Agriculture’s Failure Again: Are We Determined to Continue Importing Our Food?

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In the face of the Daily Observer’s persistent critique of this all important sector, Agriculture Minister Dr. Florence Chenoweth told people, “I don’t read the tabloids anymore.”

Our response: “You call the Daily Observer a tabloid? Okay. Well, we shall have to wait and see how you and the sector will be rated when you are no longer Minister.

Here we are now, little more than a year after she left office and Dr. Moses Zinnah now in her place. Only last Wednesday the Joint Committee of the National Legislature, not the Daily Observer, is blasting the Ministry and Minister Zinnah, for failure to use even 50% of the donor money given for the nation’s agricultural development.

And there was Dr. Zinnah, in the face of his Ministry’s glaring ineptitude (incompetence), scrambling for answers to the lawmakers, and even apologizing for its failure to utilize money allocated to it by both donors and the government. Of course, there was someone to blame—the contractors, who allegedly failed to do the work expeditiously.

We wonder whether former Minister Chenoweth is listening—or reading; or is she still dismissing “the tabloids?”

Here is a typical example of the Ministry’s lackadaisical attitude toward the all important work it is called to do.

Only last week the Daily Observer undertook a follow-up to see what was happening to the well-funded Fisheries Sector, to which millions of dollars of donor money was allocated to build modern fishing depots to help our struggling fishermen. We sent our Environmental Correspondent Edwin M. Fayia to check on one of the depots being built in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County.

And what did he find? Another totally unnecessary but dismal failure! In Dr. Chenoweth’s own county, Grand Cape Mount, the fisheries project, though well- funded with reliable donor money, is stalled after nearly three years of operation—why? Because the Ministry has failed to focus on and follow up on the work! As a result, while the Chinese contractors have nearly completed their part of the contract – the fishing project building – a Lebanese contractor, who has already gotten paid to pave the project grounds and build the fence, was nowhere to be found on the site. The ground is still laden with mud and the fence has not been built.

Why has this Lebanese contractor been allowed to renege (default) on this vital project after having been paid to do it? Why? Simply because no one in the Ministry has been focused on this project! Why did Minister Chenoweth not have the urge to complete this project before she left office, at least to help the fishermen in her own county? Has Minister Zinnah, since his appointment, traveled to Cape Mount to check on the progress of this project?

So we can detect the fate of all the other projects, in the face of the Ministry’s lack of focus, follow-up and due diligence.

It is bad enough to rely on donor money to fund almost 70% of our agriculture. Funding this most vital sector is government’s responsibility, is it not?

We have always referred to the Maputo Declaration of 1995, which mandated all African governments to allocate at least 10% of their annual budgets to agriculture. The Liberian government has consistently failed to do that. Worse yet, the Legislative Joint Committee on Agriculture last Wednesday discovered that the Agriculture Ministry had not fully utilized even the meager amount GOL had allocated for agriculture nor even 50% of donor funding for the sector.

Is the new Agriculture Minister, too, “not reading the tabloids” anymore?

What these people fail to realize is that this newspaper, the Daily Observer, has since February 1981 carried a weekly Agriculture Page, designed to help our farmers by keeping the sector constantly in focus—why? Because we know how critically important agriculture is to our national survival. We also know that we import most of our staple, rice, and other food items, including vegetables, despite the vast, fertile soil and abundant rainfall that God has given us.

Agriculture Minister Zinnah will admit that from the day he took office, this newspaper has taken him very seriously and given him numerous pieces of advice to help him succeed. Has it all been water on duck’s back?

We pray that Minister Zinnah will keep his focus on rice production and give concrete encouragement to rice farmer John Selma and others in Lofa, Bong, Nimba and other counties. Let the Minister also encourage our vegetable, coffee and cocoa farmers, and our poultry and egg farmers, and our animal husbandries in Grand Cess, Grand Kru, Foya, and Lofa counties.

The Minister should engage the Booker Washington Institute and the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) to train agricultural extension agents and deploy them throughout the country to help the farmers. Minister Chenoweth failed to do that and that is one reason she accomplished little after several years in office.

O Lord, help Liberia! But teach us first to learn to help ourselves.

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