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Since early March 2011, at least 57,000 refugees fleeing fighting and instability in Côte d’Ivoire have been crossing the border into Liberia and have become concentrated along the border and the main road in Grand Gedeh County. In the villages affected by the influx, already-limited food and seed stocks are being depleted, meaning that without assistance many farmers will not be able to plant in time for the next harvest. Food assistance to date has not been sufficient to meet the needs of refugees, and little has been done to address the shortages faced by host communities.
Oxfam decided to undertake a market assessment in northern Grand Gedeh to define the most appropriate response and modalities to address emergency needs. Taking into account existing market-system capabilities, Oxfam assessed the viability of innovative programs targeting refugees and host communities, such as cash-based interventions, local procurement and other forms of support to market actors. The Oxfam team prioritized the assessment of rice and agricultural labor markets, as these play a key role in people’s capacity either to buy or produce food. The target population were the communities most affected by the influx of refugees from Côte d’Ivoire, including both newly or chronically vulnerable households that were hosting refugees, and the new refugees themselves (in host communities and in transit camps), in Grand Gedeh County.
The influx of refugees has resulted in a substantial increase in imported rice consumption in Grand Gedeh. The volumes traded by big distributors from Great Monrovia have multiplied by almost three, in line with the increase in trade of 15-30 % reported by all actors along the chain. The market chain has shown a high response capacity and elasticity to demand enabling the rapid adaptation to the new volumes consumed. Small retailers in transit centers have appeared as new actors along the market chain. However, actors along the chain show heterogeneous capacities, and small wholesalers / retailers and retailers in the villages recognize that their limited access to credit and dependence on commercial transportation and the poor status of the roads may limit their capacity to increase supply if demand continues to increase. As a consequence, for food aid projects, cash delivery modalities in isolation cannot be considered for villages along the road from Zwedru to Toe Town, and much less for isolated villages.
Farmers with small and medium sized plots of land have benefited from an increase in the availability of manpower due to the influx of refugees, allowing them to hire laborers to prepare their fields for planting rice. However, vulnerable farmers with small plots of land, who have limited sources of income, have been negatively affected by the influx of refugees, as they have shared their resources and as a result reduced the majority of their food and seed stocks. It is likely that their livelihoods will be affected in the long term, with a decrease of food self-sufficiency, an increased dependence on the market, heavier indebtedness and the use of negative coping strategies.
The report offers the following recommendations for a humanitarian response in Grand Gedeh: for vulnerable small farmers in affected host communities,a combination of rice vouchers, a once-off cash grant and seeds and tools package for targeted vulnerable households of host communities; for refugees, a combined approach of direct in-kind distribution and cash transfers could be proposed to allow them to meet their basic needs and support their livelihoods through investing in small income generating activities; and for refugees who want or have already started to farm, an additional distribution of seeds and tools would be an appropriate response. In addition, assessments of the imported rice and agricultural labor markets should be replicated in other areas affected by the refugee influx; the imported rice and agricultural labor markets should be monitored in order to evaluate the impact of the humanitarian assistance and adapt the response accordingly; and market value chain assessments should be extended to other key commodities such as seeds, hygiene items and other food items.