On Monday 17 December, the World Bank Group and the UK Embassy, Monrovia co-sponsored a forum on Promoting Entrepreneurship and Competitive SME Agribusinesses in Liberia. The objectives were to validate the findings of a scoping assessment on SME agribusinesses, which was conducted this past November; and to continue engagement with the private sector on solutions for strengthening competitive entrepreneurship in agriculture, some of which would be addressed by the Bank-supported “Smallholder agriculture Transformation and Agribusiness Revitalization Project” (STAR-P), expected to become effective early next year. The forum was attended by over 50 participants representing private sector stakeholders along various commodity value chains; financial institutions, development partners, and government agencies.
The assessment report underscored the need for investment- and market-readiness support to firms for there to be an impact on the country’s agriculture commercialization agenda. The Government of Liberia, represented by the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Mogana Flomo; the Deputy Minister for Economic Management, of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Hon. Augustus Flomo; and the Director of Access to Finance in the Small Business Administration of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Edward Belleh; assured private sector stakeholders of its commitment to the agriculture sector and highlighted that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development identified agriculture as being key to diversifying the economy, increasing exports, and reducing Liberia’s vulnerability to high food imports and volatile commodity prices.
The Minister of Agriculture listed rice, horticulture, oil palm, cassava, rubber, and cocoa among the priority crops for the country and stressed the need for increased public and private sector investment for promoting processing activities and generating employment. The Deputy Minister acknowledged the need for investments and indicated that public allocations to the sector will be increased in the next budget cycle. He also informed that the Administration has signed a commitment to allocate US$ 2 Million to support out-grower schemes under an IDH trade initiative, which is also expected to be supported by the STAR-P. The UK Ambassador, H.E. David Belgrove, underscored the need for the Administration to create the enabling environment to attract investments from the private sector including foreign direct investments. Liberia ranks low in both the Cost of Doing business and Enabling the Business of Agriculture indicators, as assessed by the World Bank.
Given the multi-faceted challenges facing the sector, many of which reaches beyond the agriculture sector, the Bank’s Country Manager, Ms. Larisa Leshchenko, emphasized the need for improved infrastructure, including road and energy, and a more efficient financial and banking sector. While private sector participants felt that STAR-P is a welcomed intervention to address some of these issues, they expressed skepticism regarding the Government’s commitment to promoting commercial agriculture; concern regarding the length of time development project takes to be implemented; and the multiple and similar initiatives supported by development partners. The Bank’s Senior Agricultural Specialist, Ms. Jeanette Sutherland, reassured stakeholders of the Bank’s commitment to delivering the project in a timely manner and highlighted that one of the distinctive features of STAR-P’s design was the coordination and collaboration with other development projects, including those supported by USAID. She also assured the entrepreneurs in the audience that every effort would be made to ensure those who were investment-ready would receive early support once the project becomes effective.