President George M. Weah in his second annual message delivered to the 54th Legislature on Monday, January 28, 2019, described agriculture as critical to the transformation of the country and as such he promised his government’s commitment to put more money into agriculture in order to revive the sector.
According to the President, because the sector accounts for more than 70 percent of household earnings, it is important to note that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) can only be sustainably achieved through agriculture.
The 14 year civil war in Liberia completely destroyed the agricultural sector, leaving it with infrastructural deficits and the disruption of food production. Since the end of the civil crisis government and partners have made some significant efforts to improve the sector in order to reduce poverty in the lives of poor farmers and to stimulate economic growth.
Hence, this agriculture sector review 2019, highlights some interventions made by the government and partners as reported in the Daily Observer newspapers. It is a collection of data on allotment in the national budget for agriculture, introduction of policies and an attempt to improve agriculture value chains, such as rice, vegetable, cassava, cocoa and coffee, as well as to encourage youths to take advantage of agriculture for employment.
Budget for Agriculture
Although, the President has expressed commitment to prioritize agriculture during the year under review, it was discovered that the allotment made in the 2019/2020 National Budget for agriculture was far less than that of previous year. An amount of US$6,208,754 was allotted in the budget for agriculture which is 1.16 percent of the total budget.
On the other hand, the Government has attracted additional funding from the World Bank and the African Development Bank as loans to support agriculture. However, stakeholders in the sector on the contrary have said that the country cannot continue to depend on external sources to support agriculture.
They want the government to ensure that the budget for agriculture be in line with “Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security”, which calls for 10% to be set aside annually for agriculture by every African government.
Mariatou Njie, Country Representative of FAO told stakeholders at the World Food Day Program that there is need for the Government to adhere to “Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security” to accelerate growth in the sector.
Meanwhile, President Weah has disclosed that the World Bank has expressed interest to further support agriculture.
The President, in fulfillment to his promise to prioritize agriculture, passed several laws, including the Act to Amend the Executive Law of Liberia to create a National Food and Feed Quality and Safety; the Financing Agreement Tree Crops Extension Project II (TCEP II) between Liberia and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the Act to Establish the Liberia Fertilizer Regulatory Division and an Act to Establish Liberia Plant Pesticides Regulatory Services Bureau.
The President also issued Executive Order number 97, spending tariff on all agriculture produce and equipment for a period of one year.
Rebecca Kalayi, President of the National Agro-inputs Dealer Association of Liberia (NAIDAL) commended the President for the duty waver policy and expressed the hope that it would benefit the country. She however, called on the government to strictly monitor the implementation of the policy.
Rice Value Chain
Rice is the staple food of Liberia but the country is yet to increase the production of rice to meet domestic consumption in order to reduce importation. Statistics still show that Liberia spent US$200 million to import rice annually. Moreover, the country’s rice sub-sector still faces many challenges.
Dr. Mongana Flomo, former Minister of Agriculture once told stakeholders that Liberia was expected to reduce rice imports by 7% last year through communal farming system. The plan by the former minister did not seem to materialize as he was relieved of his post and nothing is being reported about the outcomes on communal farming.
Partners and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) assisted farmers in rice producing counties to scale up the level of production but challenges such as limited extension service, market constraint, and the provision of improved seed still remained as impediment.
Mohammed Kamara, President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia stressed the need for the government to subsidize the rice sector. He said that about US$ 8 million, which is currently used by government annually to subsidize rice import, could be used to support local production.
Vegetable Value Chain
Vegetables are profitable crops in Liberia but the majority of them are still being imported from neighboring countries. This is partly due to the lack of technologies for farmers to produce vegetables throughout the year.
To help scale up vegetable production, the FAO in 2019 disclosed plans to carry out an integrated farming project for vegetable and poultry farmers.
Also, the Government and the United Nations in June 27, 2019, launched a peace-building fund project in the country, aimed at enhancing incomes of vegetable farmers in Bong, and Lofa counties.
Cassava Value Chain
Cassava is the second most important staple for Liberians and, if supported by government, can help to eliminate hunger. But many cassava farmers lack the improved skills and technologies to enhance production.
The National Cassava Sector Coordinating Committee, which has the responsibility to coordinate the activities of cassava producers, is faced with financial constraint to support it members.
Joseph Morris, head of the cassava sector, told stakeholders at one of their meetings that plans are underway by his organization to attract funding from donors to support cassava farmers.
Cocoa and Coffee Value Chain
The introduction of the cocoa and coffee regulations by the Liberia Agriculture Commodity Regulatory Authority (LACRA) was one of the major issues that unfolded in the Cocoa and Coffee Sector. The policies brought about controversy among stakeholders within the sector, calling on LACRA to revise the regulations in the interest of the actors, mainly local exporters.
With consultation with development partners and cocoa stakeholders in December 2019, LACRA changed some provisions of the policies which were subsequently adopted to move the sector forward.
The cocoa and coffee sector is still faced with many challenges. NGOs such as Solidaridad Liberia are working with the government through LACRA to train and provide inputs to several smallholder cocoa and coffee farmers.
Youth involvement in Agriculture
The drive to sustain peace by creating employment for youth is critical for the development of the country. The Government and the United Nations launched a Peace Building Project to keep young people focused through agriculture for income generation.
As the Government considers diversifying the economy through agriculture, more investment is needed to improve the various agriculture value chains and to make young people to find agriculture as a place for employment to promote the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD). Our international partners must be encouraged to intensify their supports toward smallholder farmers to enable them produce more.