The most important historical connection between Sweden and Liberia starts with LAMCO, the Liberian, American, Swedish and Canadian mineral company formed to mine iron ore in Nimba County. The company was dominated by Swedish investors, who made billions of dollars out of the deal.
We cannot say that Liberia got nothing out of it. LAMCO employed, with very good salaries and wages, hundreds of Liberians, who paid taxes to government. The company also trained many in various professional and technical fields. But because LAMCO and the Liberian Government jointly owned the company, its Swedish managers each successive year declared heavy losses; so paid no taxes, while at the same time bringing into the country duty free ALL of its imports.
Worse yet, the people of Nimba County, except for the few that the company employed, got nothing from the deal. When the company folded in the mid-1980s, its headquarters, Yekepa, became a ghost town, while Sanniquellie, Nimba’s capital, remained a shanty town without electricity or water. There was nothing in the county to show that one of Africa’s biggest industrial enterprises had been there for nearly 30 years.
The Swedish people themselves could not understand how Liberia could allow itself to be so terribly swindled out of its iron ore. A series of articles in the Swedish press was heavily critical of the Swedish industrialists and the Liberian Government for this. Sweden meanwhile closed its Monrovia Embassy, which was not reopened until after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became President in 2006.
But the Swedes appear to have a conscience. They have returned to help Liberia in what looks like a big way. Instead of entering into another extractive industry adventure, they are investing US$22 million in agriculture, to help Liberia grow more food.
Our Business Reporter David Yates said the company’s program is intended to promote economic growth and stability for the poor through partnerships with value chain actors, specifically smallholder farmers growing vegetables, rubber and oil palm.
The program is expected to reduce poverty and increase stability for 230,000 poverty-stricken people. According to Yates, it has the potential to deliver US$46 million in additional income for 34,000 farm enterprises and 6,000 workers.
GROW Team Leader Jaime Riebel, launching the five-year program last Thursday, said it is being funded by the Swedish government.
Mr. Riebel put his finger on the problem of Liberian agriculture when he noted that it had been hindered because vegetable farmers had lacked “the right seeds and other essentials to grow high-value vegetables such as tomato, cabbage, pepper and watermelon. He also mentioned “the lack of investment in the agriculture sector,” which has made Liberia “one of the world’s poorest countries.” This could all change “through successful agricultural programming,” he declared.
Swedish Ambassador Sofia Strand said both farmers and marketers stand to benefit from the project.
There were no details as to HOW this truly encouraging sounding project is to be implemented. We trust that the organizers are sufficiently familiar also with the consistent failure of government to extend the benefits of research to farmers.
The Tubman administration was absolutely strategic in situating the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County, central Liberia. At one time there were many extension agents in most counties—but not enough of them, and the few lacked support. For example, in the late 1950s and early 1960s the nation’s largest county and most important breadbasket—Lofa—had only one Extension Agent—Foya-born Leopold Bundoo, a Cuttington Agricultural graduate. Apart from being alone in such a vast county whose people were seriously engaged in Agriculture, Mr. Bundoo was given neither a bicycle nor a cutlass. He had nothing to work with and no way of reaching the farmers spread from Salayea to Vahun. So Lofa farmers were left on their own. Fortunately Lofans are hard working and productive. But farmers throughout Liberia are still crying for help from agricultural extension agents.
We do not know how GROW Liberia intends to fix this particular problem. But farmers should be deliberately and regularly reached with seeds, tools and modern skills to help make them successful.
We wish GROW’s initiators well. The Daily Observer, the first Liberian newspaper to produce—since 1981—a weekly farm page, will diligently follow GROW to spread the news of whether and how it impacts Liberia’s agriculture sector, to the nation and the world.