The problem of food insecurity in Liberia may be on the verge of being seriously tackled as the government, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development’s Food and Enterprise Development (USAID/FED), over the weekend launched the National Diploma in Agriculture (NDA) program.
The vocational program seeks to prepare high school graduates to go directly into agricultural employment. It is also aimed at synchronizing instructional contents at various technical and vocational institutions across the country.
Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, speaking at the occasion held at the Booker Washington Institute in Kakata last Friday, said people are paying a lot of lip service to agriculture. He lamented that not much is being done by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to meet the needs of farmers in the country.
He had received 175 documented communications from farmers across the country, especially Lofa County, complaining about some difficulties they are facing to get their farms supported by the Ministry, he revealed.
VP Boakai, who expressed his passion for agriculture in Liberia, disclosed that he communicated a very strongly worded letter to Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth, detailing the problems and concerns of the farmers.
“We believe that technicians from the MOA are the ones who are supposed to help farmers test the soil, inform farmers about the right seeds, and guide them through the planting and cultivation processes, especially as the issue of climate change is becoming a major problem,” Ambassador Boakai said.
VP Boakai, who is himself an active farmer and rice grower, noted that when he served as Agriculture Minister in the 1980s, he never allowed poultry products to be imported into Liberia because there were local farmers who had the capacity to supply poultry products to the Liberian market.
He recalled that some of the major poultry producers at the time were Robert Bright, at his farm on the Firestone Road in Kakata, Dr. Christian Baker, Liberia’s first veterinary doctor, at his farms in Fendall, Montserrado County and Melekie, near Gbarnga, Bong County and many other poultry smallholders.
Agriculture is where “we find real employment because agriculture is business,” said the VP, explaining that Liberia provides many opportunities for agriculture but people are yet to take advantage of them.
He referred to Senator Oscar Cooper, who was present for the occasion and made brief remarks. Senator Cooper, said the Vice President, is a politician but also an active farmer with a sizeable rubber plantation in Cinta, Margibi County.
The Senator told the audience that he employs several BWI graduates on his farm and was prepared to hire others from the program.
He commended USAID/FED for funding the two-year post-secondary program, developed by the Ministry of Education.
Contributing, US Ambassador, Deborah Malac said that she was delighted to be a part of the NDA launching, because its innovative skills will prepare high school graduates for agricultural work and employment in the formal sector and onto entrepreneurship
In his remarks, Assistant MOE Minister, Charles K. Gaye, said that the NDA program is an outcome of the fulfillment of the Agenda for Transformation which also recognizes the importance of poverty reduction in the socio-economic development sector.
He said to achieve the goal MOE, in collaboration with line ministries, UNESCO and ECOWAS through a series of consultations, embarked on the NDA process.
“Following these consultations, the MOE engaged the Department of Education, Culture, Science and Technology of ECOWAS Commission and concluded arrangements for support to TVET development,” he noted.
From 2011-2013, ECOWAS conducted three workshops in Liberia that trained a total of 75 teachers and school administrators in TVET curriculum and instructional material development, he said.
The NDA program focuses on four value chains linked with food security and market needs in agriculture. They are cassava, lowland rice, goats and vegetables, the Daily Observer learned.
The program is expected to be implemented in four partner community colleges which are Lofa, Grand Bassa and Nimba Community Colleges and Booker T. Washington Institute. The presidents of these institutions were present at the ceremony.
USAID-FED, since 2012, has been working with the MOE to finalize the NDA curriculum and provided all the funding, textbooks, materials and equipment required for the implementation of the NDA.