-VP Boakai asserts
Former Vice President, Joseph N. Boakai has said prior to the civil unrest in the country, Liberia performed well in the agriculture sector with the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) generating US$50 million annually through the export of cocoa and coffee.
Boakai made the disclosure recently in Gbarnga, Bong County at a program organized by USAID in collaboration with the Liberia Media Budget Monitoring for Accountability in partnership with Liberia Media for Democratic Initiatives (LMDI), under the theme, “Engaging Citizens on National Budget for Accountable Development.”
As a farmer, Boakai said the LPMC initiated many agricultural programs that helped farmers to generate money and send their children to school.
Boakai said whether there is a ministry of agriculture or not, the farmers will still grow food to eat. He further argued that the current allotment to the agriculture sector or the Ministry of Agriculture was inadequate. “We don’t have a specialized bank in Liberia.”
“Farmers do not really need the Ministry of Agriculture. If there is a Ministry of Agriculture, it is for policies, pathology, and extension,” he said.
He said, “Policies and technologies will help the farmers. You must have technology and policy that will reach the farmers, but if you don’t then you are in trouble.”
“We had research in rubber, oil palm; but we lost all because we don’t keep anything. Again, we need to empower farmers in order to address the food insecurity,” Boakai who headed the LPMC prior to the war,” he said.
Boakai said the competitive advantage is important in agriculture, which calls for empowering people to produce what they can and not forcing people who are mostly knowledgeable of producing rice to produce cassava.
“We exported these things in the absence of big farms. We have the land, soil and the people. Liberian people are very much interested in farming, but our problem is that we have too many excuses,” Boakai said.
“Liberia remains a dependence-driven country, which means a beggar country. Today, we want to beg for everything that we need as a country and people. We think that others have everything. The churches and mosques are also involved in begging today,” VP Boakai said.
He said God has given Liberia what it needs to develop but remains a beggar country with the mind that someone else has everything.
“We just need to empower the people. Empower the people in Lofa to produce rice and empower the people in the southeast to produce fish, but we believe that everyone must make rice farm,” Boakai told the audience.
According to him, Liberia will not be successful in agriculture in the absence of good roads. “We will not have good agriculture without quality seeds given the farmers. The ministry also needs a hotline, because the farmers do not have all the knowledge” he said.
Franklin Cassell, a professor at the Bong County Technical College, who spoke on the topic, “Liberia’s Current budget”, said the 2018-2019 draft budget, particularly for the agriculture sector is inadequate considering the number of challenges and constraints within the agriculture sector.
According to him, some challenges and constraints faced by smallholder farmers include lack of technical knowledge and the inability of improved pricing for rubber, cocoa, and coffee.
Since this is a Pro-Poor government, Prof. Cassell said, there is a need to raise the level of the subsistence farmers to ensure that they engage in commercial farming.
“Farmers need to sell their crops and make some money for themselves. Again, we do not have financial institutions that are prepared to give small farmers loans that are reasonable, that will help them to grow and pay back in a reasonable time,” Prof. Cassell said.
Also hampering farmers, he said, are poor harvests, bad road conditions and lack of storage capacity, thereby increasing the post-harvest losses.
Prof. Cassell calls for providing the enabling environment for private companies to invest in the importation and distribution of agricultural inputs including tools, among others.
The one-day event brought together over 200 participants, including high school students, students from Bong County Technical College and government partners.