Liberia: Pres. Weah Hopes to Rekindle Interest in Agriculture, But Putting Plan into Action Remains a Daunting Task
KICKING OFF his first national county tour since assuming the Liberian presidency, President George Manneh Weah, in Gbarnga, Bong County last Friday to launch the National Agriculture Trade Fair, issued a clarion call to farmers’ organizations to adopt the business approach to agriculture in a bid to bolster sustainably toward commercialization.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST time, President Weah – or any Liberian leader for that matter has made agriculture a centerpiece agenda item.
IN THE WANING days of his presidency, late president William R. Tolbert touted agriculture, instilled in the minds of Liberians the disadvantages of heavy reliance on a single commodity.
SIMILARLY TO NOW, recovery was relatively slow under Tolbert amid rather sluggish shipments of iron ore and the declined of increased production after a Japanese group postponed a $500‐million ironmining venture at the time.
FOR YEARS, PRIOR TO civil war, Liberia’s high‐grade iron deposits served as chief source of income.
FOR TOLBERT, there were simply too many holes to fill and utilizing the land for food production was really the only alternative.
IN THIS LIGHT, President Tolbert kicked off large‐scale projects to increase production of rice, palm oil and other crops.
The program was carried out by Agrimeco, an Israeli‐managed Government entity and modeled after a similar successful program in. the Ivory Coast.
TOLBERT, WHO succeeded the late William V, S. Tubman in 1971, was a strong advocate of basic development to raise living standards for the masses of the people—in his words “from the mats on the floor to a mattress on every bed.”
UNDER HIS PLAN at the time, Agrimeco has started landclearing operations and is planning food and cash crops to be planted by villages and. farmer cooperatives. In addition, the Vanply Company, a subsidiary of the Skelly Oil Company of Tulsa, Okla., moved ahead toward develop. ing a large lumbering concession in, the central part of the country.
TOLBERT SUCCESSFULLY ENSURED that forestry products joined iron‐ore and natural rubber as major exports for Liberia.
MR. TOLBERT’S SUCCESSOR, Samuel Doe’s government sought to increase public sector resource allocation to the sector. A Green Revolution Action Plan prepared by the government, which elaborated the nature and scope of the new policy changes, especially longer term planning, was awaiting validation when the civil war broke out at the end of 1989.
NOW COMES PRESIDENT WEAH, who is hoping to continue the trend, but with his own twist.
FOR PRESIDENT WEAH, the emphasis is on funding. With the support of the World Bank which has made available sixty million United States dollars in funding the private sector farming in Liberia, large skills and smallholders farming are likely to get a boost.
THE PRESIDENT HAS ALSO set up a technical committee comprising of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice and other agencies to work along with banks to insure qualifications, allocations and disbursement of funds to agriculture institutions.
THE PRESIDENT SAID last Friday that his government is making all efforts to enable the country to graduate from primary industry. “Success of these depends on the performance of all stakeholders in the agriculture sector,” said President Weah.
SAID THE PRESIDENT: “Government is fully aware to improving the agriculture sector’s performance for increased food and income security with a few of achieving overall economic growth and reducing poverty in the country”.
PRESIDENT WEAH went on to say that he expects improvement every year due to the quality of products exhibited at the fair.
BEYOND WORDS, President Weahs’ biggest challenge would lie on how his administration emphasizes action and implementation over mere words.
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER is that agriculture is the primary livelihood for more than 60 percent of Liberia’s population and provides sustenance for many households engaging in cassava, rubber, rice, oil palm, cocoa, or sugarcane production. Additionally, more households engage in cassava production than any other crop. However, overall agricultural productivity is low, resulting in Liberia importing more than 80 percent of its rice, making the country vulnerable to global food price volatility.
TO IMPROVE THESE STATISTICS, the Weah administration must ensure that the poorly integrated sector lacking basic infrastructure such as machines, farming equipment/tools, farm-to-market roads, fertilizers and pesticides, and food storage capacity get a major boost in the short term.
GOVERNMENT MUST BEGIN to lay emphasis on main cash crops and foreign exchange earners are rubber, cocoa, and timber.
WHAT LIBERIA HAS GOING for it is a favorable climate and fertile soil for cocoa and rice production.
INVESTMENT IN LOWLAND cultivation and low-cost irrigation would give smallholders an opportunity to increase productivity and expand market share of these valuable crops.
ADDITIONALLY, THE COUNTRY’S Atlantic coastline spanning about 580 kilometers endowed with abundant marine fish stocks. The coastline and abundant freshwater resources provide breeding grounds varieties of marine species including crab, lobster, shrimp, tilapia, tuna, shark, croaker, and barracuda.
SIMPLY PUT, Africa’s oldest republic is sitting on a haven of resources. Thus, there should be no reason for anyone to whine and cry about poverty when the answers to much of its problems lie in a poorly-funded sector that has been underused and dormant for years.
AS PRESIDENT WEAH continues his tour of the counties, it is our hope that he will continue to project a message of hope, reconciliation and make a strong case to all Liberians about the importance of investing in agriculture.
HIS MESSAGE must resonate beyond the words, beyond the rhetoric and must be backed by action and a well-plan program to implement his desired objectives.