Agriculture Minister Sets Agribusiness, Youth Empowerment, Loans as Priorities

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Agriculture Minister Jeanine Milly Cooper.

Clarifies issue relating to import tariff on rice

The newly confirmed minister of Agriculture, Jeanine Cooper, has disclosed the development of agribusiness, encouraging more youths for agriculture activities and the provision of loans for smallholder farmers to expand production among other things as priorities for her administration within the next few months.

She said prioritizing these areas will help change the narratives and perceptions about agriculture in the country.

“As I mentioned during my confirmation that agriculture in Liberia is still being practiced at subsistence level with limited success stories, we intend to work in changing such narratives and perceptions. This means that we must attract more youths in the sector and empower smallholder farmers, mainly cooperatives, to produce more so that they can see agriculture as a business to improve their incomes,” she said.

She made the disclosure to the Daily Observer recently in Monrovia in an exclusive interview.

Madam Cooper was nominated by President George Weah in January 2020, after series of vetting process to replace former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Mogana Flomo, who was relieved of his post in June 2019. She was subsequently confirmed by the Senate on February 5, 2020, during a hearing session.

Prior to her appointment, she served as founder and chief executive officer of Fabrar Liberia, the country’s largest rice processing company, based in Kakata, Margibi County.

Her company Fabrar is involved in purchasing paddy rice from farmers, processing it for both the domestic and export markets.

Agribusiness Development

Many Liberian farmers still produce crops at low scale due to the lack of capacity. Minister Cooper believes that, in order for farmers to expand the level of production for commercial purpose, they must be subsidized to enable them cultivate large areas of land.

“We shall work with partners and the Government in the next few months to subsidize farmers, mainly cooperatives, to make agriculture a business. The commercial possibilities in which agriculture can drive development is high on my agenda, especially where we are in the planting season for rice.

She also stated that she is engaging other partners to assist with machineries to alleviate the constraint of labor in the rice sector.

“We want to help our farmers, mainly cooperatives, with land-clearing using machines. The availability of improved seed is also our major concern to get farmers plant on time,” she said.

Youth Empowerment in Agriculture

Minister Cooper stressed the need to revamp programs that are intended to build the skills of young people in the agriculture sector.

“We are working with our international partners and other ministries and agencies to revamp training centers for youth involvement in farming. This will require that we provide the necessary funding to access equipment to make agriculture attractive for the youths,” she said.

She said that when the youths are empowered in agriculture it will reduce the level of unemployment facing the country’s young people.

Liberia has had a lot of youth programs over the years, but these have lacked sustainability. Agricultural training facilities, such as the Tumutu Agricultural Program in Bong County, the Clay Agriculture Training Center in Bomi and Songai Agriculture Training Center in Montserrado, are not functional due to lack of funding, something the new minister might think to revamp. Other institutions like the Booker Washington Institute, Grand Bassa Community College, Nimba Community College and the Lofa Community College, once initiated as Centers of Excellence in Agriculture by the USAID Food and Enterprise Development Program (FED), which phased out in 2016, could also be strengthened under Minister Cooper’s administration, with support from partners.

Agricultural Lending

Most commercial banks in Liberia are not willing to promote credits for smallholder farmers due to risks involved. But the new Agriculture Minister stated that she is engaging the commercial banks in the country to see reason to provide loans for farmers in all areas of agriculture.

“Within the next few months, we will be working with the banks to provide some soft and long term loans for our farmers across the value chains at reasonable interest rates,” she said.

According to her, farmers, especially those engaged in rice production, will need loans to enable them expand production.

“We have been speaking with partners to open up the line of credit at commercial banks for agricultural loans — soft and longer terms — that partners can underwrite some of the risks and with low interest that farmers can be able to pay. We are hoping to do this with the commercial banks in the next few days to set up a window as soon as possible,” Minister Cooper explained.

“It is mainly cooperatives that will need such assistance to help them move forward. This is a huge task but we hope that in the next six months we can find tangible results of the interventions,” she added.

Export Opportunities

Madam Cooper further stated that she is considering seriously the improvement of the National Standards Laboratory and other food testing centers to provide opportunity for Liberian farmers to improve income generation through exports. However, she stressed the need for the Private sector to drive the initiative.

“It is important for the Private Sector to run the laboratory and the Government serve as the regulatory body. This is because where there is no funding, such program spearheaded by the Government may soon collapse, leaving our farmers deprived,” she asserted.

According to her, when the Standards Lab is fully equipped, farmers will have better opportunities in that, they can improve their incomes from the sale of produce through exports.

“This is what we are wishing to realize, especially those in the rice sector. With the opportunity for research and testing of farm produce, lives will immensely improve in the farming sector,” she said.

The Suspension of Import Tariff on Rice

Meanwhile, Minister Cooper has clarified that Executive Order 98, which suspends tariff on rice, will in no wise affect rice production, as being speculated by some local processors.

President George Weah recently suspended tariff on rice so as to stabilize the price of rice on the local markets.

But some processors have been complaining to the Daily Observer that the move by the President will affect local production.

However, Minister Cooper said the country’s rice sector lacks the capacity to supply the market and compete with rice importers. According to her, there is a need for rice producers and processors to obtain subsidies from the Government to expand their level of cultivation. This, she believes, will help reduce pave the way for the reduction of rice imports.

“We want the Government to provide the needed support for rice farmers and processors so that we can start to concentrate on Government’s procurement of rice for employees, hospitals and institutions,” she said.

She said such strategy, when enhanced, will help the country not to entirely rely on rice import because farmers can have some level of capacity to supply the market.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Now, it seems that we have an agriculture minister who knows what to do in order to positively revolutionize agriculture in Liberia! Congratulations president Weah for making such a wise and rational choice!! With cooperation from international partners, local banks, and other institutions, under the dynamic leadership of minister Jeanine Cooper, Liberia will find itself producing more than enough rice for local consumption and export. Minister Cooper, I wish you success in all of your efforts to make Liberia self sufficient in agricultural , especially rice, production!! Konia T. Kollehlon

  2. Wow!
    It seems we’re about to start eating some “country rice” soon…
    Congratulations Madam Minister, may bless your workings as envisioned…
    And thank you, Mr. President for her appointment.

  3. Good to know I await to see more improvements in the agriculture area of the government of Liberia , I am a small farm owner and hope to be in power with out who know you thing , cause this too is Liberia talk it good but at the end nothing 🤔🤔🤔👈🏿.

  4. My question to the agriculture minister is, what is her plan for LPMC- LIBERIA PRODUCE MARKETING COOPERATION as a government agency that was involved in buying farmers produce?
    Q2, what will be her role in her own agricuture company now that she is agriculture minister? I want you to please ask her these important questions. Thanks.

  5. Dear Minister Copper,

    Once again, congratulations for your brilliant confirmation hearing. I take my hat off to you for your education credential, professional experience and vision for our country.

    You have indeed hit the nail on the head. You know what it takes to empower our impoverished population and transform our subsistence farming to professional and gainful sustainable economic pillar of development.

    My plea to you Madam Minister, be TACTFUL in your dealings with the CDC or the Hebrew Boys to obtain results for Liberia.
    Tactfully make the president to downplay his Executive Order #98. As you rightly said, it can do no good but more harm even to the government. He thinks by so doing he would be alleviating some hurdles. “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not……….”
    Instead, continually whisper in their (CDC or the Hebrew Boy) ears to think about subsidies. Show them the American or Chinese or European example.
    Without let up, encourage them to subsidize farming machinery, seeds and inputs for at least 10 years. The economic spin-offs from such decision will be measurable in the short, medium and long-term for Liberia.

    Encourage our farmers to specialize in specific crops and come together in cooperatives to harmonize produce price. In so doing, they will get substantial financing from banks to embark on large-scale commercial farming to create wealth. I would love to see a cooperative obtain the required logistics from production to transportation phases to the consumer on the local or international market.

    Ultimately, encourage research in a specialized institution of learning. Don’t let go of CARI. Gather the best of Liberian intellectuals in the domain at this institution to facilitate agriculture for our country women and men.
    Madam, in the Ivory Coast, when a person from any educational background whatsoever, wants to go back to the soil to plant tomato, for example, all he needs to do is go to an institution called CNRA where he will be given the technical data sheet and financial projection for a parcel of 1 or 2 or 3 acres. There is no guessing or trial and error. Even the right type of soil will be provided in such studies available nearly free of charge. Let’s do likewise in Liberia. CARI can better do this job, empower it. Let’s not disperse our limited resources and human capital.

    Madam, you know better than I do in the sector. I know there will be constraints, but my advice is to remain tactful in your dealings with our new administration.

    In any case, Cummings and ‘apologists’ may give you the opportunity again if you are hampered in anyway in your patriotic endeavors.

    Good Luck Madam!

  6. I trust your ability Hon. Minister, Congratulations in advance. The best way forward is the path you are taking. Always be strong in your operation in order to bringing change at live, strength is needed in decision making and everything.
    We’re proud having you as Agriculture Minister. Liberia will RISE!!

  7. I swear to God, it will NOT work. I come from the farm and I know what I am saying.
    Agriculture is (Science and Engineering). Loans can not solve or replace it. We have to produce local tools and machines. You do not have the money to buy expensive agricultural tools.
    Foya, Lofa county agricultural project, where is it?
    Nobody wants to do human intensive labor that will almost not produce surplus for sale. It will not work. You may have the money, loans, etc but the Know-How, equipments are not there?

    Only the best of our educated with the needed Know-Hows can set up liberia to move forward. Liberia is NOT setup.

    God bless.

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