The World Bank New Country Director for Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dr. Henry G. R. Kerali has outlined several solutions that Liberia can use to achieve sustainable development growth.
Mr. Kerali said Liberia and other countries in the region should support smallholder farmers to increase their productivity and income.
“I put special emphasis on smallholder farmers, because the solution is not to sell their lands to large scale farmers. You only end up increasing the number of urban poor by doing so. The other solution is to go out there and be entrepreneurs,” said Mr. Kerali.
Mr. Kerali made these recommendations Tuesday, November 17 at the Monrovia City Hall when he served as the guest speaker at program marking the third annual MSME Conference with over 50 participants in attendance.
He said over 80% of all businesses in Liberia is MSME and that 70% of household incomes are from MSME activities.
He said the task ahead is to improve opportunities for the sector to achieve sustainable development in line with the crosscutting pillars of Liberia’s Agenda for Transformation (AfT).
“Sustainable MSME development can only be achieved when Liberia has healthy skilled laborers, sound macroeconomic policies, vibrant education system, and good governance, access to finance, sustainable infrastructure, and efficient legal and regulatory framework,” he said.
He noted that given the challenges that Liberia faces today, “one message that I would like you to take away is to be innovative and entrepreneurial. If you do not have a job, create one for yourself and employ others. This is the best way to contribute to the development of Liberia.”
There are ten million new entrants to the labor market each year in Sub-Saharan Africa, he said, “My heart bleeds when I see thousands of Africans risking their lives crossing the hot deserts, and riding the high seas with the false dream of a better life in other continents.”
He pointed to three basic reasons Africans take extreme measures to seek greener pastures.
“Firstly, there are insufficient opportunities to earn a decent living in their home countries. Secondly, most of those leaving the continent do not have the right skills for the few jobs that are available in Africa; and thirdly, they are afraid to return empty handed when they realize that it is not a panacea out there,” Mr. Kerali said.
He noted that employment does not always mean earning a regular wage! “In Sub-Saharan Africa, from the share of total employment – about 35% are SME subsistence farmers, another 55% are self-employed and only 20% earn formal wages.”
Part of the solution for Liberia and other countries in Africa, is to support “our smallholder farmers to increase their productivity and therefore increase their incomes.”
In recognition of the capital constraints of SMEs, IFC – the private sector arm of the WBG set up the West Africa Venture Fund (“WAVF”), to provide scarce risk capital and advisory services to SMEs, he said.
“This initiative targets Liberian owned businesses thirteen (13) of which have benefited from this initiative. And there are plans to expand the size of the fund from US$20m to US$40m to cover Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
The World Bank Group through its Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, he said, is co-sponsoring the E-PLUS Program, a youth entrepreneurial program to be launched by the Ministry of Commerce Trade and Industry.
“The World Bank Group is providing US$100,000 seed capital for 10 businesses. This will be accompanied by a capacity building exercise, which will lead to a selection of qualified businesses,” he said.