Liberia: ‘Agriculture Will Work Under My Watch’

…. President-elect Boakai assures Liberians and discusses the way forward for agriculture with farmers

President-elect Joseph N. Boakai may not have been officially inducted into office as President of the country yet, but he has begun making serious policy statements that would help put the country on the right trajectory for economic prosperity and infrastructural development.

Boakai is already taking steps to prioritize agriculture and ensure its success in the country. During a recent visit with a group of farmers, he expressed his commitment to supporting the agricultural sector and improving the lives of farmers in the country.

The President-elect told the farmers that if agriculture has never worked before in Liberia, he will make sure that it works under his watch as President of Liberia, assuring farmers of more support for the sector to ensure that this dream becomes a reality.

“We will provide support to all farmers to help improve their lives and the economy of the country,” the President-elect told a group of farmers who paid him a courtesy visit recently. “As an independent state, Liberia should be able to feed itself.”

“We have all the potential as a country to become self-sufficient in food. If nothing is going to work‌, agriculture must work,” he assured.

Boakai, a two-term vice president who served with Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, from 2006 to 2017, sees agriculture as his niche. He was the former director of the defunct Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), now the Liberia Agriculture Commodity Regulatory Authority (LACRA). Boakai later became a former minister of agriculture.

He said that agriculture is a number one priority for his administration.

“Some US$40 million is lying down somewhere that will be used to support agriculture at the moment,” he disclosed.

“There is not going to be imported chicken coming into this country. We will find a way to preserve the food and export it. There are a lot of markets outside there. I have spoken with an investor from China to find a way to export the cassava that we grow here. We will bring a company to set up their factory here. We must have people to produce, then we have those to add value,” he said.

“The person who is going to become the next minister of agriculture must be able to empower the farmers,” Boakai declared. 

He emphasized that agriculture should be the backbone of Liberia’s economy, as the country has the potential to become self-sufficient in food production. He plans to provide support to farmers and explore opportunities for exporting agricultural products, such as cassava, to international markets.

According to him, he did not study agriculture academically, but developed his knowledge of the sector by working with farmers in the country to produce more food in the past.

“For me, I did not do agriculture at the University. The moment I graduated, I started working with LPMC where I did all I could to empower farmers. We worked with farmers in the cash crops and also supported farmers in producing and milled rice. We do have a track record for agriculture and many people know about this,” he said.

He said that working with cooperatives is the way forward to empowering rural people.

“We are going to work through cooperatives to help the farmers to make money. Even if the tomatoes are coming from outside, if the farmers are empowered to produce more here there is no need to give out licenses to people to export. We have some 40 million dollars lying somewhere for agriculture,” he said while calling for the empowerment of young people to get involved as a means of reducing unemployment.

“We can’t have such resources for our country and the youths are there looking for jobs,” he said. 

Boakai also highlighted the need to empower farmers and prioritize youth employment in the agricultural sector. He intends to establish technical colleges and promote the use of labor-saving technologies in farming.

He said that he plans to elevate the Booker Washington Institute to a technical college where the production of farming implements and the training of the young people will be carried out. 

“The young people can’t go about using cutlasses and hoes. But they must make use of technology. Agriculture is going to work and with speed. We must make sure that people are empowered to produce more food. We will use simple labor-saving machines to empower the farmers,” he added.

Boakai mentioned that he will do what he can to revive the coffee sector. 

“We used to produce more coffee to export. But we are going to make sure that we revive the coffee sector,” he said. Coffee production has been dormant since the end of the war.

The International Trade Centre is working with a local partner, Farmers Union Network of Liberia (FUN-L) with support from the European Union, to resuscitate the coffee sub sector.  

Additionally, Boakai aims to revive the coffee sector, attract funding for agriculture through concession reviews, and improve infrastructure, including roads, to facilitate agricultural development.

“We are going to review how to attract funding for agriculture. Right now, we are discussing issues around the transition. We will also be looking into ‌rice,” he stated.

He stressed the importance of strong extension services and the monitoring of funding to ensure the desired impact on agriculture.

Poor extension service for agriculture remains a serious impediment. This is partly due to low allocation of public funding for agriculture over the years to support more workers for the area of extension. 

Experts said using Information Communication Technology (ICT) could be very helpful for extension but capacity is still an issue to be addressed.

“I am happy, but I don’t know how structured the farming sector is currently. I told the Minister that there must be an improvement in extension. I don’t have to be a farmer with skills to produce. But if I am growing crops, there must be people to visit my field. There must be people to treat my animals. We are going to make sure that the young people are trained to become animal doctors and agronomists to improve extension,” he mentioned. “We have buildings in the counties but they don’t function. I am very serious about working with farmers. Therefore, we must improve the extension services.”

Boakai reiterated in his first 100-day deliverables the improvement of roads.

“We will improve the road conditions. Agriculture is tied to the health, education, and sanitation of the citizens. So that is why we want to make it the number one priority. We have to feed ourselves and the government must be able to create that enabling environment,” he said.

He called for seriousness by the farming community to move agriculture forward.

“I don’t know if you people are only talking about it, but I am very much serious about it. We must be able to feed ourselves,” he stressed.

President-elect Boakai’s commitment to agriculture signals his determination to put Liberia on the path to economic prosperity and infrastructural development.

According to him, his government is going to tackle the improvement of extension services and reduce post-harvest losses. Boakai said he noticed that money was going into agriculture but had no impact. He said that now funding for agriculture will be closely supervised and monitored to show the necessary impact.

“We are seeing a huge sum of money coming for agriculture and it is not making an impact. The money is landing in the hands of the wrong people. I am going to make sure money coming to agriculture is monitored to benefit the farmers. This is time for us to move this country forward,” he explained.

Boakai's assertion about the mismanagement of funding for agriculture might not be strange. The administration in which he served as Vice President for 12 years attracted millions of dollars for agriculture but despite such donor support, many challenges persist. The nation is still striving to increase domestic rice production as the government spends millions of dollars every year to subsidize rice imports as a way of making the nation’s staple affordable for ordinary citizens. Boakai has promised to reduce the price of rice.

“We are going to rehabilitate all our lowlands to increase rice production and have the rice

consumed here and exported,” he said.

The farmers during the meeting expressed their willingness to work with the President-elect to transform the agricultural sector and are hopeful for increased assistance and policy enhancements.