Can Nimba’s Reopened Roads Boost Cocoa, Coffee Production? Can We Learn from the Effort of Nimbaians?

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Our Nimba Correspondent Ishmael Menkor dispatched a fairly important story published on page three in yesterday’s Daily Observer.

The story said that a feeder road linking Beo Yoolah to Gomahplay (Senator Prince Johnson’s home) in Nimba County’s eastern region had now been reopened after 50 years of closure. This story is significant not only because of the time spanning the road’s disappearance, but more importantly its strategic economic importance: It is the corridor through which many of Nimba’s cocoa growers once transported their crop to the markets in La Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere.

We all know that Nimba County is one of Liberia’s key cocoa growing areas. It is too bad that our government has historically neglected agriculture, relying on rubber and iron ore as the mainstays of its foreign exchange earnings.

This tragic mistake has primarily got us where we are today—in an economic and financial crisis—why? Because the two products on which we have for decades depended—rubber, iron ore—have today suffered a precipitous price decline on the world market. Just three years ago rubber planters were swimming in money—over US$2,400 per metric ton. Today that price has sunk to US$444! The same dismal story has struck iron ore, and this, before our very eyes, has led to the virtual suspension of operations of all four of our major iron ore producers, Western Cluster, Putu Mining, China Union and, the biggest of all, ArcelorMittal Liberia.

If today we called our last two Agriculture Ministers—Chris Toe and Florence Chenoweth—both of them highly trained at the PhD level, and asked what they did during their time in office to promote coffee and cocoa, what would their answers be?

Not them only, but all our other Heads of Agriculture in the past 50 years.

Oh! How has Liberia lost (wasted) so much time and money in her neglect of agriculture! And while we have pussyfooted in this most vital, life-saving field, others in our same neighborhood, Guinea, La Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, have forged ahead.

We saw how in the 1970s, as Idi Amin steered Uganda through one political, social and economic crisis after another, the Ivory Coast overtook that East African country as Africa’s leading coffee producer. That position is now held by Ethiopia. But La Cote d’Ivoire became the leading African producer of one of the world’s most important agricultural products—cocoa, yea not Africa only, but the world! As of 2012 she has become the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa, every bit of 33%.

While the price of iron ore has fallen from US$187.18 per metric ton in 2010 to US$39.60 today, the world price of cocoa has climbed to US$2,966 per metric ton!

And here we are in Liberia, through the initiative, not of the Liberian government, but the local people in Nimba fixing a road through that county’s cocoa producing region after 50 years of spoilage. Does this sound like a government serious about agriculture? We leave the answer to our readers.

At this juncture in this editorial, we hope and pray that ALL those planning to run for public office, especially the presidency, are taking note of the “Paradise Lost” in Liberia. Can any of them put on paper in their platforms for us to see, a redeeming plan of action in agriculture?—but not a plan only but a convincing display of will power to transform that plan into action to truly lift Liberian agriculture?

Can this, the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government—through its new Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah—develop a concrete and achievable plan to boost, within the next few years, coffee and cocoa production in Liberia?

We have the land, we have the soils to do it. Coffee and Cocoa can grow in almost every part of Liberia. But a careful study of our soils throughout the country can pinpoint the ideal places on which to grow these two vital crops. Can Minister Zinnah begin to make Liberia one of Africa’s leading coffee and cocoa producers?

Since his appointment, this newspaper has given Minister Zinnah many challenges. We wait to see how he will meet them and when to lift Liberia, at long last, from its perennial agricultural slumber.

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