March 17 Press Briefing

8 Dec 2011

March 17 Press Briefing

Yasmina Bouziane (UNMIL Spokesperson) Today we have the privilege of having the 3rd quarterly briefing of the Joint EU Funded Food Facility Support to the Government of Liberia and the United Nations Joint Programme on Food Security and Nutrition. Present with us today are representatives from the EU Task Force: WFP, UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, UN Joint Programmes and the Government of Liberia, all implementing this programme. They will give us a briefing not only of the progress but also on the challenges and the way forward.

The implementation of the EU Food Facility support to the Government of Liberia and the UN Joint programmes on food security and nutrition is a valuable programme. It is also a programme that is here for development and self sustainment of the nation, in this particular case Liberia. It is important to see the progress, to see the achievements and the challenges that can be faced in the future in implementing the programme.

Today, the SRSG is at the United Nations in New York and will be presenting to the Security Council the 22nd Progress Report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL. Consultations are to talk place today at 10am New York time and the Mission will be issuing a release on what her consultations were and what was said on that.

The DSRSG-R & G will be addressing the noon briefing at the UN Headquarters on Thursday, 17 April 2011. He will be speaking about a number of issues in particular the Flash Appeal for Liberia with regards to the Ivorian asylum seekers and how to lessen the burden of host families here in Liberia.


Mr. Adolfo Alonso (EU Task Force Leader)

Thank you very much. I would like to remind you on the background of the funding that we are giving to the programme here in Liberia as consequence of the food prices in the end of 2008. As the consequence of that price crisis the EU released 1billion Euros around the world to support food security around the world. And as part of that I billion Euro, around 14 million Euros came to Liberia. Around 11 million coming to the UN/Government of Liberia Joint Programme on Food Security and Nutrition; and that is the reason why we are here today to give an update on the support given.

It is very important not to reflect the latest figures we got because as part of this UN/Government of Liberia Joint Programme on Food Security and Nutrition, the results were released in January 2011. There was an official launching of the results in which the Ministry of Agriculture organized the launching and invited different agencies. It is important to reflect some of the results. Some of the results we got were that the food security status in Liberia is improving compared to 2006 when the latest comprehensive food and security survey was conducted. Around 41% percent of the population who is food insecure, that means they do not have enough food to sustain themselves. There is still a lot of room for improvement.

Another interesting result is that geographically, we can see some changes between 2006 and 2010. The most impressive change is the county of Lofa. Lofa was food insecure in 2006 and thanks to the knowledge of the farmers of Lofa, 2010 the situation has improved. On the opposite, we found that rural Montserrado that was not having a high risk of food insecurity in 2006, in 2010 it appeared as a food insecure place. We can not understand the reason for that, but we can say from 2006 – 2010 there are changes. Southeastern Liberia remains as a highly food insecure area for many reasons like the access and cultural background.

As human nutrition is improving from 2006, it has reduced the percentage of human nutrition and these efforts will continue. Chronic human nutrition remains unacceptably very high and some actions could be taken against this.

The briefing we have today is related to the various results we saw in the food and nutrition survey; trying to improve the food security of the Liberian population, the level of acute human nutrition and the level of chronic human nutrition in the country. We can see from 2006 the situation is improving but there is still lot to be done.

From the European Union, apart from the funding that we are supporting with UN joint programme, we will continue and we are committed to the improvement of agriculture, food security and nutrition in Liberia and there will be more funding allocated this year. We are still trying to find out the total amount that will be allocated to Liberia It will be approximately 12 million Euros allocated to continue the actions in this sector.

Mr. Kees Houtman (Joint Programme Manager on Food Security and Nutrition)

Thank you. I think it is a great pleasure to meet, with having spent almost a year in Liberia. The last time we met was in October just after my arrival. I would like to highlight some of the achievements that are crucial to the development and which have direct impact on the nutrition of the people and activities from the same impact from the nutritional point of view.

As you know, results can only be measured when there are data and instruments for measuring. I would like to dwell on the data collection. Although it is already said there was a comprehensive survey on the food security and nutrition of 2010, which was launched by the Ministry of Agriculture in January 2011, interestingly the results could be compared to results in 2006 and 2008 and by comparing the data, it shows that a number of food insecure people decreased from over 50% to 41%. These figures are completely in line with the results of the crop survey of 2009 and so far the provision figure crop survey in 2010. These figures also decreased by almost 50%. The Ministry of Agriculture and the various UN agencies working in close collaboration recognized these figures. But we can not hide the terrible fact that 4 out of 10 people are food insecure, or are going to be with an empty stomach; this highlights that the successes are just relative.

Filling the bellies with food is not just enough; of course going to bed with a full stomach feels good, but it is also important that the composition of the food enables the people to live a healthy life. Capacity building in the Ministry of Agriculture has always been taken for granted. This was emphasized at the conference on nutrition in 1992 held in Rome and jointly organized by WHO and FAO here. The nutritional aspect of food security and nutrition was brought to the attention of the world and became an integral part of the food security definition adopted in 1996.

It is therefore important to mention that in the Joint Programme on Food Security and Nutrition, nutrition achieved an important proportion of attention in the Joint Programme and also the EU Food Facility activities. Of course the capacity building was important in addressing nutrition for the population of Liberia. A more comprehensive survey revealed that there are severe forms of under nutrition under which children go through severe under nutrition in Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, Rivercess, Bomi, Nimba, Margibi and Gbarpolu. It is therefore justified to give assistance to vulnerable groups in the Liberian society.

Other activities being undertaken are assistance to schools for the children to grow vegetable garden and the importance of vegetable in their diet, hygiene promotion. It is well known that children need to get enough food to enable them to develop not only physically, but also intellectually. It is therefore important the over 300,000 children benefit from the school feeding programme.

I would like to mention the attention given to infrastructure. One of the causes of food insecurity in Liberia is due to the fact that many roads are inaccessible; those during the rainy season people are short of food and can not reach the market to buy the food they need. Even for farmers who have produced more than what they can consume cannot take the surpluses to the market. In the Joint Programme, this problem received attention that resulted in improving farms-to-market roads and also in the construction of warehouses at markets to store the food, the equipment in processing the produce. Equipment such as rice mills and cassava graters were supplied by the Joint Programme. This prevents harvest losses and providing food for consumption. I hope you will be able to give a good picture of what is being done for Liberia by the various ministries in close cooperation with UN agencies working in the Joint Programme. Thank you.

Dr. Moses Zinnah (Director and Programme Manager, Ministry of Agriculture)

One thing I want to stress is that most of the programmes of the EU and other partners over the last few years are quite consistent with Government’s own initiative in terms of harmonization with our own policies and programme; that is very important. It sets the pace for sustainability. Over the last two years, we were developing a strategy for the food and agriculture sector. All the partners participated and what we have now is a programme that is country-driven and support by partners.

There are four keys pillars: Food and Nutrition Security, Valid Chain and Market Access, Capacity Building and Institutional Development and Land and Water Development. In all of the four pillars, the first two are very important. Yes we have made progress over the last five years. Six out of 10 Liberian went to bed hungry five years ago. Now, we have 4 still going to be hungry. It is unacceptable. But we are glad that Government with its partners, are making a lot of progress to see this significant change.

During the launching of that survey in January, the ministry said it was unacceptable and it challenges us as a government and our partners to push so that at least we can do better in the next few years. Today we can see the commitment of the Government and its partners; we can make progress in the next few years.

There are few things the Joint Programme has done for us in terms of seeds, fertilizers, pest management, training of our staff, capacity building, building the central research institute at CARI, rehabilitation of some of our farm-to-market roads and storage facility. I want to take this opportunity to thank our partners on behalf of the Ministry and the Government for their commitment to make this country food secure. Thank you.

Question and Answers

Q:    Rudolph Gborkeh (Parrot Newspaper)

What major achievements are we reaping from the Joint Programme as it relates to Food Security? Secondly, what is the percentage of people going to bed hungry presently? And thirdly, from the 14 million given to Liberia to assist with food security, what are the results from that funding?

A:    Mr. Kees Houtman (Joint Programme Manager on Food Security and Nutrition)

What has been very important in the three counties, Lofa, Nimba and Bong, the bread basket of this country, is that the yield of rice has increased, not only because of improved seeds, fertilizer and pest management, but also through the rehabilitation of the irrigation schemes in which WFP and FAO worked together to get better water management situation which enable the farmers to instead of having one crop to having two to three crops which double the production of rice for them, which they can not consume all themselves, but can sell to the market of WFP. Farmers also got additional income.

It has been decided that when this programme ends in June, there will be an extension to consolidate what has been done so far. Everybody knows when you learn something and nobody is watching you, you easily forget and come back to your original position. So what farmers have learned, the Ministry of Agriculture needs to put its fingers on the balls to see whether they are still doing what they have learned.

Dr. Moses Zinnah (Director and Programme Manager, Ministry of Agriculture)

Four to five years ago, six out of ten Liberians went to bed hungry. We have made significant progress. Now, four out of every ten still go to bed hungry. Food security is not just about eating; it is about production, availability, access and utilization. It is a complex mix. You may have a lot of food in one part of the country, but because of lack of access of roads and other things, others do not have it. We are doing everything possible to reduce the number of people going to bed hungry.

Hassan Kiawu (Director of Communication, Ministry of Agriculture)

Access is one major factor in that you can have food available, but you do not have access to it. What the Government is doing is the rehabilitation of roads to link people. People are now going back to the rural areas with the building of hospitals and banks opening up; people started going back to the rural areas. What the Ministry has also be doing since 2006 with the help of FAO and EU is that seed rice were bought from Guinea and then it was given to the four bread basket counties - Bong, Nimba Lofa and Grand Gedeh. Once they produced those things we bought the surplus and gave it to other counties. This time around, we have plenty of the foundation seeds. We do not have to go out again to buy them.

Capacity building: we have been able to venture out into the counties. Right now we have 13 counties with coordination offices. We are in partnership with FAO, EU and the UN system. What these coordination offices do across the country is that they act as the Ministry of Agriculture. We are trying to decentralize our activities in those counties so that we can reach the main people. The people who actually grow the food are in the counties.

If you went to the Ministry of Commerce, you will see the import of rice has reduced. We are trying to move away from that dependency syndrome. Because our production level has gone up, importation of rice has reduced drastically and more food are been produced. We are also in the production of fishery. There are programmes at the University of Liberia coming up this month with a class in Fishery. There is a pilot project in Grand Cape Mount County. We want to make sure that people at all times have food to live a normal life.

Representative from WFP

I will start by saying that perhaps the most important thing we are here to celebrate is the figures that have been given to you that in Liberia, we have been able to reduce food insecurity from over 50% to 41%; and to what extent has the joint programme funded by EU contributed to that, particularly from the WFP point of view. At the onset, the Joint Programme itself has been framed to take a valid chain approach from the agriculture point of view. The different actors - UNDP, FAO, UNICEF and WFP have their respective role depending on their comparative advantages.

The WFP point of view is to make sure that there is access to food. By doing that, we have been able to create food availability at the house level, through food assistance to small holders food deficit farmers who could not be able to produce on their own. Over the past two years we have been able to provide over 4,500 households who have not been able to not only rehabilitate their low lands, they have increased production and productivity beyond their subsistence need to the extent that they are now selling rice. That is the improvement we are making. For example when the Ivorian refugees’ crisis came to Nimba, because of the intervention of the Joint Progamme funded by EU, the productivity in Nimba for last year was so high that as I am talking to you, we are purchasing 105 metric tons from Ban where the refugees are. It is simply because of the production assistance given to households.

Beyond giving food assistance and supporting the farmers to rehabilitation of land, over the past two years, we have been able to do 710 hecters of land. Those 710 hecters translate into increasing productivity by more those four folds. They are not only going to increase yield per unit area, but also allowing the farmers to do multiple cropping. Instead of doing one crop per year, they can do several crops.

We also give attention to school garden activities. Agriculture has to be captured at the very tender age of our population. By taking food gardens to school, we are highlighting agriculture and if our young children are able to capture that, it will make the future brighter.

Finally, in all of these efforts, what is important to the farmer is that it is not enough to make food available on the table; it is also important to note that agriculture translates into income. From the WFP side, we are also creative on whatsoever is being produced by the small holder farmers, that we buy directly from them their surplus production. And that procurement is done first with an effort of building their capacity to reduce post harvest losses which is done by our colleagues in FAO and UNDP; but also their knowledge and giving them fair price and integrating them in the competitive global market which will make Liberia not a country that produces for itself, but in the long run they will be able to produce for the global market. Significantly, women have been a beneficiary to all of these programmes. We have been supporting separate women’s group.

Mr. Syed Abdul Razak (FAO Emergency Coordinator)

The programme was formulated in the aftermath of the global food crisis which was further exacerbated by global economic crisis. And Liberia has been a net importer of food on one hand, and highly depended on remittances on the other hand was highly vulnerable to food price shocks as well as economic shocks globally. As a consequence, food prices rose dramatically in the country and one way to offset food prices crisis was to enhance domestic food production so that there is an increase supply of rice which could then offset the negative situation.

The purpose of the EU funded programme was to deliver an immediate supply response. However, alongside that, we have set preconditions necessary for self sustaining growth and agriculture production and how is this being achieved through introduction of high yielding improved seed variety on one side, rehabilitation of low land, and put the irrigation structure in place. At the same time we need planting material so we can obtain multiple crops in a year. That has been successfully launched where material in 144 metric tons introduced under the EU food facility. Besides that, we also introduced improved seed which Liberian farmers have been growing for many years.

In terms of productivity boost, we are talking about 1.2 to 1.5 metric tons in the low land and while we are still analyzing the results of latest intervention, parliamentary findings show that supported farmers have been able to obtain up to 3.2 metric tons depending on the farming practices. On the other hand, they have the opportunity to grow multiple crops. In addition to support farmers for rapid productivity, we also are working with WFP and UNDP to enhance the production and organization capacity for farmers groups to lay the foundation for sustainable agriculture development. We are also working with the Central Agriculture Research Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen the support and delivery mechanism of the Government and production foundation seeds.

Mr. Aderemi Aibinu (UNDP Representative)

UNDP has been able to make an impact in terms of income generation and employment creation. It is not just increasing food in terms of nutrition, but also adding to the well being of the people in the community. The roads that were rehabilitated were done by the people themselves thereby empowering them. The materials there were used to rehabilitate the roads are handled over to them so that they can be sustained. It has also enhanced the link between the communities.

Mr. Pragya Mathema (UNICEF Nutrition Specialist)

The EU support has been instrumental in establishing new division in the Ministry of Health to oversee nutrition programmes. Second key area of achievement is we have been able to develop an Integrated Nutrition Essential Package to 5 counties with the aim of building capacity of health workers and community volunteers to effectively counsel on health practices at the household level. The partnership has also been instrumental in the management of acute malnutrition. It has led to the establishment of new rehabilitation and additional 48 outpatient treatment camps in the community. Another key aspect is that we have been able to start the National Malnutrition Survey which is on going. Based on the survey, we will be developing a micro nutrient strategy that will help develop the status of children and women to improve the survival and the intellectual rate of children of Liberia. We have also piloted a social cash transfer to reach the most marginalize families in Bomi. Government is very pleased to extend this beyond Bomi to the southern part of the country. There are plans, but what we need to do is to strengthen the institutional framework and support system building activity not only at the central level but also at the county levels so that we have efficient and technical human resource that can deliver the services.