Even President Samuel K. Doe, one of the least privileged and least educated individuals to ascend to state power, recognized the importance of agriculture to Liberia.
During his tenure (1980-90), he actively supported agriculture, including the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) until, unfortunately, he appointed Aletha Johnson Francis as LPMC MD, who ran it to the ground.
But during the 1980s agricultural cooperatives thrived and National Agricultural Fairs were held each year. When last we had one under this regime?
During the 80s the Agricultural Bank also thrived—until the war, when it was broken into and looted, they say, by ECOMOG soldiers. This alone is a lesson for those who wish chaos to return to Liberia—be warned: the price is very, very high.
In the past three decades we have had four PhDs as Agriculture Ministers: Doctors Roland Massaquoi and Othello Brandy under President Charles Taylor; Chris Toe and Dr. Florence Chenoweth under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. With such eminently qualified individuals in charge, why haven’t we made progress in a sector so fundamental to our national survival?
Professor Eric Eastman, an agricultural engineer who for over 50 years has taught agriculture students at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture and Forestry— including some of these PhD Ministers—says the problem has been twofold: first, the lack of honesty and integrity; and second, the lack of seriousness and patriotism.
Prof. Eastman is so disappointed about our failure in agriculture that he has dubbed Liberians as “not partners, but parasites in progress.”
This is a very serious indictment of one’s own people.
But with over a half century in the field—and still teaching the young in that one field, Agriculture, in the hope that, at long last, some “good [may] come out of Nazareth,” Mr. Eastman is, to put it simply, deeply disappointed.
He cited one particular experience from the Taylor years, when the Ministry of Agriculture once distributed 25,000 tons of seed rice to Superintendents for the farmers. And guess what! Most of that rice was stolen and sold!
Professor Eastman says there have been similar experiences in the agricultural sector in which he has labored most of his life. Most of our leaders, those at the top and middle levels, he said, want everything for themselves.
How on earth can agriculture—or anything else—succeed in this country?
Why have we chosen agriculture for today’s Editorial? Remember, it was just last Monday that the Governance Commission and the Constitution Review Committee organized the critically important Roundtable on Dual Currency.
Many of the nation’s leading financial and business experts participated.
There was not a single person in the room who opposed a single currency—the Liberian dollar. The ECOWAS Ambassador, Tunde Ajisomo, told the Roundtable that Liberia was the only West African country without a single currency.
And yet we are Africa’s oldest republic. How come?
Most of the speakers emphasized the advantages of a single currency—the Liberian dollar. Not only is it a matter of national pride; the vast majority of our people, without access to the United States dollar, trade in Liberian dollars.
To be compelled to buy imported goods in USD, then sell them in LD minimizes their profits, a serious disadvantage for them, Liberian Marketing Association President Lusu Sloan told the Round Table.
The use of LD as the country’s only legal tender means that everyone, including the foreign concessions, will have to pay taxes in LD and this would drastically reduce the LD to USD exchange rate. It would also deal a serious blow to capital flight—Liberians and foreign businesspeople shipping out millions of US$ in suitcases.
But most of the speakers, including Chamber of Commerce president F.A. Dennis, UL’s Prof. Wilson Tarpeh and Central Bank Deputy Governor Boima Kamara, insisted that the one thing that is needed to underpin (support, fortify) the Liberian dollar is our farm produce.
To begin with, we MUST STOP importing food, especially our staple, rice, meat, poultry and vegetables. These alone have historically made us dependent on the USD.
So we Liberians—the ordinary people growing food in their backyards—AND the farmers—vegetable, rice, coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm farmers—we have ALL got to put whip to our horses and start taking agriculture VERY SERIOUSLY and free ourselves from dependency of any kind.