Serious New Challenge in the Agriculture Sector: High Cost of Farm Materials

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The high cost of farming materials is causing great concern among our farmers, threatening their continued farming activities.

Mr. Momolu Bass, National Coordinator of Farming Union Network (FUN), recently expressed this concern to our Farm Correspondent, Judoemue Kollie. Mr. Bass noted that the price of fertilizer on the local market had risen to US$60 from US$40 per 50lb bag; while a liter of agro-chemical had escalated from US$20 to US$35.15. The cost of vegetable seeds had also increased from US$10 to US$25.

The FUN National Coordinator further said he suspected that these price increases were due to increased taxes imposed on agricultural supplies. He offered two key solutions to the government of Liberia.

First, that it should give more support to the agriculture sector than it is currently giving. He mentioned the US$9 million which GOL recently allocated to the agriculture sector, but lamented that this amount was far too small, especially since most of it might very well go toward salaries and other administrative costs in the Agriculture Ministry.

Secondly, Mr. Bass suggested a substantial reduction in taxes levied on farm materials.

Well, it was admittedly just around the end of the Liberian civil war, in 2003, that African leaders, at a meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, adopted a Resolution on Agriculture and Food Security. It called on all African nations to set aside at least 10 percent of their annual budgets for agriculture and food security. The 14-year war in Liberia was ending and no economic planning had been done in a very long time, and certainly not since 1997 when Charles G. Taylor became the elected President of Liberia. Taylor had no interest whatsoever in any kind of national planning. His objective, and that of his administrators was to loot the public treasury and spend recklessly, dishing out tons of money to his women and close associates, while they, too, were allowed to do their own looting where they were able—such as at the Finance Ministry, Maritime, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the National Port Authority (NPA) and the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP). In such an environment of public thievery, what money was left for any kind of development? That is why in his seven years as Liberia’s elected leader, Taylor never bothered to fix any of the infrastructures that he and other warlords—Alhaji Kromah, George Boley, Roosevelt Johnson and Damateh Corneh, to name a few—destroyed—not the Mount Coffee Hydro-Electric Plant, nor the water system, or the roads or bridges—no, nothing did he repair!

Thank God, the peace-loving Liberians, led especially by Liberian women and the international community, ended the war in 2003. Thanks to the direct intervention of United States President George W. Bush, Taylor was forced to leave the country, paving the way for new elections in 2005. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a woman of substantial education and vast experience in government, international banking and United Nations-led development initiatives, was elected Liberia’s new President.

Admittedly again, this was a time to fix many, many things in Liberia, agriculture definitely being one of them. There were also the roads and bridges, water, electricity and tackling the enormous debt burden left by the Tolbert, Doe and Taylor administrations, totaling US$4 billion.

Faced with all these competing priorities, President Sirleaf did not prioritize agriculture. This was most especially because of the bad luck she encountered in the selection of her first two Agriculture Ministers, Doctors Chris Toe and Florence Chenoweth, neither of whom made a serious impact on the nation’s agriculture. So they were certainly not the ones to insist that this compelling and life-saving sector was prioritized.

The new Agriculture Minister, Dr. Moses Zinnah, appointed in the twilight of the Ellen administration, could be seen as a lame duck Minister, although the Daily Observer, governed by its dogged optimism, did not think so. Yes, it may be late in this time of economic slump, given the fall in commodity prices, to set aside 10 percent of the budget for agriculture. Yet as we, since his appointment, have always insisted, there are definitely some serious and positive things he could do. He could find buyers for the locally produced rice; intensify agricultural training and ensure that those trained are employed; deploy agriculture extension agents to farmers throughout the country; seriously encourage cocoa and coffee farmers; effectively implement the fisheries projects, including encouraging fish farmers like Estelle Liberty, who grows a lot of fish in fishponds in her native Bong and other counties.

Minister Zinnah could also jumpstart meat production by promoting cattle breeding, especially in Grand Kru, Lofa and Nimba counties and elsewhere.

Now Minister Zinnah has one new challenge: to take measures to mitigate (ease) the high cost of farm supplies, including seeds and fertilizers. How? He could persuade the Cabinet, which meets every Wednesday, to reduce the taxes on farm supplies. This would immediately lower the cost to farmers and help them enormously. Alas, that is not the end of the matter for without good roads, storage facilities and buyers/markets, their produce dies in these struggling farmers’ hands.

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