Nine hundred bags of rice, which we reported last week Cape Mount recently produced, are not a whole lot. Think of the tens of thousands, if not millions of bags of rice that Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties produce each year.
But Cape Mount is special, is it not?
It is, for three reasons: First, Cape Mount is one of the smallest of Liberian counties, with a small population—less than 130,000.
Second, people in other parts of Liberia have always believed Cape Mountainians—the Vai, Mende and Mandingo—to be more tailors and carpenters than farmers.
And thirdly, most Liberians consider Cape Mount people to be lazy. Remember that about three years ago children were reportedly dying of hunger in Dambala, Porkpa District? When a team of Observer reporters visited the town to get the story, they found it to be true. There was no food in the town.
When our reporters asked why, the townsfolk said they had farms, but production was down. Our reporters asked to see the farms and were told that the farms were too far away, and it would take a day’s walk to get there. Our reporters took that to mean that there were indeed no farms, and therefore no food and that is why the children were dying.
This dismal and disturbing story seems to be slowly changing. Cape Mount Superintendent Tenneh Simpson Kpadebah told Vice President Joseph N. Boakai and Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah, during their recent visit to Robertsport on fishing matters, that her farmers had produced 900 bags of seed rice and needed mills and markets to process and sell them. That was the largest quantity of rice produced in anyone’s memory from a county whose people regularly buy bitter balls, greens and pepper from Monrovia’s Douala market.
It is a great pity – is it not? – that with all her training and experience in agriculture, Ellen’s second Agriculture Minister, Dr. Florence Chenoweth, herself a Cape Mountainain, did nothing to empower her Cape Mount farmers to do successful farming.
She probably forgot the Biblical injunction: “Charity begins at home.”
The Vice President and Agriculture Minister Zinnah promised Superintendent Kpadebah that they would help Cape Mount farmers with mills to process the rice and connect them with buyers.
We are here quickly reminded that toward the end of last year the farmers in Vice President Boakai’s own county—Lofa—found themselves in almost the same situation as Cape Mount’s farmers today. The Lofa farmers had grown nearly a million metric tons of rice and quickly found themselves in a serious and critical dilemma: there were no buyers for the rice, nor were there any milling equipment to enable them to mill their rice in preparation for sale on the market.
The United States Agency for International Development’s Food Enterprise Development, (USAID/FED), which encouraged the Lofa farmers to grow the rice, failed to help them prepare for the post-harvest challenges, such as milling and market access. The farmers in their crisis, explained their dilemma to the Daily Observer. This led us to ask whether FED had deliberately set the farmers up for failure, and if so, why?
It has been over three months since that crisis. The Observer appealed for the Agriculture Ministry’s urgent intervention, since the farmers had threatened that if they failed to receive help, they would be discouraged from returning to their rice farms this year.
Until now it is not certain what the Ministry or FED has done in response to the Lofa rice farmers’ plight.
We end this Editorial with a renewed appeal to Agriculture Minister Zinnah and to Vice President Boakai to reach out urgently to the Lofa, Cape Mount and all other rice farmers, help them with milling equipment and assist them in reaching markets with their rice. This would be a big boost to continued rice production. It would encourage our farmers to return to their rice farms in a determined and relentless drive toward self-sufficiency in our national staple.
There can be NO excuses for doing otherwise. Remember what the World Bank said only yesterday about Liberia—that we are economically among the hardest hit countries due to the fallen commodity prices of iron ore and rubber. The Bank reiterated what we at the Daily Observer have for months argued editorially—that the only answer to our current economic plight is heavy and serious investment in agriculture and sustained and vigorous attention to our farmers.