By Prof. Wollor E. Topor, PhD
A warning from Dr. Kilo – Resident Representative of the African Development Bank (AfDB)- that ‘Liberia invest seriously in agriculture’ reported in the Daily Observer’s Monday edition of August 1, 2016 is not the first time this has been said to the Madam Ellen ‘s government. The author listed many attempts which the Daily Observer alerted Liberian Government.
I being the consultant on many agricultural studies, the need to pay immediate attention to food security for Liberia was revealed and discussed in “Understanding Diversity: A Study of Livelihoods and Forest Landscapes in Liberia” (Lebbie , et al., 2009); “Priorities and Challenges of Adaptation to the Impacts of Climate Change – A Focus on the Liberian Agricultural Sector” (Topor, 2010); “Agricultural Innovations for Climate Change Adaptation and Food Security in West Africa: The Case of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia” (Agwu, et al., 2011); and “Large-Scale Land Acquisitions in Liberia, Analysis 39” (Buntzel and Topor, 2013) and “Taking the land without Encumbrance” (Buntzel and Topor, 2013). Upon a careful review and participation in the above mentioned studies, I have tried to relate it to our situation and raised concerns about the current food insecurity and placed importance on income growth, expressed nutrition interventions and investment in health, water as well as education (formal and informal). Has the government listened?
One would expect a booming agricultural sector in a country rich with vast fertile lands, plenty of sunshine, abundant rivers, rich with semi-trainedlabor,but this seems to be not the case in Liberia. The reason is just straightforward ‘Apparent Official Neglect” of the agricultural sector. If the government had the ‘Political will,’ because as the saying goes, ‘where there is a will there is way, the “will” would have focused on the agricultural sector which employs a third of the labor force. It is cheaper to create jobs in agriculture than in other sectors, but just because this government does not intend to have “inclusive growth” it never thought on pushing for the sector's development. Can you image agricultural workers are the poorest in the labor sector?. Any agrarian nation that pays attention to its agriculture in the rural area should have growth inclusive.
Despite being an agricultural country, Liberia has developed an unsustainable dependence on imported rice to ensure sufficient national stocks. The Liberian government is very much aware what could happen when it “plays” with Liberians staple –Rice. This is why the Ellen’s government is making sure that there is an ‘artificial stable’ market for untenable import of rice, for that matter all basic consumable goods. This temporary means of importation of food is undermining Liberia’s agricultural development and although slowly but surely come to an end. The question is when and how are we to address this stagnant agricultural productivity of this country? Our successive Ministers of Agriculture under Ma Ellen government have had the best and most prestigious educational background in agriculture, so what has gone wrong?
Any government’s success is measured by the degree of its accomplishments against its commitments. There are periodic Cabinet retreats, and from my understanding, these retreats are meant to take stock of the performance of Government ministries and public corporations in order to strategize about accelerating the implementation. Could the Ministry of Agriculture say its expected annual production targets set in major food crops like rice and cassava for 2016? For example, what’s the number of ordinary farmers per hectares per metric tons of rice and cassava does the Ministry predicts for 2016? Matching these targets with the desirable extension services should bring about the change in farmers’ attitude, knowledge and skill and their usage of availed resources the right way.
Agricultural transformation usually does not occur by mere slogans and piece-meal approaches. It is an integrated approach. At the very least, government intervention pragmatic approach will be required to provide the public goods needed for agricultural transformation. Among the most pressing public goods are innovation and dissemination of new technologies, including traditional crops, especially rice. Other public goods include gravity irrigation and rural roads; yet due diligence must be exercised to ensure only efficient projects are identified and implemented bounded by time and evaluated thereafter.
The Way to Go!
This is an open secret; there are a lot more improvements needed before the Liberia’s agricultural sector achieves its full potential. For instance:
About The Author: Dr. Wollor E. Topor is Dean, College of Agriculture and Food Science, William V. S. Tubman University,
Harper, Maryland County, Liberia