….Says U.S Chargé d’Affaires at launch of 3-day USAID Agribusiness Pitching Competition
The Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Monrovia, Christine Rodriguez, says that the agriculture sector has the potential to transform the Liberian economy if much priority is given to it by the national government.
Acknowledging the importance of the sector, Madam Rodriguez emphasized that the agriculture sector holds immense promise for Liberia’s economic growth and development.
According to her, with its vast natural resources, fertile land, and favorable climate, Liberia has the potential to become a major player in agricultural production and export.
She made these remarks on December 4, during the opening ceremony of the three-day Agribusiness Pitch Competition, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Liberia, at the Bella Casa Hotel in Monrovia.
“It is my pleasure to join you today to kick off today’s pitch competition! The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, is investing in Liberia’s future by helping provide business development services, and also give access to finance for start-ups and small agribusinesses,” Rodriguez said.
Over the next three days, 92 startups and small agribusinesses with the most promising and impactful pitches will be selected, and 30 winners of the competition will be awarded sums of US$10,000, US$25,000, and US$50,000 to support their market-driven solutions. The pitching entities are drawn from all of Liberia’s 15 counties.
The startups and agribusinesses went through a six-month incubation program with local incubators Technology, Research, Innovation for Business and Education (TRIBE), iCampus, and Educare. The three were successful applicants from a June 2022 call by USAID, in partnership with ATI, to identify agribusiness incubators to support and scale the growth of the sector through access to technical assistance, mentorship, and co-financing of up to US$50,000.
However, Rodriguez asserted that with the necessary assistance, the agriculture sector of Liberia can become a formidable force in driving economic growth and development across the country.
“Liberia enjoys a proven comparative and competitive advantage in the agriculture sector because it is blessed with fertile soil and abundant water resources, and this sector is the primary livelihood of over 60 percent of the population and accounts for 36 percent of the economy,” she said. “The question is how to bring much-needed productivity to this very important sector of the Liberian economy. Experience tells us that private sector investment is the key to increased agricultural productivity.”
According to her, the focus on developing Liberia’s agriculture is part of USAID’s agriculture incubator and development project, a five-year US$20 million program that works with private companies to drive greater efficiency and more commercial development through the private sector.
She reiterated that the goal of the program is to make USAID partnership more accessible to everyday Liberians in the agriculture sector.
Rodriguez closed by sharing that the ATI Activity builds on the co-investment model of past USAID agriculture projects but shifts the focus to a broader range of demand-driven crops.
She reiterated that the goal is to help bring increased productivity to Liberia’s agriculture sector, lift farmers out of poverty, ensure increased profits for agri-entrepreneurs, create jobs for youth and women, and increase tax revenues for national priorities.
“All this necessary investment also helps us address the serious issue of food insecurity in Liberia. Thirty percent of Liberian children under the age of five are stunted, as measured by their height for age, indicating chronic or recurrent undernutrition,” Rodriguez said. “This negatively impacts not only the health and well-being of Liberia’s children but also the future growth of the country itself.”
Also speaking, Agriculture Minister Jeanine M. Cooper lauded USAID-Liberia and partners for the initiative which, she said, clearly speaks to the level of work being done in the country’s agriculture sector over the years.
This, she said, is a landmark achievement for her and her team at the level of the Ministry of Aquaculture (MoA) once completed, disclosing her plan for capturing it in her turning-over note.
“As the incubatees patiently await the completion of the competition,” Cooper said, “it is important to note that by prioritizing investment and modernization in agriculture, Liberia can harness its vast natural resources, fertile lands, and favorable climate, paving the way for sustainable economic prosperity and self-sufficiency.”
Earlier, TRIBE CEO Wainwright Acquoi expressed his excitement to have had his institution be a part of a process to celebrate the innovation and hard work of Liberia’s entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector.
According to him, the last six months have been intense, from designing the incubation models to recruiting the participants and working with them — something that exposed him and his team to the deep challenges across Liberia.
He added that these and many more have only renewed their commitment to continue working in the sector so that, together, they can find ways to solve these critical issues and create an enabling environment for all Liberians.
Meanwhile, the ceremony also recognizes and certificates 10 winners of the USAID Liberia Agribusiness pitch competition-cohort one from Lot B including Montserrado, Bong, Grand Bassa, and Sinoe, among others. It is also expected to continue today with iCampus and Educare’s participants pitching for the grants.