World Bank Group (WBG) President Jim Yong Kim paid an emergency visit with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, to reassure her, the Liberian government and people of the Bank’s determination to help redress the drastic economic downturn which the deadly Ebola virus has caused the nation.
President Kim stressed that in addition to the US$200 million and other resources which the Bank had already provided in the anti-Ebola battle, it will continue to support Liberia until the virus is decisively defeated. But, he declared, “We don’t need to wait to get to zero to start working on the economic recovery.”
Then President Kim told President Sirleaf pointedly the purpose of his emergency visit: “Our second area of support is agricultural production. Agriculture is a key pillar of the Liberian economy and we are concerned that agricultural production has dropped as a result of the epidemic.”
In the spirit of a true and trusted friend, President Kim added: We will help Liberian farmers recover from this crisis. We must make sure that the Ebola outbreak is not followed by a food insecurity crisis.”
What more can one ask of a friend who comes to see and help another while he or she is sick, but looks beyond the sickness to help the patient become firmly reestablished in the post-recovery period?
In addition to helping Liberia improve its agricultural production, President Kim told President Sirleaf that the WGB was poised to assist in improving selected infrastructure “that are critical for economic competitiveness.” This includes access to electricity and road and bridge construction that connects farmers to markets.
We sincerely thank President Kim for coming personally, not through a mission, to deliver this magnificent message of hope. Liberia can thank its lucky stars that this first independent African Republic was present when the Bretton Woods institutions—the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others—were created following the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.
President Sirleaf recalled that the Bank has been engaged with Liberia since the early 1960s and has played a pivotal role in the country’s post-war reconstruction.
Now that we have been reassured of the commitment and support of the world’s preeminent financial institution in our post-Ebola recovery, what, may we ask, can Liberia and Liberians do for themselves?
For this newspaper has constantly cautioned in its editorials that all the external help we are given will amount to nothing if we do not help ourselves.
What do we mean? We think it is not an accident that World Bank President Kim first touched on AGRICULTURE in the several development initiatives he outlined to help Liberia rebuild her Ebola- devastated economy.
Let us quickly be reminded that Liberian agriculture declined long before Ebola. This newspaper which has, since its founding in 1981 and until now, carried a weekly Agriculture column, has for sometime now been calling attention to Liberia’s agricultural decline. We recently carried an alarming report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which stated that there was serious food insecurity in Liberia. Most particularly, FAO said that even the nation’s leading breadbasket, Lofa County, was suffering from food insecurity!
We made an editorial comment on that, too, but never heard a word from Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth. She treated the FAO report with the benign neglect with which she has treated the entire agricultural sector in Liberia.
When she met a Daily Observer editorial team several years ago, she described as “untrue” a complaint relayed to her from the people of Todee that they had not seen an agricultural extension agent in 15 years. Yet, where are the extension agents. All we see is pickups—given by some donor(s) carrying agricultural slogans. We don’t even grow coffee anymore; and our cocoa production is down, down, down. So are other tree crops, such as citrus—grape fruit, lime, oranges and tangerine.
Even the rubber farmers are complaining. The government, through the Central Bank, has pumped into commercial banks US$5 million to help farmers deal with the downturn in the world rubber price, to keep their farms open. Does Agriculture Minister know that most of the farmers still do not have access to those funds. Does she even care?
We think that if President Sirleaf truly appreciates the agricultural help which President Kim is offering to boost Liberian agriculture, she should find a new Agriculture Minister who can DO something in this vital, crucial, critical, indeed ALL-IMPORTANT sector of our economy.