Liberia Upgrading Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH)
An integrated approach to improving food security
At the end of its 14-year civil war, Liberia was left with a barely functioning economy, destroyed infrastructure and an impoverished and traumatized population. Today, Liberia is making the transition from relief aid to market-driven development and a more prosperous future. Food insecurity, however, is still prevalent with high rates of stunting (39 percent) and underweight (19 percent) among children. It is caused by complex challenges in Liberia’s agricultural, health and education sectors, and requires an integrated approach and careful interventions that do not undermine market-oriented development efforts or create dependency among beneficiaries.
In June 2010, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace awarded ACDI/VOCA a five-year, $40 million Title II Multi-Year Assistance Program in Liberia. ACDI/VOCA, working with Project Concern International, John Snow Inc. and Making Cents International, is implementing the Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) project to reduce food insecurity among vulnerable rural populations. To date, ACDI/VOCA has shipped 14,326 metric tons of food commodities to Liberia to support program objectives through both monetization and direct distribution. ACDI/VOCA expects to ship an additional 23,490 metric tons of food aid over the remaining project years.
Increasing availability of and access to food
ACDI/VOCA trains Liberian farmers on how to use environmentally sustainable production techniques, improve post-harvest practices, integrate cash crops into smallholder production systems, increase access to savings and credit, and develop business skills. Working through farmer associations, LAUNCH will build the technical, management and business skills of approximately 10,800 farmers. In its first year, LAUNCH established 36 farmer groups that included 1,088 farmers, and nine women’s poultry groups which will begin livelihoods activities in 2012.
LAUNCH is using a value chain approach to help farmers identify market opportunities and address constraints. The program will target commodity value chains such as rice, cocoa, horticulture and poultry. It will also work with private sector businesses and formal financial institutions to implement market-oriented strategies for increasing beneficiary access to products, services and markets.
Reducing chronic malnutrition of vulnerable women and children
The health and nutrition strategy focuses on the prevention of malnutrition, the early identification and treatment of acute malnutrition, and the promotion of high-impact health and nutrition interventions at the household, community and facility levels. Households receiving supplementary food rations are included in the agriculture and livelihoods activities. The ration is designed to reduce malnutrition without creating dependency or undermining markets. In its first year, LAUNCH identified 36 food distribution points, and registered over 12 thousand pregnant or lactating women and children under the age of two. Over the life of the program, LAUNCH’s supplementary food rations will reach 10,281 pregnant or lactating women, 16,770 children under 2 years of age and 81,749 other family members. Direct distribution of 7,700 metric tons of corn-soy blend packets, bulgur wheat, yellow peas and vegetable oil will also help mothers care for the health and nutrition of their families.
Increasing access to education
LAUNCH increases opportunities for youth by developing community capacities to support education and by increasing access to livelihoods education that increases the employability of youth.
LAUNCH creates youth “agroprenuers,” individuals who adopt a commercially oriented approach to agriculture and small business/microenterprise development. The agropreneurs are trained in basic business skills such as analyzing business trends, understanding value chains, and identifying opportunities to add value to goods or services. Graduates of these trainings are eligible for small microgrants to help them start small farming, microenterprises or other complementary, rural-based small business activities such as providing inputs and services to farmers.
LAUNCH also works to build capacity in local schools. In its first year LAUNCH held trainings for 16 school principals to address communication, work planning, and ways to monitor teachers’ classroom performance. LAUNCH also selected 32 schools where it worked with school administrators and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) members to promote increased parent engagement in education and assess school performance. When communities identify a specific, appropriate improvement project and agree to provide labor and materials, LAUNCH provides a mini-grant which can be used to fill any material gaps that the community cannot afford. For example, one school administration and PTA agreed to share the expense with the help of the mini-grant to construct desks for 100 students. This was considered a high priority by the community because until then, all of the students sat on the classroom’s dirt floor.