Take Serious Advantage of FED/USAID, BRAC, GROW, Other Ag Initiatives

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There are many international organizations, some governmental, others non-governmental, that are trying to help Liberia get its agricultural act together. Heaven knows why despite all this fertile land and rainfall God has given us, we have not done so and still cannot feed ourselves.

We are still food insecure because we are complacent (unworried), lackadaisical (apathetic, laidback), and shortsighted, and all this has made us perpetually dependent. We fail to realize that there is such a thing as donor fatigue—people, no matter how well intentioned, can get tired helping others year in, year out, with little or no tangible, long-term results. Every year we go hat in hand begging for aid. In 2008 the international community forgave our US$4 billion debt. Now our debt is on the rise again. Thanks to Ebola that hit our country hard, our foreign friends are doing it again—just as this newspaper has pleaded on behalf of the three worst hit nations, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We have repeatedly called for debt relief as a tangible way of helping the three nations to revive their economies that Ebola decimated. In the case of
Liberia, our economic growth dropped from nearly 7% percent to 0.4%.

Deputy Finance and Development Planning Minister Dr. James Kollie announced last week that Liberia’s debt had been reduced to US$500 million. That is still a lot of money, and nearly every month the government is adding to the debt. Maybe by the time Ellen ends her presidency we may be back to over a billion in debt. Last week the Legislature approved over US$60 million for the rehabilitation of Roberts International Airport (RIA). Yet in the detailing of what that money will be spent for, we still do not see anything about a new terminal. RIA Managing Director A.T. Simmons had earlier this year indicated to us an “airport city” is envisioned. We understand that the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) is currently examining a number proposals from international developers who have bided for the contract to pre-finance the construction and run the operations until the loan is paid off. We hope the IMC will carefully examine these bids, expedite the process so that at long last Liberian may get a decent airport of which we all can be proud. It should be the best in West Africa. Let us aim high this time, remembering that we are
Africa’s oldest republic.

The main purpose of this editorial, however, is to plead with the Liberian people to take seriously the agricultural initiatives we are being offered, and also to undertake our own efforts to start feeding ourselves and exporting produce. We have the capacity to do it. All we need is the will power, backed by determination and resolve.

There are many international organizations endeavoring to help us in agriculture. One is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Food Enterprise Development (USAID/FED). USAID/FED is working in four value chains—rice, cassava, goats and vegetables. FED has also started an agricultural training program at the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute (BWI).

Another organization assisting Liberia is BRAC, a Bangladesh-based NGO working in agriculture in Liberia. Recently BRAC announced that it had launched a major poultry and eggs project in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. A most important component of this project is that BRAC has started producing feed for the chickens. This Buchanan-based enterprise is expected to supply poultry farmers in many places with chicken feed. With this kind of support, Liberian poulty farmers should redouble their efforts to develop and expand their farms. There is also the Obasanjo Chicken Farm in Grand Cape Mount County willing to assist poultry farmers. Should we take this seriously, soon we would not need to import chickens and eggs.

Then there is the Swedish NGO GROW, which is aimed at promoting agriculture in Liberia. GROW recently announced an initiative to promote aquaculture (growing fish in ponds) in eight counties. GROW’s international aquaculture expert Damien Legros recently completed a market assessment and announced that Liberia is ideal for aquaculture. It has “abundant fresh water and a perfect climate for most cultured species.” Liberia should develop an ambitious aquaculture industry, he admonished.

We are getting a lot of support for our agriculture. Let us make the best use of it so that at long last, we can start producing all kinds of food for our own consumption, and start exporting, instead of importing food.

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