One of the saddest and most painful scenes on Liberia’s highways ever since the war, but most especially in the past 12 years, is streams of trucks, pick-ups and taxies headed for Monrovia, heavily loaded with nothing but charcoal.
This makes one weep for three reasons: first, it means that the country seriously lacks a reliable source of energy, hence the urgent necessity for charcoal. Second, it means that our trees—the abundant green vegetation that God has given us to ensure the steady flow of rainfall—is being extremely misused, with the felling of trees which few are bothering to replant.
The third reason that makes one weep, is WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR AGRICULTURE? Where are the farm produce that should be filling those trucks, pick-ups and taxies?
The Food and Agriculture Organization announced last year there was a very serious food security problem in Liberia. The most alarming part of FAO’s announcement was that the bad news included Lofa County, the nation’s chief breadbasket. How is this possible, when Foya alone could provide a high percentage of the nation’s food needs? But Lofa is big, containing many other food-producing districts.
The other major food producing counties are Bong, Montserrado and Nimba, although the Nimbaians, for reasons hard to understand, have fallen short of food and have been seen importing pepper and bitter ball from neighboring Guinea.
Even so, Nimba farmers have recently complained that they lack markets for their produce, including rice.
Farming is the Liberian people’s chief preoccupation. Approximately 70 percent of Liberians earn their living on the farm. This newspaper has over the years pleaded with the government, especially its Agriculture Ministry, to do everything possible to reach out to our farmers with seeds, improved varieties of crops and extension services. We have also urged serious initiatives in tree crop expansion—citrus—lime, orange, tangerine, grape fruit—mango, almond, cashew nuts, which can be grown plentifully in Grand Bassa, and rubber. In the case of rubber, we have pleaded with the Ministry to devise a plan to encourage farmers to return to their farms, in spite of the price slump in recent months.
But the Ministry has, for reasons no one can understand, been slow to respond. What, for example, has Agriculture done to revive the cooperatives?
Another thing this newspaper has been constantly calling for is to feed ourselves with meat, especially beef, which can be abundantly grown in Grand Cess, Grand Kru County, in Foya, Lofa County and many other parts of the country. But no one—not even the sons and daughters of Grand Kru—where they say there used to be more cattle than people—have taken this matter seriously. Yet what is rainfall-rich Liberia doing importing malnourished cattle from rain-starved Mali to supply Liberians with beef?
The problem, it seems to us, is that Liberians shamefully continue to import what they can abundantly produce right here.
In her nationwide address last Wednesday, the President called for mass production in agriculture, especially rice. We are pretty sure she is serious; but what plans has she to accomplish this?
This newspaper knows of one Liberian businessman who was poised to engage farmers from a key rice-producing Asian country to mass produce rice here. But just as the deal was about to materialize, he got word of credit problems—he could not raise the US$10 million required for the operation.
Can President Sirleaf get the World Bank and other international partners, which have pledged money for post-Ebola agriculture, to fund this project? All that is needed is US$10 million. Or maybe, in the wake of her announcement last week, she already has something up her sleeves for this and other large scale food production projects.
The President has less than three years in office, and we earnestly believe that there is a lot she can do to change positively our agricultural landscape. Yes, she has been in power for 10 years and should have done that long ago. Yet, it is not too late.
It is said that the darkest hour is just before dawn—meaning, there is hope, even in the worst of circumstances.