Chuck Haren, Program Director
Plenty Bulletin Summer 1992, Vol. 8, No. 2
Liberia is a country with a little more than two million people geographically located on the western coast of Africa and bordered by Cote de Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea, and Sierra Leone. For more than one hundred years Liberia has held a special relationship with the United States in that it is a country where many American and Caribbean people have returned to Africa to raise their families. Marcus Garvey, one of the most renowned and respected African Caribbean leaders from Jamaica, in the early part of this century encouraged the US government to assist American descendants of slaves in their efforts to resettle in Liberia.
For more than one hundred years rubber and iron ore have been extracted from the interior of Liberia then shipped to the US and Europe for processing into finished products. This example of extracting raw materials, then shipping them to other countries for refining and production of finished products is one of the major reasons why large numbers of people within developing countries become locked into a cycle of poverty. Extracting raw materials requires large numbers of semi or unskilled laborers who are paid wages that amount to little or no more than indentured servitude. If businesses are established to process the raw materials into marketable products, many skilled labor, management, and marketing opportunities become available for the local population.
In 1991 Plenty received a request from a small Liberian grassroots organization that had been providing medical care for victims of the civil conflict that erupted in Liberia during 1990. Now that a cease-fire had been agreed to, Imani House wanted to provide assistance for groups of women and farmers in their efforts to re-establish food crops and initiate small income-generating activities by processing foods they could grow. Imani House is also very concerned about the fact that many children are not receiving all the nutrients they need to realize their physical and mental capacities.
During March and April of this year, with funding support from the Public Welfare Foundation, I traveled to Nigeria then Liberia with the Director of Imani House, Mrs. Bisi Iderabdullah. We first traveled to Nigeria so that we could learn more about how soybeans were being adapted into the diets and business practices of small entrepreneurs through a program being carried out by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Dr. Kenton Dashiel. Director of the Grain and Legume Improvement Program (GLIP) at IITA had arranged for us to stay at the International House on the IITA grounds. Mrs. S. M. Osho, who is coordinator for the Soybean Utilization Project, showed us the different home and small business processing methods being used and arranged for us to visit small soybean processors in Ibadan. We also talked with representatives about new agricultural techniques and labor-saving tools being tested at IITA and collected a variety of soybean and vegetable seeds to take into Liberia.
Most of the people we met in Nigeria were surprised that we were even attempting to go into Liberia. Even though a cease-fire had been in effect, problems between the conflicting parties had not been resolved, and there was an ever-present danger of the war escalating again.
We landed in Monrovia, the capital city with a population of about 700,000. On arriving in Liberia, one could immediately see and feel the pain its population was enduring. The people were friendly, but they were also distraught, tired, hungry and many were short-tempered because of what they had recently been through and the conditions under which they had to live. Water, food, clothing and medical supplies, which were not available during the conflict, were in limited supply now, but too costly for much of the population. The shock and tragedies of war were to be seen in many people’s faces. Many of the buildings were riddled with bullet holes or lying in piles of rubble. As I viewed the devastated city, I wondered to myself what on earth Plenty could do that would be of any help in this dire situation.
Imani House members had helped to manage the only hospital open in Monrovia during an intense period of fighting in the city and now have established a home for abandoned, displaced and disabled children. During my stay in Liberia, I was provided with a room at the children’s home. Everyone was very good to me and helped me carry out my work in whatever way they could.
The first few days Bisi took me to meet with representatives of various charitable agencies and United Nations departments providing relief assistance for the country. Most of these people were distributing food or medical supplies, providing health care services, assisting the school feeding program or trying to distribute seed to farmers. We were told by home economists working with the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) that the UN World Food Program (WFP) had distributed soybeans to schools as part of the school feeding program, but that many of the schools had not used the soybeans because they did not know how to prepare them. We informed WFP representatives that Imani House, with help from Plenty, was going to assist farmers and women’s groups learn to grow and process soybeans. WFP provided us with a vehicle and driver to go out and visit some of the schools and children’s homes that had received food supplies from WFP.
I was amazed by the amount of effort the teachers and cooks at the schools were having to muster everyday in order to provide one and in some cases two meals for the children. Each school was feeding from two to six hundred children with pots and pans that were often brought from their homes.
With only hand tools, broken mortar and pestles, over open fires, these women courageously persevered daily to make meals from the rice, fishmeal, left over Gulf war rations, beans and powdered milk distributed by WFP. The parents of these children, in most cases, were not able to provide for all of their nutritional needs, because jobs were almost non-existent. Prices for all goods and services had risen 100-500% since the onset of the war, and wages for those who did have work remained at the same low level.
On top of this, because of the continuing conflicts between groups still vying for power, fruits and vegetables grown outside a twenty-mile radius around Monrovia were not being allowed to be distributed into the city. After visiting the schools and children’s homes, we put together a proposal requesting that UNICEF and WFP fund Imani House to teach the Home Economists and cooks at the schools how to use the soybeans they had in stock.
During my last few days in Liberia, we invited representatives of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Ministry of Agriculture, and Home Economists working with ADRA, to attend a soybean processing demonstration Imani House had arranged to conduct in the village of Dwazon about fifteen miles outside of Monrovia. Some representatives from the organizations we had met were skeptical about our ability to adapt the utilization of soybeans into the Liberian diet. Dwazon, a village with a population of about 600 people, had been a—battleground during the intense fighting of the civil war. Most of the people had fled during the war and were just beginning to return to rebuild their homes and lives. Houses were ransacked, materials for the school the community was building had been carried away, and all crops had been uprooted. More than eighty people attended the day’s events. With assistance from Bisi, the home economists and ladies from the village prepared soymilk and a variety of foods that were enjoyed and complimented by all those attending. Farmers were requesting soybean seed to plant.
Before I left Liberia, FAO and Ministry of Agriculture representatives had pledged to help Imani House teach soybean production, processing and marketing skills to farmers and women’s groups. UNICEF and WFP had agreed to assist schools with learning to utilize soybeans as a component of the children’s feeding program. Plenty had become a facilitator in helping to introduce this vital food source into Liberia. Our aim now is to seek out and channel financial and material resources that will help Liberians improve their health and economic circumstances by making the production, processing, and marketing of soybeans a permanent and vibrant part of the economy. We are also helping Imani House seek material support for the children’s home they are operating.