Okay, when African leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique in 1995 and decided that African nations should each invest at least 10% of their budgets in agriculture, Liberia was still at war. But did not the war end in 2003? Did we not have a United Nations peacekeeping force here since then, and peace ever since?
So what has prevented Liberia, a country that imports most of its food, including its staple, rice, and even pepper, from devoting the 10% of our annual national budget to agriculture? Is it the lack of political will on the part of our government? Or is it her lack of seriousness and focus?
Well, the British poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” So whether we like it or not, people are watching us and taking note of our lack of seriousness and commitment to the things that belong to our peace, security and prosperity.
One such person is Dr. Margaret Hilda Kilo, Liberia Resident Representative of the African Development Bank (AfDB). In recent talks with Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Jallah, Dr. Kilo observed that Liberia is “losing a lot because she is not prioritizing agriculture, and is, therefore, spending too much money on imported agricultural products.”
So we ask, what is the purpose of newspapers? This newspaper, Daily Observer, has since February 1981 published a weekly Farm Page highlighting agricultural issues.
But strangely enough, the government has never really taken agriculture seriously. There was, during one year in the late 1980s, one exception. An egg war was going on, and the Daily Observer championed the cause of Liberian poultry farmers, against the importers, who were importing, on a monthly basis, hundreds of containers of chickens and eggs. This created a very serious challenge to Liberian poultry producers, who felt they were being undermined by these foreign imports of the very commodities, chickens and eggs, that they were producing. We carried several stories on the farmers’ plight and later wrote an Editorial urging the MOA to seek government intervention by banning the importation of eggs in order to give our poultry farmers a break. Agriculture succeeded in getting the government to do just that and the poultry farmers were greatly relieved.
One large poultry farmer later responded by bringing to the Daily Observer office early one night, a pickup load of eggs, to express appreciation for what the newspaper had done.
We politely declined the offer, telling the producer that we had done what we did out of our patriotic duty to help our own farmers out. When he insisted, we received from him only three dozen eggs to divide among the staff.
Upon our return to the market on Tuesday, June 21, 2005, following 15 years of exile due to the war, we immediately recommenced the Observer Farm Page on Thursday of that same week and have been producing it since. We have over these past few years lamented the failure of the agriculture sector, and cried because it was manned by two of our top trained agriculturists, Dr. Chris Toe and Dr. Florence Chenoweth.
We are in the middle of this year’s commencement season. What are our commencement speakers telling our graduates? Hopefully not the same old same old. Each speaker, we pray, will ask the graduates, what will you do with your education?
As Counselor Oswald Tweh told Cuttington graduates last Sunday, the answer should be, Strive to MAKE A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE for your country, your schools, your families, your careers and for yourselves. He stressed ethics, honesty, integrity, hard work and punctuality and urged them ALWAYS to remember the Biblical principle: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor, rather than silver and gold.”
Yes, it is not enough just to say “I know book.” The question is, what are you going to do with the “book” that you know?
It is NOT too late for the Ellen administration to make a difference in our agriculture. We have over the past several months made several suggestions to the new Agriculture Minister, Dr. Moses Zinnah. We pray that he has taken note of them and is taking the necessary action. As we said in Monday’s Editorial, let him seize the opportunity, for starts, to encourage our poultry farmers to take advantage of the US$20 million loan facility which the Overseas Private Industry Corporation (OPIC) has extended to the International Bank Liberia Limited (IBLL). Among the areas they are targeting is agribusiness.
Here is an opportunity to empower our poultry farmers who, within a year or two, could help us save the foreign exchange we spend importing chickens and eggs.
The Agriculture Ministry and the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) should, at long last, start encouraging corn planting and other crops on a massive scale, to produce feed for poultry and swine (pigs).
Dr. Zinnah should also take the Lofa and other rice farmers seriously and PUSH them toward greater productivity. One day soon, we may start feeding ourselves with our staple, and limit or eliminate the importation of rice.
That would be a BIG ONE! Let us STOP listening to people who tell us it is impossible. It is NOT! Now, let us get down to business and DO IT!