Reviving Liberia’s Cooperatives Toward Greater Agricultural Productivity

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Liberia’s agricultural cooperatives, especially those    in Lofa County, were booming    in the 1960s through the 1980s.  The Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) was in its heyday then. 

The Act of Legislature creating LPMC was passed in the late 1950s and the corporation  came into existence during the early years of Steve Tolbert’s administration as Agriculture Secretary (1960-July 7, 1965).  LPMC was a consortium between the Liberian government and the East Asiatic Company of Denmark (EAC).  Denmark being a major agricultural producer of both primary and finished products, the EAC did a lot to boost farm production and other business in West Africa, especially Nigeria and Liberia. 

Too bad Liberia failed to benefit substantially from Denmark’s agro-industrial expertise.  Had we done so, we would have accomplished much of what Denmark itself was doing and continues to do.  We would have created citrus plantations and gone into canning our grape fruit, lemon, lime, orange and tangerine fruits and juices for export to neighboring countries and beyond.  We would also have been canning our mango, German and golden plums and even entered pineapple production.  We could also have developed and expanded our coffee and cocoa plantations and started exporting the finished products and even ventured into chocolate manufacture.

But the lack of focus, vision, patriotism and efficient and honest management of the agricultural sector caused us to shortchange ourselves and our country, and we lost these and other opportunities.  Remember Denmark is still a major producer of canned foods.  Emborg is a Danish brand found in most supermarkets.

One primary sector that contributed to LPMC’s early success was the agricultural cooperative movement.  Cooperatives were formed throughout the country and they did especially well in Lofa County, helping the county become Liberia’s breadbasket.   But the 1980 coup and the civil war caused a decline in cooperative activities and in agriculture as a whole.  Yet even in the 1980s LPMC and the cooperatives were doing fairly well, especially under the leadership of Managing Director Joseph N. Boakai, now Vice President of Liberia.  But LPMC took a drastic turn for the worse under the leadership of a number of succeeding MDs, including Alexander Jeffy, Thomas Hanson, Francis Dunbar and Aletha Johnson Frances.  Aletha put the final nail in the coffin when LPMC under her leadership tried to monopolize produce buying, eventually running this once vibrant corporation into the ground.  With LPMC went Liberia’s once thriving agricultural cooperatives.

Now there is emerging another opportunity to revive the Liberian cooperative movement.  Our young Business Reporter, Davis Yates, on Wednesday told our readers that the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) is awaiting government approval to resume credit union reestablishments around the country.

The WOCCU has been in the country since 2013 endeavoring to re-empower local financial savings institutions.    

WOCCU has returned at the right time when the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has taken a serious interest in doing the same thing—channeling funding to credit unions, savings and loans associations, market women groups and other small holders, in a deliberate bid to help bring them into the money economy and improve their livelihood. 

WOCCU is working with other organizations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), funded by the MasterCard Foundation, in order to help build more credit unions. 

We believe the GOL should welcome the WOCCU’s initiative because reorganizing and expanding our credit unions would have a direct impact on agricultural productivity.  Why?  Cooperatives have long been among the chief sources of farmer empowerment.  Cooperatives have historically given financing, seeds, tools, management and other support to our farmers, enabling them to be more efficient, more productive and more successful.  This has improved the livelihood of farmers, their families and communities.

A partnership with the CBL’s own initiatives in this sector would evoke a revolution in cooperative efficiency, financial strength and productivity—and our farmers would be better off for it.

We call on the Ministry of Agriculture and the Liberia Credit Union National Association (LCUNA) to liaise  with WOCCU’s chief executive officer in order to accelerate this important and crucial effort to rebuild and expand credit union activities throughout the country.  The aims: to revive and improve agricultural production and empower our rural people through better organization and exposure to micro and other financing. 

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