We wonder whether President Sirleaf ever reads the Observer Farmer Column which this newspaper has been producing every Thursday for many years.
Dr. Cyril Broderick, professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Liberia’s College of Agriculture and Forestry, was the preeminent Observer Farmer in the late 1980s. Now we have another highly committed, motivated Observer Farmer, Judoemue Kollie who, though he has not yet even finished college, is faithful, productive and even indefatigable in covering the Farm Sector all over the country.
The President, the World Bank people, indeed all Liberians, especially those involved or interested in farming, should read Judoemu’s farm column which, as usual, appeared in the Thursday,—that’s yesterday’s—edition of the Daily Observer.
The Observer Farmer column contained three very important stories. The first was a story which, though highlighted in Wednesday’s edition, Judoemue felt compelled to mention on his Farm Page yesterday: World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s serious and emphatic pledge to help Liberia in the recovery of its agriculture sector.
Remember we said in yesterday’s editorial that AGRICULTURE was the FIRST thing President Kim mentioned while outlining his multi-faceted recovery plan for Liberia in the post-Ebola period. The WBG leader explained why he is targeting this sector first: “Agriculture is a key pillar of the Liberian economy,” he noted.
The second story on yesterday’s Farm Page highlighted a most encouraging and innovative initiative undertaken by 24 women farmers in Clay Ashland, Montserrado County. These women have organized themselves under an umbrella called the New Generation Women Farmers Group, within which they have started a Village Saving Loan Association (VSLA). Recently, with the help of some international donors, these women distributed LD286,820 among themselves to expand their farming efforts, especially cassava production.
Can the government and other able parties help these women with farm implements to make their work easier? Can the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) assist them in providing improved cassava varieties and lend technical support, such as deploying some of its staff to advise the women on proper cassava and other crop cultivation?
Judoemue’s third story is the most important one: he featured a rice farmer in Foya, Lofa County named Franklin Tengbeh, who has successfully cultivated 14.7 hectares of high yielding rice. Mr. Tengbeh is now harvesting his rice, some of which he intends to pass on to other area farmers as seeds.
But, Judoemue pointed out, Farmer Tengbeh is faced with a number of very serious challenges: lack of storage, transportation, thrashers and drying floor, among others.
Herein, we think, lies an excellent opportunity for President Sirleaf’s urgent intervention. She needs to find an expert and send him or her to Foya to see Mr. Tengbeh and what he is doing, and find out how he can be helped.
Foya has long been known for its superior agricultural productivity. Ever since the legendary Foya Paramount Chief Tamba Taylor, beginning in the 1950s, taught his people to farm, they have been self-sufficient not only in rice and vegetables but also meat. They grow their own cattle, goats, poultry, pigs and sheep.
The Foya farmers are once again giving the Liberian government another opportunity to redeem itself by reaching out to these enterprising people. This time, the government should be very focused and do ALL it can to help Farmer Tengbeh and others to succeed and, in the process, to feed Liberia.
Judoemue mentioned in his World Bank story a very important historical fact, which most people have forgotten. He started by saying that in the last National Budget, only 2.4% was allocated to Agriculture. Yet, 10 years ago, African leaders met in Maputo, Mozambique and adopted the Maputo Declaration which called on African governments to allocate at least 10% of their annual budgets to Agriculture.
Now we see why Liberia faces a serious threat of food insecurity. Now we see why our people are poor. This stems from two main problems: first, we have not invested sufficiently in agriculture; and second, most unfortunately, many of our Agriculture Ministers have failed us.
We must find a solution to these two problems and jumpstart our nationwide farm program again—in vegetables, tree crops (coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, cashew nuts, mangoes, etc.), in rice, our staple, in banana and plantain and in meat (cattle, goats, poultry, pigs and sheep), all of which also grow well in Foya.
Let us remember what we said in yesterday’s editorial: the World Bank and many others are prepared to help us, especially in the post-Ebola period. But none of this help will amount to much if we do not help ourselves.