AfricaRice urges more investment; describes sector as a catalyst for a successful Pro-Poor Agenda
The country director of AfricaRice has called for more investments and attention for Liberia’s agriculture sector as it has the potential to absorb many, if not all, of the problems that Liberia is currently faced with, most especially its huge economic challenges.
Dr. Innousa Akintayo, who is also a veteran agriculturist and food security expert on the African continent, said the agriculture sector does not only have the latent possibilities to address the enormous economic problems being experienced by Liberians, it would also serve as a driver of employment, mainly among the large vulnerable youth population.
In his maiden state of the nation address at the national legislature last month, President George Weah told the nation that the state of the economy that his administration inherited leaves much to be desired.
“Our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free-fall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high, and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low,” Weah noted.
Speaking at a Smallholder Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Commercialization (SAPEC) project workshop for stakeholders in Gbarnga, Bong County, Dr. Akintayo noted that all of the precarious conditions that the President enumerated can be fixed if sincere efforts are made in the agriculture sector.
He said the initial efforts of this ambitious goal should be directed first to making Liberia food secure. “It is, however, no secret to any of you that Liberia continues to depend on the importation of the nation’s staple food to feed the population,” he added.
In fact, 200 million dollars are spent every year to import rice. “This is unacceptable for a country that is blessed with all the requirements to abundantly produce rice and even export rice,” Dr. Akintayo noted.
“The soil is fertile, there is adequate rainfall, big rivers, good sunshine, and improved technologies are available to make Liberia a hub of major agricultural produces.”
In his inaugural address, President Weah indicated his commitment to tackle the high unemployment rate among young people in the country. This corroborates with SAPEC’s agenda and AfricaRice’s strategy and mandate to create jobs and promote employment opportunities to buttress Weah’s commitment.
The President noted that in order to overcome constraints and reverse the worsening trend of events in the country, he will work with partners to find solutions to these obstacles to our progress and development.
He pledged to introduce new legislation and policies which will be intended to achieve sustainable economic growth, develop and expand agriculture, and address our very large infrastructure deficit, with particular emphasis on road construction and the provision of affordable and adequate electricity, which is also essential to the sector for value addition and produce preservation.
Dr. Akintayo said AfricaRice has demonstrated that there are huge opportunities for job creation in the agriculture sector, if agriculture is made an exciting business, especially for youth.
He said, “Agriculture and agribusiness offer the highest job opportunities in the world. We need to actualize this potential to take our young people from the streets and also stop the devastating migration.”
As far as technologies are concerned, AfricaRice is the bank of improved rice technologies in Africa. Some of these technologies are already in place through SAPEC and previous projects implemented by AfricaRice. However, the role of SAPEC is to extend these technologies to end users along the rice value chain.
Liberia in 2015 received a grant of US$46.5 million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and a loan of US$4 million from the African Development Fund (ADF) to finance the SAPEC project to reduce rural poverty and household food insecurity.
Its objective is to increase, on a sustainable basis, the income of smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs, particularly women, youth and the physically-challenged.
The AfricaRice boss noted that AfricaRice is ever ready to work with the government in addressing food security, manpower development and employment opportunities for youth. He described SAPEC as a big hope for Liberia. “We are all actors; either as beneficiaries or implementing bodies. Let us work together to make it one of the most successful projects ever implemented in the country,” he implored.
Some areas of job creation for youth in agribusiness, he said, include extension service, land preparation and swamp development, seed production and sowing. Others include harvesting and threshing, parboiling and milling, repair and servicing of agriculture equipment and value addition to rice by-products.
The SAPEC project coordinator, William Kawalawu, said though he is yet to understand President Weah’s policy statement to pursue a pro-poor governance agenda or what it constitutes, “what I do know is that agriculture is the crux or a major component of that agenda,” adding that his conviction is precipitated by the high concentration of a very large segment of the population in the agriculture sector. “So we have to do everything possible to promote this worthy cause. This is why SAPEC is all about,” he said.
The project coordinator said the project covers 12 of the 15 counties; however, there are some activities of the project that cover the country. The project is being implemented through four components: Sustainable Crop Production Intensification; Value Addition and Marketing; Capacity Building and Institutional Strengthening; and Project Management.
Meanwhile, AfricaRice is playing an advisory and implementation service role under the SAPEC project. The training is meant to arm county agriculture coordinators and other technicians with the requisite information regarding the sector.