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Songhai Center Liberia

by Christopher K. Fayia, National Project Coordinator, Center Songhai Liberia Initiative (CSLI), Bensonville, Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia


The Center Songhai Liberia Initiative (CSLI) is a government of Liberia program supported by partners (public, private, national and international non-governmental organizations) with the aim of creating decent employment opportunities for young Liberians. It is an integrated agricultural program that is modeled after Centre Songhai Benin. The principal business of CSLI is the training of men and women and equipping them with the skills to manage small and medium scale, commercially viable and environmentally sustainable agricultural production and agro-based enterprises.

There are three integrated components to the Centre Songhai Liberia Initiative (CSLI). They include:
  • Agricultural centers involved in the financially and environmentally sustainable production of primary and added value agricultural products, 
  • Functional training programs in sustainable agricultural production, 
  • Building a critical mass of agricultural and agriculture related entrepreneurs through a participatory outreach program to community/(ies) of CSLI-trained rural entrepreneurs and other stakeholders who will manage their own farms, through a network that provides services and a route to market. 

The objectives of CSLI include the following;
  • Turning the Liberian rural sector around to become competitive and remunerative – making it a viable pathway towards a sustainable and broad-based economy, 
  • Developing sustainable, employment-intensive sectors and considerably slowing down the massive rural exodus in Liberia, 
  • Tackle the discontent among youth through gainful employment. 
The vision for Center Songhai Liberia is based on the need for the successful application of the Songhai principles for the benefit of the large number of Liberian youths who have been disoriented after years of conflict. The principles are:
  • Sustainable development that is driven by people, 
  • Empowerment of the most underprivileged groups in the community that is the base of durable growth, 
  • Training members of society to use the tools and methods of sustainable agricultural production and to pool these skills for the common benefit of the community. 
Hence, the overarching vision for the CSLI is greater self-determination, harmony and cooperation within Liberian communities and a sustained and sustainable growth in employment, reduction of restiveness and crime, particularly within the groups of unskilled youths. 

History and Context

Years of civil war, poor governance and corruption overly weakened the human resources base in Liberia, eroded community cohesion, undermined public confidence in state institutions, and drove people away from constructive group actions. This resulted in a socio-economic downward spiral characterized by a high level of unemployment and an increasing phenomenon of the “working poor”. This was why the battle cry of the government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was “Jobs, jobs, jobs first”. The LEEP/LEAP initiatives were then introduced as central elements in the government’s policy.

With 85% unemployment globally and 88% among youth, it was not difficult to see that the challenge before the government of Liberia and its partners was a staggering one. To therefore reverse this trend of poverty, the central strategic element was to jump-start a socio-economic process in a way that tackled the short term need to ease the employment situation, while at the same time creating an enabling economic foundation and environment that could generate production and economic growth in employment-intensive sectors of the economy, constituting an integrated employment strategy targeting the most vulnerable groups: women and youth.

The primary purpose of the Center Songhai Liberia initiative was to provide a basic framework for a sustainable Songhai initiative in the Mano River sub-region of West Africa. The countries of this sub-region (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) not only share a common history, but also have been devastated by war and socio-economic instability for more than a decade. The challenges for this initiative called for a well-coordinated multi-partnership of major stakeholders within a sub-regional setting. The intension was to use the Liberian proposal as a reference that could easily be fine-tuned for the other countries using the appropriate coefficients and adjustments.

In April 2006, the United Nations Development Program Liberia Office supported the participation of some Liberians, including a Deputy Minister of Agriculture, the President of the Farmers Union of Liberia and a private sector participant in a development workshop at Centre Songhai in Benin. The workshop in Benin took place under the auspices of the UNOPS Program Support to Rural Development in West and Central Africa, which is based in Dakar, Senegal. Following that workshop and as part of their report, a proposal was formulated for the adoption of Centre Songhai Model in Liberia.

In July 2006, the Director of the Centre Songhai in Benin Republic, Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo, funded by USAID Liberia, undertook a mission to Liberia in order to explore the application of the Songhai initiative in the country. During that mission, an assessment of various sites was conducted for the Songhai Liberia project and Bensonville was selected to serve as the core location for the programs with a number of satellites to be established throughout the country.

In 2007 UNDP, through the Government of Liberia, recruited and trained 30 young Liberians and sent them to Centre Songhai Benin to be trained in agro-based enterprise management. These trainees returned to Liberia and are currently placed at the Songhai Liberia Bensonville main hub where they are replicating the Songhai program from Benin.
The Training

Training activities at the Bensonville Center commenced in 2010 with the rehabilitation of seven damaged structures for training and accommodation and the recruitment of 150 farmers from across the 15 counties of Liberia, providing them full 15 months of training in the Center. These farmers are now conducting production activities in their home counties with technical backstopping from Center Songhai Bensonville and the County Agriculture Coordinators.

CSLI training focus areas include the following:
  • Primary sector (Livestock, aquaculture, crop production) 
  • Secondary sector (food processing and cottage industry). 
  • Tertiary sector (industrial machinery & metal work-agribusiness and services). 
  • Management (leadership, community development) 
Under the Youth Employment Skills (YES) project, CSLI has commenced the recruitment of another 150 farmers from 5 counties (Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount). Full training will begin in March 2012.

The Songhai Liberia Center is also conducting tailor made courses in various areas for local partners (CHF, CARITAS Liberia, LDLD, CARE Liberia, among others).

Though still supported by partners, Songhai is designed to be a self-supporting institution and is now beginning to generate revenue through its training programs and from the sales of its products. External support will be required over the next five years to get the center and its satellites up and running. 

Challenges/Problems And How They Were Solved

Limited resources: The Songhai Liberia Project needs at least five years of support (financial, technical) and in all aspect of activities to enable it to become fully up and running. We currently rely on donor support with minimum funds being generated from sales of farm products. There are appeals for CSLI to be included in the government budgetary allocations.

Water for drinking and irrigation: Water primarily for irrigation purposes is crucial. Construction of water collection tanks across the production fields has begun to assist in the irrigation of crops and the revitalization of water pipes and bore holds are on-going. 

Identification of micro credit institutions, banks, etc.: It is imperative to identify entities that are willing to provide farmer’s resettlement loan packages (Agriculture loans). Massive creation of awareness about Songhai’s activities is on-going with partners and other institutions invited on a regular basis to observe the activities taking place at the Center. 

Rehabilitation of additional structures for accommodation: It is necessary to upscale farmer intake and expand project activities. Accommodation is limited against increased demand for training. The Center is currently occupying some vacant rooms of what is actually the school building for short-term accommodation.

Electrification and fencing of the Bensonville Center: Electricity is inadequate but is currently provided by a small 6 KVA generator. Fencing of facilities is on-going using local materials (riffs). 

In What Aspects is This Initiative a Success and Why?

The beneficiaries of CSLI are mainly the youths and women, those going through Songhai training programs and those benefiting indirectly from the CSLI presence in the region. Around the main hub the CSLIs provide technical and material support to farmers and community dwellers. These include trainings in piggery, fishery, vegetable production and post-harvest practices, and the employment of community members as daily hires and or support staff.

The CSLI has also trained and graduated farmers who are now in the various counties of Liberia producing and supporting communities with food and employment services. As part of the requirements for farmer certification, each graduate is required to train at least five community farmers in and around his/her farm in the Songhai modern farming methods. These trainings have had multiplier effects creating a huge demand on both the main hub and farmers in the field.

The Songhai system is integrated, starting from the production of crops to value added processing. Nothing is wasted; it is a zero-emission production system. Animal and plant wastes as well as processing by-products are all utilized, producing organic inputs for quality crop production. CSLI farmers have been introduced to organic low input farming and this idea is practiced and taught in turn by them with the impart benefiting large number of farmers as they no longer rely of chemical fertilizers, for example.

Finally, young people who have completed training in the Songhai new farming methods are now very active and heavily involved in developing their own farms, thereby taking away their minds and attentions from criminal activities. As we continue to provide coaching and other support for them they will eventually become their own entrepreneurs, producing food for themselves and their families, and being able to send their children to school and provide employment opportunities for community members. 

Lessons That Could Be Applied Elsewhere

  • High Government involvement: 
  • Taking full ownership with a functioning Steering Board headed by the Minister of Youth & Sports and Ministry of Agriculture. 
  • Seconding of GOL (Ministry of Youth) to support staff to the CSLI. 
  • Recruiting CSLI staff under CSLI contract modality rather than UN contracts. This will facilitate continued employment even after donor funding ends. 
  • Making availability site and physical structures. Here the government provided the Bensonville facilities for the program. 
  • Providing farm land to Songhai graduates by the government, which is a critical component for successful farmer resettlement. 
  • Follow-up monitoring - The main objective of Songhai is to train young agricultural entrepreneurs who, once established, become examples of success and attention for the surrounding populations to the new kind of agriculture practiced by Songhai. This training does not stop with the acquisition and mastery of techniques of agricultural production. Songhai continuously follows up with its farmers from the installation stage to the establishment of their farms and beyond. This is why the CSLI has a Farmer Resettlement and Monitoring Unit established to follow-up on the activities of rural farmers. 
  • Establishing a robust Steering Board that is willing to act promptly. The Government and partners on the Steering Board met frequently (bi-monthly and monthly) during the inception stage to review and follow up on urgent issues. There is need on the part of Board members to be willing to regularly attend meetings and to nominate permanent focal persons with authority to make decisions. Frequent changing of focal persons by ministries and agencies weakened the strength and retentive memories and in most cases slow the implementation of pending decisions. 
Songhai is designed to be a self-supporting institution as such it must be developed and supported to be able to generate its own resources putting in place systems and procedures that will account for all resources generated in the program. CSLI is now beginning to generate funds from the sales of its farm products and upgrading its processing unit to add value to farm products for better sales as long term sustainability strategy.


Center Songhai Liberia Initiative: Establishment of Songhai Liberia Initiative for the Promotion of Rural Growth within the Liberian Government’s Development Program; January 2007. (Project Document).

Songhai Handbook; Songhai Centre, Republic of Benin; April 2010.

Center Songhai Liberia initiative Strategic Plan: Rural Youth and Agricultural Business Development in Liberia; August 2011.

Christopher K. Fayia, National Project Coordinator, Center Songhai Liberia Initiative (CSLI), Bensonville, Montserrado County, Republic of Liberia,;