Covid-19 Impacts Gardeners

By R. Joyclyn Wea with Journalists for Human Rights

MONROVIA-The winding down of COVID-19 has led to a resurgence of interest in backyard gardening for many families basically as a way of having access to basic agricultural products such as pepper, onion, tomatoes collar and potatoes greens in the home, this paper’s investigation shows.

It is established that the interest borne out of the restrictions on movements, which at some point in time hampered the supply of produce needed for the upkeep of the family.

While this could be a laudable initiative as it keeps resources in the home and contributing to the physical exercises of family members, a huge segment of the urban and semi-urban population were being denied incomes, the investigation gathered.

As a result, urban gardeners or farmers suffered the double hit of harsh weather shrinking their yields and coronavirus lockdowns and curfews choking off access to supplies and demands for their produce.

Many of these farmers are found to be single mothers depending heavily upon proceeds from their farms to get daily meals for their families.

“The pandemic has greatly affected productivity and the amount of money I used to make. More people are not buying again so I’m not doing a lot of planting again,” Martha Morris, a potatoes green gardener in Logan Town says.

Believed to be in her mid-50s, the woman who is simply known by many as Ma Martha said before the pandemic, she grew greens on her half-acre garden, a small portion of an expansive, predominantly water-logged swampland in the Kissi Community, situated at the outskirt of Logan Town, Bushrod Island.

That part of the community is known as “Babylon”, notorious for being a hideout for hardened criminals.

“I started this farm in 2005,” Madam Morris, a native of Foya District, Lofa County, tells this writer in an interview. “Only this business I depend on to feed my family, pay rent, and send my three kids school.”

“My husband died in 2018, so I’m the only one taking care of our children (Martha, 14, Marietta, 12, and Memuna, 7),” she discloses.

She and her dependents live in a single bedroom zinc shack which sits a little distance from where she has her garden.

Before COVID-19, Ma Martha says business was more satisfactory.

“Before Coronavirus, I used to sell a bunch of potato greens for LD$30.00 and used to make up to LD$1500.00,” she says with lightened smiles.

But it seems COVID-19 has changed the ‘good economic story’ to a ‘bad one’ for the single mother.

“I’m no longer making enough money to cater for my family. Business has become very difficult. People are no longer buying like before,” she says with sadness written all over her face.

“I’m now selling a bunch of greens for LD$20.00 but I do not still get enough customers. The highest daily sale I have made since the outbreak is LD$1000.00, but many times it is far below that.”

LD$1,000 is about US$6.00 as per the exchange rate, and this is spread across three responsibilities: daily feeding, saving for house rent, and school fees for the kids.

From all indications, the low harvest, coupled with the low sales, has increased financial burden for Ma Martha and many of her colleagues.

For Rebecca Flomo, she is involved with the cultivation of eggplants, cucumber, pepper, and watermelon.

She told this paper that she sells the vegetables to support her and her two children, a seven year old girl, and a five year old boy.

According to her, her children’s father abandoned the home about three years ago. “I’m going to sell in the Paynesville-ELWA Junction Market,” Rebecca tells this writer while packaging her produce.

A graduate of the Liberia Bamboo and Rattan Weaving and Vegetable Planting Technical Assistance Project—a program that teaches women and adolescent girls weaving and how to be economically self-sufficient, the single mother of two dropped out of school when she was in the 6th grade when she got into childbearing.

“I decided to get in vegetables production after my children’s father ran away from his paternal responsibilities,” she says.

Rebecca’s uncle who used to help her at times also died in June, 2015, she said, stressing that COVID-19 really affected her business, both production, and her sales in the market.

“I used to plant at least ten nurseries, harvest at least five tub loads of each of the vegetables, and record at least LD$6000.00 each tub,” she recalls.

She says this is no longer the case. “I can only plant at most three beds because most of my customers are no longer coming to buy, and I can only make a maximum LD$1000.00 on each tub.”

“I can’t buy sufficient food and enough clothes for my children, especially. Buying effective medication for any of them who are sick is hard for me,” she narrated.

About five seconds after her last comments, the 21-year-old single mother looked at the screen of her mobile phone, and announced, “It’s time for me to go and find money!”

“Thanks for your time,” I replied, and assisted her in raising the tub of mixed vegetables up to her head.

About two hundred meters from Madam Martha Morris’s farm is another spot owned by Madam Kumba Tamba, age 60.

Like Martha Morris, Kumba is also a native of Foya, Lofa County.

“I plant potato greens, and I plant pepper and corn,” Ma Kumba said to this writer, and followed him to Madam Morris’s spot just to hear what he would say to the other farmer.

Madam Tamba says she is a mother of six children—two males and four females.

“My children’s father was helping me with the farm work, but he felt sick, so his family took him to Lofa to heal him,” she disclosed.

Like the pre-COVID-19 farming period of Martha Morris, Madam Kumba Tamba was better off.

“Before the Coronavirus, I was making good money from my business, between LD$5000.00 and LD$7000.00 every day,” she discloses, “but the Coronavirus has brought my hands down. The highest I can make now is one-five,” she says in Liberian Pidgin English. The ‘one-five’ is the shortened word, by majority of Liberians for LD$1500.00

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