Food Production: the Crux of the Matter in Our Economy

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Central Bank Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones took pains in his address to the Liberia Bankers Association (LBA) last Friday to reassure the Liberian people that their economy is not on the verge of collapse.

One of the main concerns of everyone in Liberia—citizens, residents, local and foreign businesspeople alike—is the drop in the value of the Liberian dollar vis-à-vis the United States dollar.  As Christmas approaches, the currency pressures will mount, igniting even more fears than  already exist.

The Governor quickly cautioned that the Central Bank “does not make . . . U.S. dollars . . .  The economy has to earn [them].”

He insisted that despite this Liberian dollar decline, the economy is not about to collapse, as some, whom he describes as “non-economists,” are thinking.  The CBL has made some “strong interventions” in the economy and this has helped to contain the pressure on foreign exchange, he said. 

But he admitted that further CBL intervention “has been curtailed due to the availability of limited foreign exchange to the CBL.”

Further, GOL has “prevailed on the CBL to prioritize the accumulation of reserves,” he added.

The Governor gave further reasons why he thought the economy is not in trouble.  Inflation in Liberia remains in single digits; the debt burden is “relatively low;” and insurance and other foreign companies continue to seek investments here.

Moreover, engagement with the international organizations, including the African Development Bank (ADB), World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remains “positive.”  This is a vote of confidence.

The Governor said the economy must earn its foreign exchange?  How?

The answer is very simple: produce, produce, produce.  When we produce the food we eat, then we save foreign exchange.

This newspaper has frequently urged the Liberian government and people to grow more food and to encourage the growing of more food.  Liberia has no business importing food, especially such basic commodities as our staple, rice; and vegetables.   Yet this newspaper has always lamented that much of the pepper, tomatoes and other vegetables we eat come from Guinea and La Cote d’Ivoire.  Why is this so when we have the exact same vegetation as our two next door neighbors; and probably even more rainfall than they combined?

We have frequently made two more points: first, that the Agriculture Ministry should train and deploy, as a matter of urgency, agricultural  extension agents throughout the country to help our farmers boost their production.  Over three years ago Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth told this newspaper that several ag extension agents were being trained for such deployment; yet, where are they?

Second, we have repeatedly named Grand Kru and Lofa counties, especially Foya, where cattle grow naturally.   But no one has taken this suggestion seriously.

Can’t we learn from Rwanda, which in five years became self sufficient in food?

The good Lord has endowed us with mineral and other natural resources.  Let us not wait for these to earn foreign exchange.  We can’t go wrong with making food production THE option, in which we could both save and earn fx and bring the Liberian dollar on par with the US dollar—one for one!

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