West Africans get lessons in modern farming from LSU agriculture professor

After years of civil wars, the West African country of Liberia is trying to recover, but poverty, high infant mortality, malnutrition and a need to import food to feed its 3.5 million residents are still problems the country is trying to overcome.

“They’re actually importing most of the food in the country,” said Carl Motsenbocker, professor with the LSU Agricultural Center.

As part of the solution, Motsenbocker and others at the LSU Agricultural Center and the LSU AgCenter International Programs Office have partnered in a five-year program to work with educators and farmers in and around Monrovia, Liberia, to help teach modern agricultural techniques to the future farmers of the country.

The program operated through the United States Agency for International Development Food and Enterprise Development is working with three community colleges and the Booker Washington Institute high school to come up with a curriculum that will grant future farmers a national diploma of agriculture.

In addition to developing an educational program that will help get farmers away from the slash-and-burn methods of farming, the program also focuses on business opportunities for farmers as well as vocational training focusing on rice, cassava, goats and vegetables.

“They do slash-and-burn agriculture,” Motsenbocker said, describing the method of cutting down and burning forests, which adds nutrients to the soil. But it is a short-term method.

“They can only use that land two or three years and then they have to move on again,” he said.

The goal of the program is to help farmers move to a more stable agricultural practice that would not only improve yields but also keep tropical forests from being cut and burned.

“They have a lot of forest left,” Motsenbocker said.

The program is being done through the USAID Food and Enterprise Development in Liberia project and administered by DAI, an international development company in Maryland.

“Liberia doesn’t have the money to do this,” Motsenbocker said.

The program he is working on is focused on a few counties surrounding the capital of Monrovia.

In addition to the curriculum being developed, each school also will have its own demonstration farm, and partnerships are being set up between the schools and local farmers.

“They’re very dedicated with very little resources,” Motsenbocker said of the teachers and school administrators he’s been working with.

After spending time over several years in the country, Motsenbocker said, it appears things are moving forward with recovery.

“I see street lights in Monrovia that are working now,” he said.

Roads that were dirt just a few years ago are being paved now, and there is a greater sense of order with policemen on the streets and directing traffic.

The first semester of the curriculum was ready to go to start the first week of September, but now the country is fighting a battle against the Ebola virus and school has been put on hold.

Motsenbocker left the country July 29 after his second of two visits this year and expected to go back this fall to finish work on the next semester of classwork, but that’s all up in the air now.

“My heart goes out to the country,” he said.

The husband of a teacher, Motsenbocker worked with a doctor and they got to talking about what was going on with the virus in the country.

“And I realized it was going to be worse,” he said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.