SINYEA, Bong County – After two years of poor harvests, the Sumo family was nervous this year. The rain had been unpredictable. The sun was warmer. The soil on their five-hectare plot here was dry. They planted bitter ball, pumpkin, peppercorn, maize, okra and rice and followed the rules they had followed all their lives as subsistence farmers.
By Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh, with New Narratives
But again, their harvest was a disaster.
“The sunshine is not easy this year, it’s too much, even if you water the crops, it still can’t do it,” Musu Sumo said. “The corn and pumpkin that we planted in the rice, nothing came out. They all went short-short and died.
To compensate for the lost rain, the Sumos dug wells around the farms to bring water to the crops morning and evening. It was hard work, but even that was not enough. The rice they planted last year left well before the end of the season. Where once they would have 25 sacks of rice from their harvest, this year they have only five. The family will be forced to buy rice.
“Farming these days is like a waste of time and resources,” said Sam Sumo, Musu’s husband. “We work hard, invest money in work, but we earn much less and for us, agriculture is our life. We are confused now and don’t know what to do.
Climate change is taking its toll on Liberian farmers. Up to 80% of the population depends on subsistence agriculture. Seventy percent of jobs are related to agricultural exports – rubber, coffee, palm oil, sugar and cocoa. Climate change threatens to plunge Liberia into a food security crisis, according to prominent climate change expert Jerome Nyenka.
“The arrival and end of the rain has changed. We don’t know when the sun will start and when it will end,” said Professor Nyenka, a professor at the University of Liberia and former executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Farmers are losing their source of survival. Now that climate change has set in, it is difficult for them to grow their crops. So they don’t have enough to eat, and even less to sell. If you can’t find food, how do you pay your children’s school fees? How do you buy medicines for you and your family members? »
Ezekiel Yarkpawolo, 42, said 2020 and 2021 were the worst farming seasons he had seen in 10 years of farming. The inconsistency of the weather has cost him dearly.
“In 2020, I credited LD$30,000 from a financial savings club to invest in soil and planted bitter balls and other vegetables,” Mr. Yarkpawolo said. “But the sun killed everything immediately after they sprouted. I lost so much and I was indebted to the club so I had to appeal to the club to return that money. We are really suffering.
Because women bear the heaviest burden in collecting food and water, climate change weighs heavily on them.
“You can see all around us, a woman like me was farming bitter balls and okra so I could harvest and make a lot of money, but there was no way, I lost”, said an emotional Musu. “I’m frustrated! You work like this for nothing! Not even rest one day. It will make you feel unwell. I appeal to the government to help us, the farmers, or bring job.
From wildfires in California and Australia to floods in Asia and heat waves in Europe, climate change is devastating people around the world. But in poor countries like Liberia, there is no money to invest in infrastructure, adaptation and technology that can help people adapt.
Developed countries have committed $100 billion per year for climate change adaptation in developing countries. The Liberian government has proposed a $490.5 million adaptation plan that will focus on six climate-sensitive sectors: agriculture, coastal resources, energy, fisheries, forestry and waste. It has undertaken to fund 15% itself; the remaining 85% will come from donors. To release these funds, the government must submit acceptable proposals. International donors told New Narratives that the recent anti-corruption probe into the Department of Agriculture will not help.
A recently announced $9.5 million project, supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, will target 250,000 smallholders, including 10,000 rice farmers, 10,000 cocoa farmers and 5,000 smallholders, 40% of whom will be women.
“Beyond this, the government is also considering creating a financial institution similar to what the Agricultural Bank used to be to ensure that farmers have access to finance that they can borrow, grow their farms and repay,” said Wilson Tarpeh, the general manager. of the Environmental Protection Authority. “The government is not just thinking, it is also doing something about the impacts of climate change on our farmers.
Help can’t come soon enough for cocoa farmers like James Kerkulah. Here in Seke Ta, Palala District, Bong County, Mr. Kerkulah is one of the many farmers here who do not know how to manage their crops with the new climatic conditions.
“We used to harvest our cocoa until February, but you went into the bush and there’s not much on the trees. We keep losing,” Mr. Kerkuleh said.
“The level of flowering that is supposed to produce cocoa yield is not very high,” said Lassana Tucker, a technician with local NGO Vainga Agriculture Development Management Consultancy, which supports 600 local farmers in four counties with training. and advice.
“Because the amount of rain the cocoa needs to get the cocoa bobs doesn’t come at the right time. We should have harvested until February, but now it’s too short.”
It was difficult for Mr. Kerkulah and his family.
“My plan in 2021 was that after my harvest, I would raise at least around LD$30,000 to change the roof of my house to zinc and pay for my children’s school fees. But I never reached LD$10,000. We work for nothing.
Mr Tucker said some of the farmers he works with have given up growing cocoa. He finds himself in the difficult situation of explaining that climate change is beyond their control.
“They want to know from us, ‘How are these things going?’ We’re trying to explain that now the problem is a global problem,” Tucker said.
Professor Nyenka also expects agricultural exports to be hit hard unless there are major interventions. With 90% of Liberia’s export earnings coming from agriculture, this will be a blow to the economy. Because Liberia does not have sophisticated irrigation systems like other countries and is solely dependent on rainfall, products from Liberia will not be able to compete.
“Every crop needs sunshine, water, humidity, so when the rain is delayed it will affect the yield,” Professor Nyenka said. “If the rain is delayed for two or three weeks, it means that your harvest will not be good. And you won’t be able to sell it in international markets.
He says the government will have to make major investments if the industry is to be saved. For smallholder farmers, Professor Nyenka has some clear advice:
“Climate change is real. We should all listen to international experts, NGOs, the government. There are things they want us to do,” he said.
Nyenka said farmers should mix crops, not depend on one. They should add animals – pigsties, poultry, cane rats, beekeeping. Animals fertilize the soil. And do not clean shrubs and trees. Trees, animals are all part of a healthy agricultural environment.
“Together we are fighting climate change,” Professor Nyenka warned. “It’s everyone’s business. If a group of people do not act, we will all fail.
This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Land Rights and Climate Change Reporting Project. Funding was provided by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Funders had no say in the content of the story.