In furtherance to President George Weah’s statement that agriculture remains a key priority of his administration, the Ministries Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) and Agriculture (MOA) and have held a national dialogue in Gbarnga, Bong County the goal “Enhancing and supporting investment in rice and cocoa production,” bringing together public, private and international actors in the sector.
The were presentations made focusing on the challenges as well as opportunities for improved investment and increased productivity in the sector.
Giving an overview of the role of the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) in improving agriculture, the Director-General, Dr. Victor Sumo emphasized the need to develop laboratories for testing and setting up of nurseries.
“CARI at the moment has no functional laboratories to test and develop new varieties of seedlings,” he said.
For his part, the President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia was bold in his expressions that in order to increase food security in the Country, the government will have to be serious in deed and not on paper alone.
“The country has spent more money on agriculture but there have been very limited or no gains,” said Mohamed Kamara.
“We have borrowed so much money but there is nothing to show for it. Now it is the time for the Government of Liberia to step in and provide us the needed support to boost rice production in the country,” he added.
Mr. Kamara went on to say that it is even disheartening to note that members of the National Legislature have refused to pass the National Seed Act which has been before them for years.
“What do they want from us before passing this Act? In other countries, the Legislature will be running to pass such a good bill because it is in the interest of the Liberian people,” he added.
“It is unfortunate and shameful for Liberians to say that rice is their staple food. How can you say something is your staple food when you cannot produce it in your own country, especially so with all the vast land and good soil you have?”
The removal of tariff on the importation of rice has the propensity to affect “infant industry” in the country. Once the importation of rice is subsidized, it makes it difficult for local producers to compete in the market, especially taking into consideration their operational cost.
One participant recalled that in 1975, a former superintendent, Harry Greaves, stopped imported rice from coming into the Bong County and by extension, Lofa County. That very year marked the beginning of big rice production, the setting up of cooperatives, kuu and other agriculture groups in those two counties. “Once there is a mandate and support, Liberians will grow more rice than they can consume,” said the participant.
The cocoa sector has also witnessed its shared of underproduction due to the civil war. Revitalizing the sector will require more than just support to smallholder farmers which has been the focus of international organizations.
Mr. Suleiman Kamara, President of Vademco, a cocoa-producing company, explained that if “10% of the amount spent by international partners were given to local farmers, a lot will be achieved. International NGOs are all over the country duplicating responsibilities without any coordination, spending more money on policies than providing small equipment to local farmers.”
“They ride big cars in the city and refuse to even provide motorbikes to their sub-offices. How can you have four international organizations doing the same thing without coordinating in one small county?” Kamara asked.
The Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Authority noted that the LPMC model which was similar to that of the Ghana Cocoa Board is the best approach that will provide farmers value for the crops.
In closing remarks, Deputy Minister for Economic Management at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Augustus Flomo said that the President’s commitment towards a heavy lifting in the agriculture sector cannot be over-emphasized.
He noted that the Government of Liberia remains fully committed to supporting all players in the agriculture sector for sustained economic growth.
Findings from the one-day national dialogue will serve as a guiding tool for hosting the National Agriculture Fair in February this year.
The meeting also brought together representatives from the International Financial Corporation, GROW-Liberia, IFAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations amongst others.