We can all learn something from the past. The interventions the U.S. carried out during the Great Depression taught us that targeting the agriculture-oriented areas can be a beacon for financial stability in hard times. Cash for work is an underrated treatment that has been practiced in various nuances during the times of financial crises and nutrition insecurity.
The name says it all – cash is provided to those who are at risk of falling into the poverty trap during times of low employment. Even if temporary, there is hope in the employment opportunities received in public projects. BRAC in Liberia took to this promising concept, through the implementation of a European Union-funded project.
Liberia is already struggling as one of the most underdeveloped countries in West Africa. But from June to September, it stares deeper into the wells of poverty. These wet months are drenched in uncontrollable rainfall, making it almost impossible to work in the agricultural fields. Work prospects are grim during the months of little or no harvest, and it all yields one curse as a whole: poverty.
This is where BRAC in Liberia intervened by providing cash-for-work support to 390 of the most vulnerable households for 35 days under the project. Instead of looking at the lean season directly, BRAC looked at 213 acres of Liberian bushlands.
The land was full of potential. The project began by first identifying the most vulnerable households. Groups were formed and encouraged to cultivate around 3/4 hectares (a block) of the bushlands. A tedious process, but the training received on modern cultivation techniques along with the payment for hard work presented all a sense of revival.
At the end of the 35 days of cleaning up masses of bushlands, we saw fertile and loamy farm land, perfect for crop cultivation and just in time for rainfall. Average monthly income of the workers had also increased by 36.8% – exceeding the project target by 20% from the baseline.
From sunshine yellow cassava to leafy emerald collard greens, cash for work cultivated improved crop varieties. Clients were consuming more food from their own production than before, and incidents of food crises were lower compared to non-participant households. Clients learnt how to utilise their hard-earned cash for meaningful purposes, and were given an incentive to save and invest in more agricultural inputs. A redeemed sense of purchasing power imitated a renaissance of financial hope.
Thus, despite being only a single component of the entire project, cash for work was extremely impactful in the long run. That being said, it’s easy to assume that we have achieved our end goal with the end of the project cycle, but when the question of sustainability arises, doing more is necessary.
After the project had phased out in 2018, occasional breaches took place of the MoU signed between participants and the landlord. While the knowledge and skills gained by the participants on modern cultivation techniques are lessons to not just be remembered, but to be effectively utilised for better livelihood, the participants did not have access to land to put it to use.
Today, masses of Liberian bushlands still stand strong, giving more potential for the government and other NGOs to carry out more of such cash for work activities.
Md A Saleque is Advisor, Agriculture, Food Security and Livelihood Programme at BRAC International. Sadaf Nahyaan and Nurun Nahar Noushin are Interns, Agriculture, Food Security and Livelihood Programme at BRAC International.