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Where is the Market?

“One of the major problems is that we don’t have the market. We have a lot of people who are producing cassava here in Nimba County. They are able to produce cassava but where do they carry? So we have a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to networking to find the market.”

Martha Partor, co-manager of Community Sustainable and Educational Empowerment Organization (COSEO), spoke these words at a recent matchmaking event held in Ganta, Nimba County last week (hear part of her speech below). Connecting local businesses in Liberia to the market is exactly what the event was helping to do.

In partnership with USAID’s Food and Enterprise Development program for Liberia (FED), USAID SMI-L hosted a matchmaking event in Ganta, Nimba County on June 14. The event focused on strengthening the agricultural supply chain in Liberia. Guests included farmers, cooperatives, aggregators, farm input dealers, transport companies, and caterers. About 80 participants attended.

The long-term goal is to enable farmers and aggregators to meet the demands of large buyers, such as mining companies that want to purchase local food for their canteens. Many farmers produce quantities of foodstuffs that are too small to be sold directly to caterers, hotels or canteens. Instead aggregators, or wholesalers, are needed to buy small quantities from each farmer and combine them to be sold. The matchmaking event introduced these groups to each other to build business relationships.

One attendee was Moses Domah, pictured on the far right, of Standard Metal Work Garage, located in Ganta. His business produces machines that crush palm and cassava.

“The event today was very fine because these are all new customers [for me]. They requested mills and machines,” Domah said. “I met a lot of people I’ve never communicated with before.”

Just one day after the event, Domah said he already received calls from several businesses at the event ordering various machines. Ms. Partor from COSEO requested a custom-built machine that could slice potato greens.

The event was SMI-L’s first collaboration with FED, who works directly with farmers. FED fosters agriculture entrepreneurship and enterprises in Liberia, focusing on improved agricultural technologies, expanded input supply systems, commercial production and marketing, and workforce development.

A few months prior, SMI-L hosted three matchmaking events in Ganta. Each event focused on two key sectors. These included accommodation, agriculture, catering, construction, transportation and logistics, and woodworking. These events brought suppliers and international and national buyers together.

Mr. Domah was one successful business owner at the previous event. He sold one of his “Freedom Mill” machines, which grinds palm, to the Ministry of Agriculture, whom he met at the event.

“Since the event I now have different and more customers,” Domah said. “Business is improving.” He would like to produce more, but he needs capital to purchase the materials.

MAT Enterprise, a stationary and office supply store, also attended the matchmaking events in Ganta in February. He gained loyal customers from the event.

“The event was very helpful. The people we met were able to know us personally and the business we do,” said store manager Melvin Korbor. “Most [buyers] get their stationary in Monrovia. They didn’t know they could purchase it here.”

Because of the event, Save the Children and Cocopa Rubber Plantation both began using MAT Enterprise as their stationary supplier. Save the Children came into their store a few days after the event to purchase a variety of office supplies, including flip charts, pens, and ink cartridges. They have since returned five more times, purchasing a total of $3,500 worth of supplies. Cocopa came to the store twice to purchase standard printing paper.

These new customers helped stabilize MAT Enterprise. “We don’t have challenges anymore. Things are not bad,” Korbor said. If they continue to profit, Korbor says they hope to move into a bigger office.

At least two other businesses won contracts through the Ganta matchmaking events in February. In a few months, SMI-L will follow up with the businesses that attended the agricultural event in June to find out whether they were able to establish new relationships with each other. SMI-L will continue to work with these businesses to ensure these linkages become sustainable in the long-run.

Check out our Facebook album of photos from the event.

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