By Francis W. Nyepon
The most vital and clear-cut pathway to propelling transformative social change and inclusive growth in Liberia is through youth development and sustainable agriculture. It is no secret that agriculture is the backbone of our economy with over 80 percent of our people living in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day, and relying primarily on small-scale subsistence farming as their primary source of income, food, nutrition and survival. Our country ranks 12th from bottom of the United Nation’s Human Development Index with 75 percent of them under 36 years of age, and 44 percent of that percentage under 16 years of age, with the majority uneducated, unskilled, jobless and idle.
Over the past 12 years, transformative social change in various sectors has been stalled due to the lack of vision, innovation, support, training, performance, investment, inequalities, and gender bias, even with a female president leading and navigating the ship of state. Sustainable agriculture, for instance, as the backbone of our economy and major component of our food security, was left unattended without promulgating cutting-edge policies and programs to build critical capacities to enhance social change. As a result, the size of farmlands were allowed to shrink, along with severe inadequacies in water resource management, upgrading of seed varieties and distribution to boost food production, employment and training. Instead, appalling policies were implemented, which did nothing more than to compromise the growth of the sector along with outrageous concession agreements that will seriously injure our country in a few short years to come.
Conversely, with such serious challenges facing Liberia, the majority of our youth, the greatest segment of our population, are stuck at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder twisting in an endless cycle of abject poverty without a strategic pathway to contribute or participate in our country’s development agenda. Many are instead marginalized, neglected and excluded from mainstream society without constructively and strategically being engaged in contributing to the sustainable growth and development of our country. Since the end of the civil war in 2003, the majority of Liberia’s youth have been left behind in frustration, restlessness, impatience and agony due to the lack of productive education, skills-training, employment and a clear pathway to livelihood improvement.
Today, more than ever, Liberia desperately need a game-changing strategy to fundamentally root transformative social change to spur inclusive growth. The strength, vigor and dynamism of all our young people needs to be groomed and harnessed through sustainable agriculture, the service industry and the trades. Our youth are a sleeping giant and they must be made the principle driving force to propel transformative social change in every community and municipality in our country. If transformative social change is to take place in Liberia, than the culture of impunity that has historically hamstrung and restrained our governance structures and socioeconomic relationships must be urgently brought to an end.
Since our country’s founding, impunity has been used to institutionalize inequality, injustice, privilege and poverty. It has separated, alienated and set most of our people apart socially, economically, politically and geographically by creating class structures that are destructive and urgently needs to be torn down. Fundamentally, when impunity is paired with bad governance, corruption, dishonesty and deal making, it prevents our leaders from formulating clear-cut policies and pathways for inclusive growth and delivery of critical services such as, education, healthcare, human resource development, employment, nutrition, water, sanitation, and electricity among others. Every Liberian knows all too well that as a collective, these social ills limit social mobility, sustainable development, food security, efficient service delivery, youth development and poverty eradication. According to the World Bank, these are the primary reasons for our country’s underdevelopment, even with its vast wealth and abundant natural resources.
It is this author’s view that the major contributing factor to Liberia’s underdevelopment is the existence of two exclusively separate and unequal societies that exist in Liberia. One of these societies is prosperous and well-off, while the other, illiterate, poorly educated, unskilled, unemployed and hopelessly poverty stricken without straightforward opportunities for upward social mobility. Each of these societies remains so culturally different from one another that they project diametrically different and opposing views about prosperity, social change, growth, and development.
Since the end of the civil war in 2003, Liberia’s extractive industry has been the principal source of growth, however, as a collective, the industry’s lofty ventures and enormous profits yield very little, if any, benefit for our people; thereby, forcing the vast majority of our people to continue to languish at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in excruciating agony, misery, disappointment, resentment and pain. However, Liberia has an extremely impressive future ahead of it. The country is in a unique position to chart a new destiny towards a better and brighter future. But, innovative public policy will have to be promulgated to ignite transformative social change. Such innovative policy initiatives will have to be put front-and-center in our governance structures by a visionary leader to create a trajectory for change through youth development, sustainable agriculture, food production, service delivery, increased commodity production and the creation of small and medium industries.
This trajectory will indeed shift the changing realities of economic diversification. If this doesn’t happen after the 2017 elections, high illiteracy rate, coupled with the lack of marketable skill-sets for our youth along with food insecurity, malnutrition, and unemployment will continue to keep Liberians hopelessly in poverty without clear-cut pathways to transformative social change. In this light, it will take a progressive leadership with a vigorous and resolute agenda to empower our youth and enhance sustainable growth. Liberia cannot afford any longer to allow the most vibrant segment of its population to continue to arbitrarily and haphazardly be used as instruments of hostility, violence, conflict and devastation. Our youth are the engine that can, and must drive our country to prosperity. They are endowed with the most underutilized talent for building critical capacity to igniting transformative social change and inclusive growth in our country. The time has come for our youth to be empowered with productive education, livelihood skills and employment to ignite transformation, increase resiliency and annihilate socioeconomic vulnerabilities. But, it is imperative that our youth be nurtured and guided in order for them to revolutionize their communities to success and prosperity.
Another way to also begin this transformative process is through the effective utilization of the robust value chain applications, practices and performances of a sustainable agricultural sector. Such an approach will allow the sector to become successful in enhancing youth development and empowerment. Our youth must be strategically targeted in a consequential manner so as to boost inclusive growth in a dynamic, and innovative way. It is no secret that our country is a net importer of food; yet we produce far less than our potential given our rich soil, abundant rainfall, and favorable climate for agriculture. This author holds the view that when sustainable agriculture is paired with youth development, it will translate into a win-win situation for our country. It will create considerable employment, improve food security, improve livelihoods, plus increase the balance of payments for our country. For instance, frozen foods and livestock that could be raised and grown in the country will no longer have to be imported. Moreover, basic vegetables, which are consumed every day by every Liberian will be grown in our country; instead of being imported from neighboring Guinea and Ivory Coast to fill the gap as it is currently being done to the tune of US10 million dollars annually.
A definite way to begin such a transformative process is the regional institutionalization of ‘Farmers Field Schools.’ Such initiatives without a doubt will surely help to lift millions of Liberians out of poverty through sustainable agriculture. It can bridge the divide between the youth, women and smallholder farmers through capacity building, and discovery learning to facilitate interactive learning among this underserved segment of our population. Additionally, it will prepare participants to effectively utilize the entire value chain spectrum of the agricultural sector, by allowing them to become more engaged citizens through employment, entrepreneurship, teamwork, and problem solving.
Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, it cannot continue to suffer from entrenched negative perception and under investment where smallholder farmers perform long hours of backbreaking work with very little to show for their life’s work. Our agricultural sector desperately needs to be modernized through the introduction of new techniques, methods, fertilizers and modern equipment to achieve better yields. What better way to initiate transformative social change, than through youth development and sustainable agriculture? Mama Liberia, the country we love, and the only country we have, cannot continue to be weakened by shortsighted public policy, which brings about intolerance, injustice, sexism and hostility. The confidence of our people cannot continue to be corroded and sink deeper into poverty and paucity. Every Liberian must be welcomed on board. We need all hands on deck to develop our country from Cape Mount to Cape Palmas, and from Mount Nimba to the seashores of Montserrado. But most importantly, the participation and contribution of our youth in sustainable agriculture must be encouraged through the public and private sectors, and civil society working together to reach this goal. Liberia First!
About the Author: Francis Nyepon can be reached at [email protected] for remarks and comments