Leaving my job to set up a farming business in Liberia

Farming, Liberia, Nyamah Dunbar, Sankofa

Leaving my job to set up a farming business in Liberia

“The Shifting Lens of Development”

For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in social change and development. As a youth, I did not fully know how to classify this field of interest nor was I even aware that it was something that I could later study, but whenever someone asked me what I wanted to do later on, the answer was usually ‘help people’.

Somehow along the way, I became informed and interested in serving as an international volunteer with the U.S Peace Corps, through its State Department. That experience challenged, shaped, and boosted my interest in serving to help rebuild developing nations.

I was born in a developing nation, Liberia. In fact, right at the onset of my career formation, Liberia was exiting one of the bloodiest periods of its history, a 14 year brutal civil war. The nation had experienced total systemic and infrastructural collapse. Basic human rights needs such as access to clean water, healthcare, and education continued to be luxuries far out of reach for the vast majority of its citizens. And yet, my home country was not alone in this plight. Globally, the vast majority of nations exist at or below the poverty line. Economic instability due to civil and social strife continues to plague societies at various levels, but the true culprit lies in poor leadership and the inability for individual people to recognize the power that they have to change their lives, build up their country, and transform this world.

Sure, we all laugh or roll our eyes every time some beauty queen sits on a stage and lists her platform for advocacy for world peace. We also flip the dial on our televisions when we hear of drought or famine in yet another region of the world. And we certainly have all grown wary of the news and rumors of wars springing up in every corner of the globe.

But how can these catastrophes continue to escalate when there are people – intelligent, wealthy, hardworking people – who make it their life career to work in aid and development of societies? For nearly six years, I was one of those people – well, not wealthy or super intelligent, but certainly passionate and diligent about the need to change the world through development and specifically through global health.

Those 6 years again challenged, shaped and boosted my passion and interest in bringing developmental changes to societies, but I came to a fork in the road which I had not anticipated early on. Those years shifted the lens through which I regarded development.

In spite of all of the trillions of dollars going into aid and development, why are people still desperately poor? Why do we still lose masses to health and food crises? Sure, we have made some significant strides. The advancement in health and other technologies and the medical field has enabled us to avoid even greater catastrophes.

But there is still so much to be done. And frankly, even when we have done the greatest, it feels at times like a measly drop in the bucket.

How can we increase those drops to create a ripple effect that brings about change in the world?

These are the questions with which I grapple. Apparently, God’s mind is moving in the same direction as well; because one day I felt His distinct voice telling me to resign from my job, and begin the craziest, grassroots initiative that I couldn’t have possibly thought of on my own.

Leave New York City and this comfortable job and return to Liberia to build up a farming business that will boost food production. If you want to make to impactful change, then you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to be in the storm in order to fight it!” Of course, at first, I thought I was hearing voices in my head. ‘This is crazy!’ But I followed a decision making process that my mother had faithfully taught me well. Pray about it. Investigate it. Then make a decision. So I struck a deal with God “If I can get through the first two steps and it makes sense, my decision will be to resign and go along with your plan.”

Of course it checked out. Agriculture, particularly sustainable agriculture, is the surest way any nation can begin on the trajectory to economic growth. No current developed nation obtained that status without resolving the issue of how to feed its people.

So here I am two years and twelve acres into the process of setting up my own agribusiness. The sacrifices and challenges have been so huge but I can begin to see that benefits and payouts will even exceed those startup problems. What amazes me about shifting development to grassroots and entrepreneurial initiatives is that the people truly benefit in an equitable manner from investment. I once wrote that the cost of aid delivery far exceeds what aid actually delivers, and that assertion still remains true. We have to find effective, impactful, and efficient means of building societies that allow the investor(s) and the investee(s) to both walk away with dignity and pride, and to experience profitability in a manner that does not allow the other to feel exploited and abused.

After university, Nyamah Dunbar spent two years volunteering with the Peace Corps in Benin, before working for UMCOR, the United Methodist Commitee on Relief, where she directed the Imagine No Malaria program. Today she is in the second year of running Sankofa, her own agribusiness in Liberia. 

  • Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm
    Posted at 10:40h, 04 September Reply

    Oh wow, that is so amazing. Two things you said particularly hit home. Developing a secure system of producing food is the foundation necessary for future growth, and helping in a way that gives the recipients ownership and dignity is the only way it will create change. God bless and stay safe, you’ve really inspired me 🙂

  • Nyamah
    Posted at 17:00h, 06 September Reply

    Thank you Jackie! Thanks to AMelia, Louis and the team that came up with this idea for a forum. May we learn more from each other about the not-so-easy but ever-rearding gift of giving!

  • Larry Hollon
    Posted at 23:01h, 04 October Reply

    A touching, exciting story, but even more important, a significant critique of old style development theory and an important testimony to the value of grassroots, first-person involvement in development. I’m glad you heard that voice and took the step to make this change. I wait patiently to hear moe about your progress and success. Thank you for this wonderful recounting of your experience.

    • Nyamah
      Posted at 19:27h, 10 October Reply

      Larry! How are you? Thanks so much for your encouraging words! I need all of your prayers – with GOD, all is POSSIBLE.

  • Sarah (Forsyth) Kramer
    Posted at 01:48h, 05 October Reply

    Wow…so impressive Nyamah! God has given you such an amazing heart and will. Will definitely be checking in on your ventures regularly….excited to see all that God will do through you!

    • Nyamah
      Posted at 19:28h, 10 October Reply

      Thanks, Sarah! I can’t wait for you and the new family to visit Liberia and have a chance to visit the farm!

  • Bob Coolman
    Posted at 02:05h, 05 October Reply

    Maybe the most remarkable project is “Hope in the Harvest” @ Liberia International University near Ganta. The demonstration farm there is little short of remarkable – and it IS changing lives.

    • Nyamah
      Posted at 19:29h, 10 October Reply

      Hey Bob, is this at LICC? It is a remarkable exhibition. We are initiating a partnership and I have hired one of their students.

  • Mary Ellen Kris
    Posted at 01:42h, 06 October Reply

    Your courage, commitment and faith are inspirational, I look forward to learning more about your progress. God bless you and guide you every step of the way, Nyamah.

    • Nyamah
      Posted at 19:31h, 10 October Reply

      Mary Ellen! Thank you so much! I miss you all, but the calling has been indeed great. Only God can fulfill this one. I look forward to keeping you all posted. Cheers!

  • Wilmot A. Reeves
    Posted at 01:03h, 07 October Reply

    This is truly an amazing story and testimony. May the Lord continue to bless the works of your hands Nyamah.

  • Nyamah
    Posted at 19:32h, 10 October Reply

    Wilmot, thanks indeed, it is a testimony that continues to grow and may the Lord indeed guide it forever.

  • Delia Chimedza
    Posted at 09:17h, 19 October Reply

    sometimes we think of mountains as obstacles along the way forgetting that God can change these mountains into highways. Thanks for remembering where you came from and for the big heart to develop your grassroots. I am planning on following your foot steps. How ???

  • Obbie Beal
    Posted at 18:09h, 08 May Reply

    Sonkofa have dug deep and reached “the Solid Rock, the beat foundation in the universe to build on; now by FAITH build; and though the storms come and go Sonkofa shall be fruitful..

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