Our Business Correspondent George Kennedy's report on the lamentations of passengers and commercial vehicle drivers, and the statistics on the nation's increasingly negative balance of trade issued by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) are reason for national alarm.
Kennedy reported that the cost of transportation had escalated, causing great hardship for the ordinary people. The taxi fare from Monrovia to Paynesville is now L$100, up from L$60. Taxi drivers argue that the hike is due to the steep rise in the United States dollar compared to the Liberian dollar. The current exchange rate stands at L$84 for US$1, up from L$60 few years ago. The cost of petroleum can be paid in LD, but at the same very high exchange rate, making it a hardship for bus and taxi drivers. Somehow they have to make it up, or run out of business.
As to why the Liberian dollar has so significantly lost value, Kennedy quoted the Central Bank of Liberia which indicated that balance of payments (BOP) statistics for the year-ended December, 2013 recorded an overall deficit of US$176.8 million, from a surplus of US$43.7 million for the preceding year. This deterioration, says CBL, was mainly driven by a 13.2 percent widening of the current account deficit in view of "the economy's growing over reliance on imports." In other words, because Liberia is importing more than it is exporting, the country has to raise enough foreign exchange (USD) to pay for the goods and services imported.
According to the CBL, Liberia's current account deficit also rose by 13.2% to US$1,288.0 million for the year ended December, 2013, from US$1,137.3 million for the preceding year. According to CBL, this is due to 5.6% deterioration in the trade deficit to US$667.3 million in 2013, from US$632.0 million in 2012. The widening in the trade deficit in 2013 was on account of a 12.5% rise in import payments that outpaced a 22.3 percent (US$99.3 million) growth in export receipts recorded in 2013.
What are these CBL statistics telling us? They are telling us that Liberia is not producing much, but rather, importing plentifully, causing the huge balance of trade deficit.
Who is to blame? All of us, but especially the Liberian government, most particularly the Agriculture Ministry. With all the good soil and rainfall with which the good Lord has endowed us, we are not producing the food we eat. We import our staple, rice; we import most of the meat we eat, including chickens and eggs, the simplest meat to develop. We have REFUSED to invest in the cattle industry, even though we have natural habitats for cattle–Grand Cess, Foya and other places around Liberia. We import all our sugar because we have decided to use our sugarcane only for intoxicating cane juice. How sad!
Our market women have to travel on rough, dusty, muddy roads to Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire to buy pepper, tomato and other vegetables to sell.
We don't even grow coffee anymore because the Ministry of Agriculture has not invested in tree crops–coffee, cocoa, rubber–these money producing farms were destroyed during the war and in the eight years this government has failed to turn around this dismal situation.
The Bible tells us: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." These are the reasons our people are catching so much "hard time."
We appeal once again to the Ministry of Agriculture to get busy and address this situation by doing what it has to do to make Liberia once again an agricultural exporting nation. We urge the government to re-empower the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC), once the main exporter of agricultural goods from Liberia. LPMC exported coffee, cocao, palm kernels, palm oil, piassava, etc., and also helped farmers throughout the country to produce more of these commodities. Ambassador Charles A. Minor, former LPMC Managing Director, can willingly advise government on how to revamp LPMC.
GOL should also help rubber farmers to replant their farms. The Liberia Rubber Development Unit should be revived. Its former M.D., Elfric K. Porte, is around and can advise there, too.
There's a lot that can be done, but Agriculture needs to develop the vision–and get busy.