He urges GOL to subsidize farmers to make Liberia food self-sufficient
A profile of Dr. Joseph Lavela Saysay
(By Jonathan Paye-Layleh, BWI Alumni Journalist)
During a recent gathering of the BWI alumni on their campus in Kakata, the graduates were asked to give one of their own a standing ovation. Then I saw a very simple-looking young man marching on to the podium. I first thought he was going to introduce the personality for whom we all were standing. But as it turned out, the young man was indeed the guest of honor.
Dr. Joseph Lavela Saysay is just 33 and probably Liberia’s latest PhD. But he got his inspiration from somewhere to climb successfully his academic ladder.
In 2005 young Saysay obtained a diploma in General Agriculture from the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), and was the valedictorian of his class.
The way Dr. Saysay has excelled academically is a clear example of what determination does against all odds. And his days on BWI keep resonating.
“I was focused and took my lessons seriously,” Dr. Saysay told me about his days at BWI. “I spent most of my time in the library and other facilities at BWI studying my lessons. I had a daily schedule about my stay. I had at least three hours every day after school to study”
He was born in Harbel, Firestone unto a union of a now retired rubber tapper and a local business woman. But many people encouraged and inspired him, including his BWI agriculture teacher for four years, James Walker, who now sits as the Institute’s Industrial Coordinator. Dr. Moses M. Zinnah, former agriculture minister is Dr. Saysay’s role model.
Life on BWI campus means different things to different students; some students take the freedom of being away from parents to be free to fool around and they end up prolonging their stay. Young Saysay tried to make a difference.
“I followed friends who motivated and helped me remain good. As a result, I was an icon of academic excellence at BWI to the extent I was nicknamed “agric god.” At the end of my academic journey at BWI, I became the best student in my class, with a grade point average of 93.4 percent,” he said.
After BWI, he entered Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County, and graduated with honor (Magna Cum Laude) to obtain his first college degree before matriculating to Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, China in 2010. He graduated from the university in 2013. The young Liberian obtained his PhD in Agricultural Economics from Sokione University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, in 2016.
He also studied at the Texas Tech University in the USA in 2017. His rise to prominence has done nothing to take his mind from the technical high school that put him on the path of success. And he mentions this frequently even when talking about his post-high school achievements.
“BWI is home for my career development. This is where I got the fundamental theory and practice of my career,” Dr. Saysay says. He feels his achievement “serves as an opportunity for motivation and inspiration for the youth. I feel that my achievement is a good example of generational change.”
Dr. Saysay has a common touch and does not look down upon people in his age group who have not had an opportunity to move on. “I believe that there are lots of young people in Liberia who can do better than I,” he told me passionately.
“My advice for young Liberians is that in order to succeed in life, you have to set your goals high, start working from the outset with complete dedication and commitment, and take charge to achieve what you set out to do,” he said. In a society where national career counseling program is almost non-existent, Dr. Saysay encourages young Liberians to persevere, and “your goals should be based on values.
For example, if you declare excellence as your life goal, then every area of your life will be an opportunity for excellence to show up.” He said once one sets excellence as a goal and works toward meeting it, “your academic results would be excellent, your professional life would be excellent, your relationships would be excellent, the way in which you speak, your behavior and your appearance would be excellent.”
Asked about the future he thinks of Liberia in terms of development, Dr. Saysay explained that the current administration has created an opportunity for the meaningful participation of young people in leadership positions. “With the huge youth population, Liberians must forge an inclusive process for sustainable development that will secure the hard-won peace and allow dynamic young people to fulfill their dreams.”
Dr. Saysay is married and currently he’s the Officer-in-Charge/Senior Agricultural Economist, Department of Planning and Development, at the Ministry of Agriculture. His work focuses on designing agricultural policies and a wide range of programmatic issues that affect crop and livestock production and marketing, value chain analysis, evaluation and development research.
He is also a lecturer in the College of Agriculture at the Stella Maris Polytechnic. “I regard agriculture as one of the main investment bases for the economy that offers many opportunities for empowerment,” he said. Dr. Saysay vowed to continue to contribute to designing and implementing programs consistent with regional and international commitments that focus on value chain development approach, transforming subsistence mind-set of farmers into meaningful and sustainable livelihood in agribusiness.
This, he said, can be achieved by promoting self-sustaining market systems that link farmers all the way to the final consumers. “This will create economic benefit for Liberia in terms of economic growth, employment creation, attainment of food security, poverty alleviation, and overall social cohesion.”
Liberia is home to more than 40 percent of the rain-forest left in the whole of West Africa, but the country has miserably failed to feed itself. Dr. Saysay has a recommendation to tackle this national challenge.
“In order for us to become self-sufficient, there should be subsidies for farmers and agripreneurs. Farm-to-market roads and agro-processing facilities should be built in strategic locations with great production potentials in specific value chain around which farmers can be contracted and provided farming inputs, technologies and extension services to support these facilities, he suggested.
Dr. Saysay loves to see young people develop their potential and encourages his three siblings who are all students at the university and “I have motivated them along with many other young people to strive for more.”