Can Ellen Jump-start Agriculture?

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The President's open admission in her Annual Message Monday that only five percent of the nation's arable landmass is being cultivated for agriculture is a very sad, very serious, very disturbing admission; but it is a wakeup call.

Ever since the Tubman administration, in the early 1950s with the help of our American friends, established the Government Farm in Suakoko in an attempt to introduce modern agriculture in Liberia, we should have by now made significant progress in Liberian farming.

The Government Farm, now the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), undertook a lot of research that helped to improve farming around the country. It also established the Agricultural Extension Service that deployed Extension Agents in all the then five counties– Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount and Maryland–and the three Provinces–Central, Western and Eastern.  When the new counties — Bong, Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh — were created in 1964, at least one extension agent was deployed to each.  But these were clearly not enough.  In the early 1960s, for example, when Voinjama was still the headquarters of the Western Province, there was only one extension agent there–a young Cuttington Agriculture graduate named Leopold Bundoo.  Yet Lofa was the largest Province.  When it became a county in 1964 it was the largest county, until it was divided into two, with the creation of Gbarpolu County a few years ago.  Yet Lofa, thanks to the seriousness, energy and love for farming on the part of its people, remains the nation's leading breadbasket, followed by Bong, Nimba, Margibi and Montserrado Counties.

We narrate all this history to say one thing: we as a government and people have not taken agriculture seriously enough.  That is why we have not made much progress since the early 1950s.  The government itself did not take agriculture seriously.  Mr. Bundoo, the agri-extension agent, was never given a cutlass, or a bicycle, yet he was expected to render extension services in the Western Province.

Not much has changed. That is why this newspaper has always said editorially that the GOL has not taken agriculture seriously; that is why it has  failed to organize agriculture, as it is organized, say, in Kenya.

But let us quickly add: we must stop this nonsense that our failure in agriculture, as in many other areas, is because Liberia was never colonized.  When are we going to start thanking God that, unlike all other African countries except Ethiopia, we were never colonized?  That, it seems to us, is a blessing.  It means that whatever we have, we have achieved by our own bootstraps.  Is that not something to be proud of?

There is only ONE THING lacking in Liberia: seriousness on the part of the people AND their government.  If all the people in all the counties were as serious as the Lofa people, especially when it comes to agriculture, Liberia by now would be self sufficient in food.  With only one agri-extension agent in the 1960s, Lofa was still able to feed the nation. A man in Foya District alone, named Paramount Chief Tamba Taylor, taught his people, the Kissi, to farm. Today, long after he was no longer Paramount Chief, Foya is one of the country's most productive areas. They grow their own rice, vegetables and meat. And if encouraged, Foya alone could grow a good portion of all the rice Liberians need, and all the meat, too, since their area is ideal for raising livestock, especially cattle, goats and sheep.

But why hasn't the government seized upon this ONE distinct opportunity to move agriculture forward?  Because we are not serious about our business.  That is why we are always begging other people for help – all kinds of help.  The Bible says, “Seest thou a [person] diligent about his/her business;? He shall stand before kings, and not before mean men.”

So what is the President thinking now?  Is she prepared to muster the SERIOUSNESS to move agriculture forward in this country, and get ALL her lieutenants to do the same?

Liberia is one of the few countries we know of where 100% of the land is arable.  Why on earth are we still hungry and food dependent?  It is a shame; and we better start removing this shame from our faces by getting SERIOUS.

This is the President's challenge, and the challenge of every one of us.

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