria. Oxfam have empowered me before. Oxfam made me believe in myself. I am hoping that they can do more because we need to go back to the soil to grow more food and feed our country,” Victoria says.

Back to hunger

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria struggles again to make ends meet: “the rice is on the swamp but no way to harvest, [and] the food crops are dying. We were stopped from making farm [and] the people say we should sit home and [protect] our children and ourselves from the virus so the food we planted last year is what we are surviving on.”

Victoria and her family are also involved in petty and wholesale trading, a major source of funding for the family. Unsurprisingly, the State of Emergency has also hurt this business.

The restrictions on travel between counties, the closure of the borders and the terrible road condition – now made worse by the rains – have prevented Victoria from receiving the goods she ordered from Monrovia and even from the Ivory Coast. This has left her with no alternative but to credit goods and cash from local businesses.

A whole region affected by food insecurity

Zwannah Kimber is the Education Programme Manager for Oxfam in Liberia and Head of the Zwedru Field Office. He says that since the State of Emergency, Oxfam’s activities under the RRP (now in its fifth phase) have been suspended. This has contributed to increased hunger and food insecurity in the region, especially amongst program beneficiaries and other community dwellers’ in Grand Gedeh County where the interventions are being carried out.

Liberia is extremely dependent on imported food – particularly rice. Not only does this make Liberia a food-deficit country, it also makes it highly vulnerable to commodity price shocks and inflation.

Zwannah Kimber says some farmers have reported a lack of access to farm inputs because of travel restrictions between counties. But like Victoria, he also laments the deplorable road condition of the Ganta-Zwedru “highway”. Now in the rainy season, it is not unusual to spend days if not weeks stuck in the deep mud along the 140 km stretch of unpaved road. Before Covid-19, importing farm inputs such as hybrid seeds, birds, animal feeds and farming tools from the Ivory Coast provided an alternative. Because of the pandemic, that option is now closed.

Kimber added that Covid-19 has also negatively impacted other aspects of the Oxfam’s Reintegration and Recovery Program, including the rehabilitation of farm-to-market roads and a market structure that was being renovated by Welthungerhilfe, the lead consortium partner.

Furthermore, while some farmers have cut back on their farming activities because of government regulations, Kimber says others stay home to protect and care for their children who have been at home since schools closed. With sexual and gender-based violence on the rise, some parents are more cautious about leaving their under-age children and young relatives home alone.

“When the restrictions are lifted, more than 390 farmers from four communities in and around Zwedru will benefit from Oxfam’s agricultural program. Women constitute more than 60% of beneficiaries with at least 50% youth,” added Kimber.

Written by: Bettie Kemah Johnson-Mbayo.

Contributor: Zwannah Kimber.