March is National Women's History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world. Women often bear the brunt of extreme poverty, but they are also the secret in unlocking potential and spurring growth in developing economies in Africa. Over 70% of smallholder farmers in Africa are women, often growing crops on small plots of land. USADF supports African-led development that grows small community enterprises, many of them entirely women-owned.
In Liberia, our partner and local Liberian leader, Annie Kruah, is the dynamic and ambitious Chairwoman of the Gbelay-Geh Rural Women in eastern Liberia. Ms. Kruah and her group are an example of how investing in women can be one of the most effective ways to combat hunger and poverty. The cooperative began as a small savings association with a few local members and today, under Ms. Kruah’s leadership, membership has grown to 90 members reinvesting small micro-loans to expand agricultural activities in Karnplay District of Liberia.
USADF has been a critical presence in the U.S. Government's response in post-Ebola Liberia. In our effort to prioritize African-led solutions for community challenges, USADF is providing small grants for technical assistance and capacity building to organizations with female leaders like Ms. Kruah. In 2013, Gbelay-Geh Rural Women received a $73,000 USADF grant to invest in its rice and palm oil production and processing by acquiring equipment and establishing a crop purchase fund.
More importantly, USADF helped Gbelay-Geh Rural Women improve its capacity by providing much-needed training in cooperative education, governance, financial management, marketing and post-harvest rice processing. Members of Gbelay-Geh Rural Women utilized their training to reduce harvest losses on the 15 hectare rice farm, and successfully use the commodity fund to earn a $900 profit from the first purchase cycle. With increased revenues, Gbelay-Geh Rural Women then reinvested those profits into expanding and diversifying types of agricultural investments, such as cassava, poultry and pig-raising. In 2015, the cooperative generated more than $100,000 in revenues, more than tripling the previous year’s achievement.
During and after the Ebola epidemic, Gbelay-Geh Rural Women have remained beacons for the community. Gbelay-Geh Rural Women maximized their revenues and transformed their community by diversifying their activities and increasing the earnings and ability for grantees to grow enough food to feed their families, their neighbors and the community. By investing in Africans and providing targeted funds for agricultural growth, USADF is building resilience and strong community enterprises in post-conflict countries like Liberia.