By Gabriel W. Coleman
In my most recent newspaper article entitled “A NEW APPROACH TO AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT UNDER THE CDC-LED GOVERNMENT” which was published in the July 3, 2018 edition of the Daily Observer newspaper in Liberia, the greater responsibility for development of the agricultural sector of the Liberian economy was laid squarely at the feet of private investors.
Private investors could be single individuals, groups of individuals (e.g. family unions, farmer cooperatives, etc.), faith-based groups/institutions, learning institutions, charities, multi-national corporations/companies, etc. Activities of the private sector in the agricultural industry include but are not limited to land clearing & preparation, farm inputs supply, crop production, ago-processing/value addition, transportation, marketing, etc.
Here, the private sector as value chain as well as supply chain actors is well illustrated. The activities described herein are not for Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) to perform. Rather, as was stated in the newspaper article referred to above, Government’s role is to create the enabling environment, one that facilitates farming activities to be carried out unhindered.
Among these is providing security for a stable state, reduction on tariffs for all agriculture-related items (e.g. farming tools & machinery, agro-chemicals, etc.), revitalizing the Agriculture and Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB) for extending loans to farmers (smallholders, farmer cooperatives, commercial farmers, etc.), soliciting international cooperation by entering into bi/multi-lateral agreements for financial, technical and other support to the sector.
The place of the youth in the agriculture sector:
The youth are an integral part of not only the society, but should also be seen as a potential and integral part of the private sector as well. In fact, the youth have played and continue to contribute meaningfully to the sector through skilled and unskilled labor. For various reasons, the underscoring of which is not the purpose of this article, the greater percentage of Liberian youth which is characterized by a combination of illiterate, semi-educated, school dropouts, unskilled, and unemployed individuals.
These put together and combined with adults who fit similar description, as well as other national problems, constitute a huge chunk of Government’s liabilities. Government’s/society’s liabilities are further compounded by an appreciable number of underprivileged, uneducated, unskilled, and unemployed youth choosing the path of crime in all of its ramifications – pick pocketing/snatching of people’s personal items (i.e. purses, wallets, etc.), armed robbery, drug trafficking, etc.
Armed robbery has resulted to deaths in some instances, rendering of some victims permanently disabled, raping of women (mothers & daughters in the same home in some cases), and the loss of valuable items by the victims. The young people are undeniably the future of our country. Yet, a vast majority of the country’s youth is disadvantaged/underprivileged.
They look on with envy whilst the few privileged ones move ahead with progress. But for them, life is static. When disadvantaged/underprivileged youth are unattended to, some of them gradually but surely transform into what could be likened to molten magma which under intense pressure, later spews as larva, devouring as it were, anything in its path. This is how and why some young people and others become criminals, terrorists, and willing international mercenaries.
All the young people of Liberia deserve better. They are all undisputed stakeholders in its overall development and should be beneficiaries of its wealth. They are therefore, entitled to equal opportunities. Liberia’s agriculture industry is in dire need of transformation. Disadvantaged and underprivileged youth should form a cardinal part of the transformation drive, as their involvement in it will build their capacity, since there is a range of technical skills to be learned in agriculture – such skills that enable a person to be self-employed and therefore, self-reliant.
Youth involvement in agriculture results to sustainable income generation as opposed to their involvement in non-sustainable economic activities such as commercial motor bike operation as a livelihood, unskilled labor employment as provision store attendants/building material store attendants/supermarket attendants/port casual laborers and so forth. There is no security (i.e. insurance & employment benefits for them at such jobs except the meager daily wages they are paid for the slavish work they do).
Skilled youth as agro-entrepreneurs Having worked in the agriculture sector and acquired useful technical, managerial and other skills, I hold the opinion that groups of young people across the country could form themselves into bodies of agro-entrepreneurs that cultivate specific cash or food crops, rear livestock, or provide agricultural or agriculture-related services. This can be possible with support by Government through the Agricultural Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB).
Putting in place a mechanism for training, monitoring & evaluation of the groups, as well as ensuring that they repay their loans so that the loan scheme continues and more groups are formed, this will inevitably result to increase in size of the agricultural private sector, the scope of activities, specialization in the ago-industry and eventually industrialization, not to mention a marked decrease in unemployment, a better quality of life for the youth, and increase in Government’s revenue intake.
The reality of expectant youth Availability of up-to-date and reliable data is crucial to policy formulation, planning, arriving at informed decisions, as well as making informed statements. In the absence of this, generalizations cannot be avoided. I am not certain whether or not there is available data on any survey done in recent time that throws light on the youth unemployment situation in each of the 15 counties of Liberia, particularly in the agriculture sector as well as which percentage of the youth would like to be absorbed by the sector.
Considering the country’s underdevelopment which is partly to blame for the mass unemployment and its attending economic hardship, particularly among rural and urban youth, I have no doubt that recruiting an agricultural workforce of skilled and unskilled laborers for each of the 15 counties at the county level will present any insurmountable challenge(s). The young people in every county are very hungry for employment because they too desire improvement in their living condition.
They have waited for too long. I can tell from the frown on their faces and anger in their eyes that they have lost patience to wait any longer. They need economic salvation now, not later. It is only through agriculture that their desire can be speedily fulfilled. Liberia is 170 years old; but in many respects, the country is a virgin land, particularly in the area of agriculture. I hear a voice echoing throughout the length and breadth of the country: Wake up Liberians and exploit the enviable gifts from Mother Nature – good soil and a fine climate, among other riches.
Invest in the soil through farming. Agriculture is the surest way to sustainable economic prosperity. Invest in it without doubts and delay. You will be glad you did. Time is passing away; it waits for no one. You have it now, make use of it. Liberians are a proud people During Liberia’s 14 years of civil conflict, the country’s citizens who sought refuge in neighboring and other countries refused to be beggars in foreign lands despite their vulnerable status. This is because Liberians are a proud people.
Owing to bad governance and its attendant vices, many youth from Sub-Sahara Africa, including some Liberians have lost their lives in their quest to seek economic refuge in Europe through Libya, where some of them are sold to human traffickers. Many of them never reached and many more will never reach the greener pastures they imagined or were told exist in that part of the world, which information motivated them to take the perilous journey.
Let the pride of Liberians translate into creation of economically empowering ventures in farming for self-employment and to provide jobs for others. If private individuals and institutions can invest hugely in the agriculture sector, jobs will be available, and hardly any Liberian youth including the risk-taking adventurous ones will have the desire to leave the comfort of “sweet Liberia” for greener pastures that may never be.
Financially potent Liberians at home and in the Diaspora, foreign residents and those of you out there looking for a suitable place to invest in farming, come to Liberia, a virgin and abundantly blessed land by all accounts. And, particularly, a land with a generous soil that grows everything that thrives in tropical climate, with an annual average rainfall of 4,500 mm (177.16 inches) along the coast and 2000 mm (78.74 inches) in the interior an added attraction.
Predicated upon the foregoing and in order that the underprivileged/disadvantaged youth of the country are fully involved in massive private intervention in the sector for its expansion and growth, the following recommendations are hereby advanced for consideration by Government:
1. A national survey to be coordinated and supervised by the Ministry of Labor (MOL) in conjunction with partner institutions be conducted to determine the actual number of unskilled and unemployed youth in each of the 15 counties of the country;
2. The MOA should conduct nationwide awareness workshops to sensitize the youth about the potential in agriculture for transforming their socio-economic situation. MOA should determine the number (or percentage) of rural and urban unskilled and unemployed youth that would like to be employed in agriculture for both their capacity-building and economic empowerment;
3. Recruit youth and adults of similar status (i.e. unskilled & unemployed) who demonstrate unquestionable interest in the project and create a database of them for tracking and other uses. The MOA should take the lead in this initiative upon obtaining the necessary data from the MOL;
4. Identify and acquire a suitable and unencumbered farmland for the project in each of the 15 counties, in conjunction with owners of the land, local authorities in each county, the Land Commission, and Ministry of Internal Affairs;
5. The MOA, Cooperative Development Agency, and ACDB should separately and jointly conduct training in farm business planning, farm record keeping & farm management, post-harvest handling practices & agro-processing, agriculture marketing, etc.;
6. Put in place a mechanism for monitoring & evaluation of the groups, as well as for ensuring that they repay their loans so that the loan scheme continues and more groups of agro-entrepreneurs are formed to benefit from it (the scheme) as well.
Building youth capacity for their active involvement in the agriculture industry will further expand the sector in terms of the number of stakeholders and its output. And of course, the sector’s contribution to national wealth creation cannot be overstated.
With a large percentage of the youth involved in economic activities that raise their living standard and improve their quality of life, the crime rate will drop, social tension will diminish and the country will experience an ever rising competition among its citizens in the kinds of investments that will be undertaken, the quality and styles of houses built, properties acquired, and quality of schools parents send their children to at home and abroad.
About the author:
Mr. Gabriel Coleman is and Agriculturalist, Natural Resource Management & Policy Analyst.