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Liberia: helping women move towards economic self-sufficiency

29-12-2008 Feature

The 14-year civil war in Liberia displaced thousands of families and disrupted the economy for years to come. The ICRC Economic Security Cassava Project in south-eastern Liberia is helping to get many Liberian women back on their feet. The ICRC's Richard Kpah reports.


  ©ICRC/S. Cernojevich    
  Ms Weh holding a traditional cassava mill.    
    " I am thankful and grateful for the difference the ICRC has made in my life and my community, " says Ma Eliza Weh, a beneficiary of the ICRC Economic Security Cassava Project in south-eastern Liberia. Sitting in a locally made chair and dressed in a black lapa suit she continued, " Where do I start in expressing my gratitude. "

" The crisis drove thousands of us into exile into the bush and some into neighbouring countries and destroyed a lot of our basic services, " said Ms Weh. " Life became deplorable and I did not know where to start to overcome my frustrations. "  

 War ravaged many sectors of society  

The 14-year civil war in Liberia affected all aspects of society – displacing thousands of families, disrupting the economy and destroying infrastructure. The ICRC delegation in Monrovia was opened in 1990 to assist the victims of the conflict. With the transition from conflict to peace, and the involvement of many other organizations in Liberia, the ICRC is scaling back its operations but remains focused on assisting the most vulnerable victims of the past conflict – including helping to restore livelihoods. 

The ICRC worked with Ms Weh's community in Genoyah to help them recover after the conflict ended. It installed hand pumps for safe drinking water and latrines. But, according to Ms Weh, the most important ICRC contribution was the cassava project because it " made a direct impact on the lives of my family and me. "

 Cash crop  

Cassava is one of the main cash crops used in Ms Weh's village to generate income. Even though rice is produced, it is meant for eating. But cassava tubers can be sold to produce flour and fufu in order to increase family income.

Ms Weh explained the process of grating the cassava into flour. The hand graters did not allow them to increase their production because they caused many injuries and the work was time consuming. " Because of th is, we produced less farina (flour), which made our income very low. "

A group of women, lead by Ms Weh, submitted a project proposal that the ICRC agreed to support. The project in Genoyah increased the average per household production of cassava flour from 480 kg to 1220 kg per year by including farm support, provision of mechanical cassava grinders to grind the cassava faster, shelter for the grinders as well as patching pots and spoons used to dry the flour.

 Five-fold increase in production  

" Since the ICRC supported us with the automatic cassava grinder, " explained Ms Weh, " I can save my fingers from injuries, protect my body from pains, as well as use my time to do many other things. A bag of cassava, which used to take an entire day to grate, can now be ground in one hour. "  

By re-establishing markets, rehabilitating crops and supporting alternative production methods – like the cassava mill for Ms Weh's community – the ICRC has helped to improve the livelihoods of farmers, women's groups and agricultural communities throughout Liberia. Ms Weh concluded, " Now, I can produce five times as much cassava flour and make more money to sustain my family to get my life back on track…the difference ICRC made in my life: five times as much! "