The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), in collaboration with several of its partners, including the World Bank, West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP), Africa Rice and others, last week launched the Economic Stabilization and Rapid Recovery Seed Intervention (ESRRSI).
The ESRRSIP is a post-Ebola agricultural initiative of the MOA with support from the World Bank through WAAPP. It is focused on rice, maize and cowpea-routed through WAAPP-Liberia. It aims at providing certified seeds for food production, especially after this turbulent Ebola period.
The post-Ebola economic stability program was launched last Friday at the Liberia Produce and Marketing Corporation (LPMC) compound in Gbarnga, Bong County, with many high-profiled persons, especially from the agriculture sector, in attendance. Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai served as the launcher.
MOA and WAAPP officials disclosed at the event that through the ESRRSI initiative, local farmers are expected to benefit about 581 metric tons of certified seed rice, 100 metric tons of certified cowpea seeds and 79 metric tons of maize seeds. Many of these are already in the country while the balances are shortly expected in country.
These certified seeds were brought from these following countries Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Burkina-Faso and Niger.
In his launching statement, VP Boakai stressed the need for Liberian farmers to begin showing appreciation to donors by engaging in committed farming activities that will help alleviate the food insecurity situation in Liberia.
Though the government’s partners are making efforts to see Liberia improve in several key areas, especially the agriculture sector, it was the responsibility of Liberians, especially local farmers, to deliver on what is expected of them, Ambassador Boakai said. He challenged farmers not always to call for help from other people, but to engage themselves in activities that will multiply the seeds given them to ensure the availability of more seeds for subsequent planting seasons.
Mr. Boakai, himself an avid farmer, challenged MOA to go beyond just providing seeds to ensuring that the benefiting farmers are knowledgeable of the improved and certified seeds they are receiving. He noted that there are several smallholder farmers that are trying on their own, but the MOA will need to develop more forms of training and other programs that work best in the interest of improving production, as well as ensuring follow-up by extension agents.
MOA should also provide training in the new agricultural technologies to the benefiting farmers.
Also making remarks, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Fofi Bimba, and said government should think about creating agricultural villages around the country. This, he said, will enable “the hungry people to work and become more productive to society.”
Commenting on a recent incident in Paynesville City, Montserrado County, that saw a police station being burnt down by angry bike riders protesting the alleged “killing of a colleague by a police officer,” Representative Bimba, himself an passionate agriculturist, said the incident could have been avoided if government had a program that incorporated people into vast agriculture activities somewhere in a remote county. He suggested the provision of attractive stimulus packages, as such a plan.
Rep. Bimba said the idea about the agricultural villages is also shared by VP Boakai.
The Lofa County lawmaker continued, “Now is the time to engage our donors and partners to support us in creating farming villages in the various counties.” He also stressed the importance of provision and distribution of seeds to agricultural transformation.
“Maintaining the seeds will require a good and functional research and development drive, as well as a strong and functional multiplication program which will best be implemented on farm trials by the farmers themselves.”
Rep. Bimba also called on the MOA to use the cooperatives available in the counties for the distribution of these seeds that have been made available.
He said he believed MOA is already on the right path of implementing the Post-Ebola Economic Revitalization Program with the existence of several key projects of the Ministry’s Program Management Unit that are in the various counties. He called on the MOA to be the monitor and evaluator, while the farmers remain the major players.
The president of the Farmers Union Network (FUN), Josephine George-Francis was also present at the ceremony. She called on Liberians to begin to see agriculture as a business. “Graduating from shovels and hoes farming to machines is a way to go,” she declared.
Representative George-Francis named the creation of loan schemes, good road networks, among other things, as important parts of the chain that we should create if we want eat and export Liberian produce.
The FUN boss, who is also Representative of Montserrado County’s District #1, lauded government for ensuring that an act to make the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) an anonymous agency was followed through. “We can talk about and get all we need, but if we do not have an independent research institute, we are wasting our time as it is very vital to agriculture.
She said restoring CARI to get the relevant technocrats such as scientists in the shortest possible time would greatly improve things and avoid farmers going to the Internet and other sources for solutions to difficulties faced on their farms.
Assistant Minister for Expenditure at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Alieu Faud Nyei, lauded the various partners for their involvement in the project, but indicated that government was very instrumental in bringing the seeds in country.
Minister Alieu Faud Nyei thanked Africa Rice Center and ECOWAS for facilitating the smooth transfer of the seeds to Liberia.
He further admonished the partners, especially the World Bank, to fast track its support in this intervention, to ensure that all of the seeds needed by the sector are actualized in a timely manner.
Minister Nyei noted that a concern of the government was how to get the seeds to the end users in time. According to him, if the seeds didn’t get to the farmers in time for the planting season, the entire exercise will be a waste. “The MOA has to look for an efficient way to implement this, so that our efforts will not go in vain”, he said.
In remarks, the Senior Country Economist at the World Bank Monrovia office, Timothy Bulmanm, said the success story should be the raising of productivity among Liberian farmers to ensure that they can compete with the best in the world.
Before the Ebola outbreak, he recalled, some key challenges existed in the agriculture sector. But it was now the challenge of the MOA and agricultural extension agents to work together and along with farmers to bring the best technologies and techniques to the farmers and raise their productivity to empower them measure up with global competitors.
According to the World Bank official, the seeds are part of a chain of solutions to see farmers do better. The sharing of seeds from other WAAPP participating countries under ECOWAS also promotes regional transfer of technologies. The arrival of the certified and foundation seeds from across the region demonstrated what the regional project [WAAPP] has been trying to achieve—which is to make it easier to transfer technologies among West African countries.
Dr. Ernest Asiedu, who represented the regional coordinating body of WAAPP Projects CORAF/WECARD, expressed his organization’s appreciation for the level of cooperation received from various ECOWAS countries and governments.
Dr. Asiedu recounted the several hours of planning and preparation it took to get to what he called the “end line of launching the seeds.” “ECOWAS has asked that we host a formal program of this kind in every country that we deliver these seeds. I am so happy that Liberia has set a good example”, he said.