Poor Liberia! Every time we find ourselves writing something serious about agriculture in our country it looks as though we are starting from scratch. Here we go again on the issue of Veterinary Medicine.
It was in 1956 that Liberia got her first veterinary doctor, in the person of Dr. Christian E. Baker. After leaving the College of West Africa, he entered Michigan State Univerity, where this first Liberian vet obtained his training. Not long thereafter he returned home and commenced his career at the Government Farm in Suakoko, Liberia, now known as the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI). Appointed the Deputy Director of Research, Dr. Baker ran the Animal Division at the Farm and also commenced teaching Animal and Veterinary Science in the Agriculture Department at Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University).
In 1960 Dr. Baker changed jobs. He was elected president of Cuttington and he immediately ceased being a fulltime vet. He and his wife, Milly Dunbar Baker, who was a Cornell-trained poultry expert, invested in the production of chickens, eggs and pork.
We know of no other Liberian vet except Dr. Leon Ledlum whom Dr. Chris Toe, as Agriculture Minister, brought back to Liberia to work in the Ministry in 2006-2007. Unfortunately, Dr. Ledlum suddenly died. Since then Liberia has had no vet working on the ground at home. There may be Liberian vets practicing abroad but we do not know who they are.
This editorial was sparked by a report published in Monday’s Daily Observer by our Agriculture Correspondent, Judoemue Kollie, in which he quoted an executive of a veterinary store lamenting that there was a serious absence of animal medicines in the country. Charles Hopkins, chief executive officer of the Price Trading Inc. Veterinary Store, said that due to the scarcity of animal drugs in the country, Liberian animal farmers find it difficult accessing veterinary medicine. Many animal farmers have to travel to other African countries in search of drugs to treat their animals, whether cattle, pigs or poultry.
What an admission for Africa’s oldest independent republic! What have we been doing over all these years? You mean since 1956 we have trained only two veterinary doctors? What has been our problem? How many Agriculture Ministers have we had since 1956? Johnny Cooper was Agriculture Secretary then; in the early 1960s we had Steve Tolbert; then Mr. Cooper returned after President Tubman summarily fired Tolbert on July 7, 1965.
In the early 1970s, President Tolbert appointed J.T. Phillips as Agriculture Minister, and later Dr. Cyril Bright. After 1980 and throughout the war years the Ministry remained in a chaotic situation and probably very little sustainable planning and implementation was done.
Since the advent of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government we have had two Agriculture Ministers, Dr. J. Chris Toe and Dr. Florence Chenoweth. The Ministry has made some headway in training but so far not in Veterinary Medicine. It takes as much time to train one as it takes to train a medical doctor—five to seven years. Sources in the Ministry point to another problem: the serious difficulty in finding well qualified high school and college students to pursue as difficult a field as Veterinary Medicine.
With the University of Liberia currently in disarray, stemming from problems both with the faculty and students, the Ministry of Agriculture may not be able to approach the UL’s College of Agriculture and Forestry any time soon to recruit scholarship students. Fortunately, Cuttington University, too, has a College of Agriculture from which candidates may be recruited for the difficult agricultural sciences and Veterinary Medicine. It may be useful, too, to recruit from some of the better high schools, such as Roman Catholic Don Bosco, where there seems to be an accent on the sciences.
But it is clear that the Ministry of Agriculture is that one institution that should pay particular attention to the training of our agricultural scientists, if ever Liberia is to advance in this most vital field upon which we can rely to feed ourselves and produce the crops that will help our country maintain a positive balance of trade and earn us the foreign exchange we need to advance in other areas of national development.