President Weah’s Missed Opportunity

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The recently held Agricultural Fair at the Central Agricultural Institute in Bong County was by all accounts no mean achievement showcasing just a little perhaps of the country’s potential to produce enough food to feed itself.

According to the Global Hunger Liberia’s score of 34.9. on a score range of 0 to 50, “indicates the country’s hunger levels are serious and are on the brink of becoming alarming”. The Index ranks 112 out of 117 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index and it consists of a range of scores, 0 to 50.

Attaining food self-sufficiency in Liberia, in the opinion of many experts, requires that Liberia increases official spending on agriculture to at least ten (10) percent of the national budget.

This is in keeping with the 2003 Maputo Declaration which also commits member states to revitalize the agricultural sector through special policies and strategies targeted at small scale and traditional farmers in rural areas.

But according to recent audits of government’s expenditures, official spending on agriculture from 2005 to 2017 amounted to not more than two (2) percent of the annual budget.

Just how food self-sufficiency can be obtained with such dismal official spending on agriculture remains to be seen. Quite clearly, something needs to be done and something has to be done to reverse the situation.

President Weah has declared Agriculture as the second flagship of his Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development and has urged his officials to establish farms as part of the drive to achieve national food self-sufficiency.

But whether such lofty pronouncements, about agriculture being the second flagship of his Pro Poor Agenda, will translate into adequate budgetary allocation to Agriculture remains doubtful given current allocations in the national budget.

Local farmers deserve commendation for their efforts despite the virtual lack of official support to the agricultural sector. However, with a little official support from government in the form of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs, small farmers could prove crucial to the successful achievement of food self-sufficiency.

Clearly, government has to do more in view of the alarming situation regarding food security in Liberia. The situation suggests that the GoL should invest in small Liberian farmers.

The corollary of this is that GoL has to stop the policy of occasioning out large tracts of communal lands to predatory corporate interests. Friends of the Earth International advises that large scale foreign corporate interests often hinder real development.

For example, the domination of the rubber industry by Firestone, for nearly a century has absolutely stifled development of the industry in Liberia.

On a closing note, it would be instructive perhaps were policy makers to take note of the Borgen Project’s analysis of the hunger situation in Liberia as captured below in its “6 Facts About Hunger in Liberia”.

1. Human Development Index:

Liberia ranks 176th out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. The country is one of 14 African countries ranking within the lowest 15 on the index. This is largely because the country’s life expectancy at birth is quite low, being less than 64 years.

2. Global Hunger Index:

The country ranks 112th out of 117 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI). The index consists of a range of scores, 0.0-50.0, where Liberia holds a score of 34.9. The score indicates the country’s hunger levels are ‘serious’ and on the brink of becoming ‘alarming.’

According to the previous index scores, however, Liberia has consistently improved their conditions and lowered their GHI score by 13.7 points throughout a course of 19 years, from 48.6 in 2000 to 34.9 in 2019.

3. Malnourishment:

Approximately 45% of Liberia’s population is chronically or acutely malnourished. According to several experts and NGOs, the country’s destitute circumstances are due in part to the Ministry of Health undermining the severity of the situation. Additionally, in the country’s impoverished capital, Monrovia, 45% of deaths of children under the age of five are due to a lack of food and being underweight.

4. Sustainable Development Goals:

Liberia ranks 154th out of 157 countries on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The country’s economic and social development has been stunted for a long period of time.

The 14-year civil war, which formally ended in 2003, contributed to the country’s leading issues today: widespread economic instability and insecurity, destroyed infrastructure, poverty and poor living conditions.

According to Famine Early Warning Systems Network, 32% of the country’s population is classified as having moderate or severe chronic food insecurity. This affects more than 1.55 million people.

5. Economic Collapse:

The country’s continued engagement in several internal and external conflicts led to a 90% drop in the GDP between 1987 and 1995. Liberia’s plummeting economic situation is amongst the biggest economic collapses ever recorded.

The weak economy has continually increased the prices of products and decreased income, making it hard for families to sustain their basic needs. The rising cost of food has resulted in increased chronic food insecurity throughout Liberia.

On average, 1 in 5 households in the country is food insecure. Moreover, 2 in 5 households are marginally food insecure. While the country has been successful in decreasing their chronic malnutrition rates from ‘critical’ to ‘serious’ levels according to the WHO classifications, food insecurity continues to remain an important issue.

6. Child Hunger and Mortality:

One in 11 Liberian children dies before the age of five. In 2007, an average Liberian woman had more than five children.

This number decreased to just under five in 2013. While poor water sanitation and an alarming rate of food insecurity consistently claim the lives of approximately 10% of children under five, 60% of girls that survive tend to begin childbearing at the age of 19.

These malnourished adolescent girls tend to give birth to malnourished babies with low birth weights. And as a result, the babies have an increased risk of illnesses and premature death.

Truth be told, President Weah, by his very late arrival at the Agricultural Fair, missed an opportunity.

3 COMMENTS

  1. For Pete’s sake, how would facts on life-denying hunger the vast majority of our people have been experiencing for decades cause fear in their souls? The editorial says, “According to recent audits of government’s expenditures, official spending on agriculture from 2005-2017 amounted to not more than two (2) of the annual budget”. Moreover, Clint Borgen’s Hunger Awareness-centric Project has long-standing international credibility, and no one questioned its six facts on Liberia’s hunger situation.

    Put another way, this editorial isn’t alarmist. The author implicitly recommends adequate budgetary allocation for the Agricultural Sector in order to implement that aspect of President Weah’s vision which makes farming the “second flagship” of his government’s PPAD.

    Frankly, Mr. Sargbeh’s surprising contrarian comment reminds me of the response of then Minister of State Alvin Jones when as a newly-appointed Minister of National Security in early 1989, I went (along with Assistant Minister Counselor Foday Kanneh) to tell President Doe that NPFL 11 was waiting for weapons in Burkina Faso. Jones said, “Mr President, when security people want more money, they create fear of threat to the country”. I carried a witness to the meeting because I anticipated that attitude. Three months after others confirmed the information, and government sent for weapons in Brazil, the delay was costly. Our international partners diverted the weapons to a seaport in Conakry where they stayed until ECOMOG came to Liberia. Let us stop blaming messengers of factual bad news: Make the change.

  2. I meant to say ‘not more than two (2) percent’. Not to mention that this is significant, because the agriculture and education sectors (including workforce development/ skills training, and so on) should, at least, be allocated 25 percent of the budget. This is doable if, among other necessary steps, embassies are eliminated to the most essentials; the mining law regarding precious minerals such as gold, diamonds, etc. is reviewed; and salaries over USD $5,000 monthly for elected and appointed officials are reduced in a country with one of the lowest costs of living in the subregion.

    I won’t mention the irony that public servants get rich while the people they supposedly represent and serve needlessly die of hunger.

    Mind you, it is now an open secret that foreign aggression agents of certain big powers use discontent of citizens over the economy in dysfunctional countries to incite coups and uprisings, yet our political leaders prioritize their own wealth creation at the expense of the common good. The frightening truth is that unless we stop the dependency on foreign help to feed ourselves in the former Grain Coast, the next destabilizing event is just around the corner.

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