Robert Fagans, Deputy Agriculture Minister for Planning, Research and Development has indicated that Executive Order #97 that lifts tariff on all agricultural produce will immensely benefit many smallholder farmers across Liberia.
President George M. Weah, in fulfillment of his promise for agricultural transformation last year, issued Executive Order #97, suspending tariffs on all agricultural produce. Inconsistent with the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) to boost the agricultural sector in October of this year the EO was extended by the President.
According to Fagans, the duty-free policy (Executive Order #97) is creating an enabling environment for smallholder farmers to access inputs at a reasonable and affordable cost to enable them improve farm productivity.
Fagans said due to issuance of the duty-free last year, the privilege was given to importers to get agriculture inputs and tools and equipment into the country, which landed in the hands of smallholder farmers and owners of microenterprises at a reasonable cost.
“The duty-free shows that a lot of people were interested in bringing inputs into the country. Our production crops records show that about five million seeds of rice and cocoa crop varieties were brought into this country,” he said.
According to him, with the extension of the Executive Order, there will be many agricultural businesses involved in the importation of various inputs, something he has described as the President’s commitment to make agriculture a priority in order to move the economy forward.
“The President attached seriousness to agriculture. This why he has deemed it necessary to renew the EO to provide the enabling environment, which has given some leverage for agricultural businesses to make farming materials more accessible,” he said.
Fagans however said that though the EO was making impact, there are some business people who want to take advantage of the duty-free to exploit the market, something he said that this time the Ministry, in collaboration with partners, is putting in some stringent measures to address.
“This time we shall ensure listing of importers of agricultural equipment and supplies businesses so as not to allow businesses without any agriculture business records to dominate the sector,” he explained.
The Deputy Agriculture Minister said that plans are underway to hold a technical working meeting to develop stringent guidelines for those who are going to apply for the duty-free privilege.
“To bring in equipment on the pretense that you’re an agriculture enterprise and later want to bring about prices increase is unacceptable. So the technical session that we are about to convene will ensure a standard and system that we will derive to determine who benefits from the EO,” he explained.
“We want to develop a way forward to see that no one uses the EO to make profits at the detriment of the farmers. However, we are not saying they cannot make profits, but we need to have a check and balance,” he added.
Minister Fagans strongly stressed the need for the Government to build the capacity of local agro-inputs dealers so that the EO can have a greater impact on the lives of smallholder farmers.
“Building the capacity of the agro-dealers is essential to making inputs more assessable to the farmers,” he emphasized.
Fagans maintained that the role of his ministry in collaboration with partners is crucial to ensuring that all key players that will be affected by the duty-free do the right things.
According to him, under this administration, the ministry is taking a different approach to ensure agricultural transformation within the next 3 years.
“The Government is engaging partners to attract funding for the sector through loans and grants so as to increase the production of crops, especially our staple, rice,” he mentioned.
“We cannot continue to provide free inputs to farmers as it will not make them independent. We intend to work with processors and other business entrepreneurs who shall assist farmers with necessary services. This strategy will enable farmers to see farming from a business perspectives,” he mentioned.
Commenting on the level of funding being allotted in the national budget every year for agriculture, the Minister acknowledged that there is low budgetary allocation for the ministry, however the Government was making frantic efforts to mobilize resources from external sources.
He said that Liberia was doing well to accelerate agricultural growth with support from Government partners.
“Today, the growth in the sector has improved over the years from 0.9 to 3 percent though impacted by the Ebola and COVID-19,” he said.