A Revolutionary Change In agricultural Research In Liberia Will Greatly Benefit The New Liberia

A Letter from

Sonii David, Ph.D.


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 12, 2005

Dear Editor:

I was pleasantly surprised to see the article by Syrulwa Somah "Promoting agricultural production in Liberia". The Perspective is my main source of information on Liberia, as a Liberian who has lived abroad for the past 15 years. Agriculture appears to receive little or no focus in the efforts to reconstruct the country, a very surprising and alarming situation. Dr. Somah raises a number of very important points, most of which I agree with.

Permit me to make a few additional comments of my own. First of all, it should be pointed out (contrary to Dr Somah's assumption), the soils of Liberia and other parts of the humid tropics are not very fertile. These soils are in fact very fragile once the forest is cleared away. Our farmers practice shifting cultivation for this, among other reasons. Our high population growth rate, coupled with the high rate of deforestation over the past decade means that we must consider alternatives to shifting cultivation and seek sustainable ways to improve soil fertility
While I agree with Dr. Somah's point about investing in agricultural research at the level of higher institutions, it should be pointed out that even before the war agricultural research in Liberia was never well developed and tended to be somewhat centralized. For example, CARI had its main station at Suakoko and I am not sure how much adaptive research was being conducted.

While Liberia was shut off from the rest of the world during the war, major advances were made in the area of participatory research. This involves a much more decentralized approach to research, with the client, the farmer, playing a major or leading role in setting the research agenda and in conducting research. This, in my view, is a revolutionary change in the way agricultural research is conducted and is something that would greatly benefit the new Liberia.

I am also a big proponent of farmer training, especially given the fact that a huge cohort of Liberian rural youth, many of whom grew up in refugee camps and cities, probably do not have an elementary knowledge of farming. These days we are talking about farming as a business so farmers need to be trained not only in the use of new technologies, but also in changing their entire perspective of farming. Farming does not have a positive image in Liberia and a move away from a subsistence farming mentality to a business oriented mentality, might encourage more people to invest in agriculture. As the saying "there is strength in numbers" implies, small scale Liberian farmers will only acquire bargaining power (to set the research agenda, command higher prices for their produce etc), if they are organized. I agree with Dr. Somah that we should build on the strengths of our traditional forms of organizations e.g. kuus and susu.

Finally, we cannot hope to rehabilitate Liberian agriculture without radically improving infrastructure, notably roads, marketing structures etc and policy… There is much evidence worldwide that poor urban households that are engaged in farming are better off nutritionally than households that do not farm
As a rural sociologist working for one of the leading international agricultural research institutions, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), I am committed to working toward improving the agricultural sector in Liberia. Toward this end, I, together with a senior management team from IITA, will be visiting Liberia in February to explore how IITA can contribute to the rehabilitation of agriculture in Liberia.

Kind regards,

Sonii David Ph.D.
Participatory Extension Specialist
Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP)
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
B.P. 2008 (Messa)
Yaounde, Cameroon
Email: s.david@cgiar.org
Web: www.iita.org