Rural women lead the way in addressing food insecurity in Liberia
Date: Thursday, March 22, 2018
49-years old Everlyn Karhenye, a mother of nine children is leader of the Gbawanken Rural Women Community Grain Reserve, an agricultural storage and processing facility established through the UN Women led Joint Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JPRWEE) with funding from the Governments of Norway and Sweden.
A strong voice for women’s rights and empowerment, Everyln is leading the way in mobilizing women and men in her community and nearby villages to address the issues of hunger, poverty and inequality.
Two years ago, residents in the remote Liberian town of Gbawanken and surrounding villages located in the far south-eastern County of Maryland struggled to provide food for their families and to cater to their daily needs due to the lack of adequate food supply and poor economic situation.
During the rainy season Maryland County is virtually inaccessible to vehicles transporting goods including food items from Liberia’s capital Monrovia– located 710 kilometers from Maryland. But today, while the bad road situation still exits, interventions through the JPRWEE are helping Everlyn and her community produce and store more food.
“Life used to be difficult during the rainy season because there was no food. We were suffering but since the project started, today we can say poverty is going away. Now we can do things for ourselves. My women are able to open their purse and go to the market to buy what they need,” Everlyn explained.
The energetic and tough-talking Everyln said the financial situation of her family is improving as she is now able to pay her children’s school fees through the income received from her savings in the Village Savings and Loan Association which was established as part of the programme.
Building on the comparative advantages of all collaborating agencies including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), UN Women and the Ministries of Agriculture and Gender, Children and Social Protection, the 5-year JPRWEE utilizes a multifaceted approach where the beneficiaries are trained in agricultural and food production, financial and business development skills, as well as leadership to help reduce hunger and improve the livelihood of women and girls.
Women of Gbawanken and six other villages were trained and supported to form a Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) through which members buy financial shares and get regular loans at a very reduced interest rate to enable them do business.
Since June 2017, the Gbawanken VSLA have generated over Two Thousand United States Dollars in its savings.
“Today in our villages, women who are members of the VSLA are contributing to the welfare of their families and have gained the respect of their husbands. They are using their savings to buy land, and replace the thatch roofs on their houses with zinc.”
“Last year we grew rice on 12 hectares of swampland, and this year our target is to expand our rice farm and venture into livestock production. We have already purchased our first cow from our savings and we have few goats and sheep,” Everlyn said.
“It’s amazing to see how when rural women are adequately supported, they are able to rise above conditions which hold them back and drive change in their community,” said Theresa Flomo Nyeka, Head of WFP Field Office in Maryland County.
“Since the women were trained to operate the different food processing machines and run the Community Green Reserve as an income generating initiative, they have been very committed and united in their efforts to see the project succeed.”
Through the JPRWEE, more than 3,286 rural women farmers have received farming inputs which included high quality seeds and tools. Over 5,657 women and girls have also received business development support for income generation.
“Over the last four years of implementing this Joint Programme, we have seen that even though they are underserved with opportunities and are most of the times left out of development efforts rural women have the power to shape their communities through innovative approaches that bring them all together to work for a common goal,” explained Ramon Garway, UN Women Liberia Programme Manager for Women’s Economic Empowerment and National Coordinator of the JPRWEE.
The Gbawanken Community Green Reserve is one of five Green Reserves established through the JPRWEE that are helping to secure rural women’s livelihoods and rights to achieve sustainable development.
The five counties where the Green Reserves are located are Maryland, River Gee, Sinoe, Grand Bassa and Margibi.