Limited international support does not stop the organization United Youth for Peace and Sustainable Development from making a difference. Here several of the organization's members can be seen tilling the land to enable the cultivation of, among other things, eddoes, ginger and pepper. Photo: Aaron PF Ballah.


Investment in cultivation to preserve peace in Liberia: "Can solve many problems"

Just over two decades since Liberia's second civil war ended, the country has made great strides progress in economic growth and democracy. In the center we find a driven, young generation that does everything to preserve peace in the country – including through agriculture.  
- The young generation bears full responsibility for Liberia's future. We can solve many of today's problems if we use the potential of agriculture, he says Aaron PF God, program manager at the civil society organization UYPASD. 

The transition from armed conflict to lasting peace is one of the most difficult challenges a country can face. Between 1989 and 2003, both a first and second civil war took place in Liberia with serious consequences. Just over 250 people – 000 percent of the population – lost their lives, another 8 fled the country, and with extensive damage to the infrastructure average income fell to one-eighth of the pre-war level 

Despite the consequences of the civil wars, in the last 21 years the country has taken on several of the challenges that often occur in peacebuilding - and more besides. Today, Liberia is one of Africa's most stable democracies and the country was also the first on the entire continent to vote for a female president.  

One way to create economic independence for both individuals and the country as a whole is to involve the young generation as much as possible. This is noticed not least by Aaron PF Ballah, program director of the non-profit civil society organization United Youth for Peace and Sustainable Development (UYPASD). The organization works with, among other things, agricultural projects in the northern province of Lofa. 

- Before the civil war, Lofa was known as the country's granary. Since the war, the region has had difficulty regaining that position, but I have good hopes that we can do it again and even better than last time, he says. 

An increased focus on cultivation is a way for Liberia to reduce the import dependence that prevails in the country today. 80 percent of Liberia's staple food - including rice - currently comes from abroad, recently showed a report from the African Union. With a highly uncertain market, not least as a result of the war in Ukraine, there are therefore clear advantages to expanding domestic production.  

Aaron Ballah has researched developments in India – a country that previously had problems with food shortages. By spending large resources on streamlining and developing the country's agriculture, India was able to go from being dependent on food imports to now also exporting to other countries. 

Aaron PF Ballah, United Youth for Peace and Sustainable Development (UYPASD) program director and leader of the Lofa Youth Caucus, in his office. Photo: private.

- Liberia can go in exactly the same direction. We have surface, we have soil, and we have both lowlands and highlands. 

UYPASD's work includes, among other things, cultivating land areas and then planting and harvesting various crops, including rice, ginger, pepper and eddoes – a popular root vegetable that is commonly used in West African cuisine. UYPASD's initiative has been well received locally but currently lacks the international support required to carry out the projects on a large scale. 

- Liberia has West Africa's best agricultural country. By investing in these projects, we can generate much more [resources and money]. That's how what we do is sustainable. 

Left: Deddeh K. Sesay, Executive Director of UYPASD. In 2005, Liberia became the first country in
Africa to vote for a female leader when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president. It inspired many in the country. UYPASD places importance on involving young women in its work. Photo: Aaron PF Ballah.

Since 1990 it has arable land in Liberia doubled to just over 20 percent, and with both a favorable climate and land with good conditions for growing vegetables and fruit, among other things there is an opportunity to expand the country's agriculture. Aaron Ballah specifically singles out Sweden as a guide. Since the end of the second civil war in Liberia, Sweden's aid agency Sida has supported projects that increased the country's rice production, Liberia's most important food product, which included both knowledge and compensation for the transition. 

- If you visit the lowlands where the Sida-financed projects worked, you will see that the rice plantations continue to be used as a source of income for the farmers and their families. And from that they can send their children to school. 

Swedish aid has played an important role in Liberia's progress – not only in agricultural projects. Here Aaron stands outside Voinjama Multilateral High School in Lofa County, which is supported by Sweden. School is an important place for young people to learn about the importance of peace and democracy. UYPASD is also active here. Photo: Aaron PF Ballah.

Although only two decades have passed since the end of the war, Liberia has made great progress, including through increased income per capita and through strengthened democratic institutions, not least through large resources in schools. But the road is long, and many steps remain, something that Aaron Ballah clearly highlights with examples of the continued widespread poverty, corruption and increasing unemployment among young people. This is precisely why he sees enormous potential with the agricultural projects, which he calls "peace building through agriculture".  

- To preserve peace, there must be food on the table and a roof over the head. By putting young people at the center of our projects, they can also contribute to development and that is how our projects make a difference. 

Aaron Ballah is clear that the potential exists for Liberia to expand its focus on the agricultural front – all that is missing is financial support to start the projects. That international actors cooperate with local actors is essential, so that they meet local needs, and to create long-term economic independence Aaron Ballah has high hopes for. And no matter where UYPASD can help in the future – in farming projects, spreading knowledge about democracy in schools or anything else – one thing is certain: Aaron Ballah, and so many other young people in Liberia, will be there, every step of the way. 

- We cannot change the history books, we cannot change the past. But together we can make the future better. 

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