Developing the Economic Sector to Improve Child Welfare
ACDI/VOCA’s five-year Agriculture for Children’s Empowerment (ACE) project was part of USAID’s new global initiative to improve child welfare using economic growth activities. ACE’s underlying assumption was that sustainable reductions in children’s vulnerability require improvements in their families’ economic circumstances. Liberia’s current socioeconomic indicators show a strong correlation between household economic status and child welfare. In addition, the country’s successful reconstruction and economic growth requires a well-educated and healthy workforce. However, since Liberia is recovering from civil war, it is essential to address the conflict’s social impact and foster more trusting relationships that support performance improvements on the farm, in the factory, and in schools, and in addition provide more relevant and viable youth employment outlets. The importance of youth is readily evident with 44 percent of Liberia’s population being 14 years old or younger and its population’s median age being 18.
ACDI/VOCA, a member of the global USAID-funded Supporting Transformation by Reducing Insecurity and Vulnerability with Economic Strengthening (STRIVE) program, took an innovative approach that looked more broadly at the interdependence of key private and public sector networks or systems in achieving child welfare improvements in education, nutrition, and economic position. Building on ACDI/VOCA’s expertise and experience in leveraging local knowledge and resources, ACE fostered competitiveness in horticulture and rice value chains, extended the agricultural input industry into selected rural communities, and strengthened community capacity to address critical constraints to invest more effectively in their children’s current well-being and future success.
Using facilitation techniques, ACE leveraged new teaching tools such as economic simulation games and Farming as a Business adult learning methods. It also helped improve access to agricultural inputs and markets as a means for communities to strengthen and make more relevant key relationships both within their families and communities and externally with other value chain actors. As these relationships became more valued and credible, ACE facilitated information flows through public educational campaigns and promotional events on education, agriculture, nutrition, child labor, and teen pregnancy that were more effective at addressing these important issues.
ACE targeted children and their families in Bong, Nimba, and Montserrado counties. ACE’s main entry points into the communities were schools and private agricultural input service providers. This strategy was informed by several considerations including the need to
- improve the relevance of school as a broader information and service provider to communities
- strengthen networks through which people access knowledge and resources
- build a support infrastructure that promotes continuous innovation and upgrading of the communities’ commercial, educational, and nutritional activities
- develop career and business growth paths around the agriculture industry
- facilitate access to agricultural and educational services to help reduce the amount of time children spend on farm labor and caring for younger siblings.
Emphasizing knowledge management, ACE continuously tested the relevance and appropriateness of using enterprise development activities to improve children’s welfare. ACE worked with the Liberian ministries of education and agriculture and local and international private and public organizations and firms.
Key results from the project include the following:
- Farmers’ income from growing vegetables increased substantially—from $71 to $313—thanks to improved production techniques, access to inputs, and marketing relationships with buyers.
- The yields of 674 rural vegetable farmers in Bong and Nimba counties increased from an average of 314 kg to 458 kg per household. Traditional vegetables (peppers and bitterballs) constituted 70 percent of the total yield increases while high-value vegetables (tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber) constituted 30 percent.
- The following farmer upgrading practices were introduced and adopted: construction and use of solar dryers to dry surplus vegetables during the rainy season that were then sold during the dry season when prices appreciate; use of motorized water pumps for off-season vegetable production leading to market price premiums of approximately 200 percent for bitterballs and 400 percent for peppers.
- High-yielding rice varieties and modern agronomic and post-harvest handling practices were introduced to smallholders resulting in increases in rice paddy production from 360 kg to an average of 550 kg. This amount was enough to satisfy a family of six throughout the hunger season and beyond, contributing greatly to food security throughout the year.
- A value chain linkages assessment conducted by ACDI/VOCA indicates that the value chain facilitation approach strengthened linkages between value chain actors (input providers, farmers, buyers, service providers) creating sustainable business partnerships that contributed to a stronger market system.