Our Assistant Farm Reporter, Gloria Tamba, last week gave the public a glowing and highly promising report on yet another intervention by the United States government in Liberian agriculture.
Ever since 1951 the US government, during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, has been helping Liberia to establish the Government Farm in Suacoco in the then Central Province, now Bong County.
That institution is now called the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI). Government Farm started as an agricultural research center, engaging in research in animal husbandry, insect pestilence such as rat tail caterpillar, soil science and vegetable production.
During that period, some of Africa’s current major agricultural producers, such as Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, were yet under colonial rule.
Yet these countries, now out of the era of racial oppression by the British and the Boers, are today highly successful in agriculture. And Liberia? We are still importing our staple, rice, and also fruits and vegetables in spite of our 43,000 square miles of mostly green acreage, more than abundant rainfall, numerous rivers to irrigate our farms and gardens. You name it, Liberia has it.
But what happened? Why is Liberia consistently and perpetually behind in Agriculture?
This question is primarily for Liberians themselves to answer, for it is we who are ultimately responsible for what happens in our country. Just as this newspaper has consistently insisted that Liberians and their government are ultimately responsible for the foreign domination of our economy, so do we continue to insist that it is we who are responsible for the success or failure of what happens on our farms. Whom else can we blame but ourselves? Nobody else, since we have been, since 1847, a sovereign and independent republic, Africa’s first.
Yet there is someone else who needs to help us answer this urgent and painful question: why has Liberia failed and is still failing in agriculture? That someone is the USA.
We recall that the most recent US intervention in Liberian agriculture was the Food Enterprise Development (FED) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). They were here for five years and said they spent US$75 million helping to improve Liberian agriculture. FED came with another glowing and highly promising objective, to make Liberian farmers commercially profitable.
And what happened after spending—so they said—US$75 million? The Americans know that Liberia’s most important food crop is rice. Yet when the Lofa rice farmers, in response to the urging of their government and also FED, grew rice, thousands of metric tons of it, the Lofa farmers could find no buyers for all that rice! Not the Liberian government, not FED, nobody could help substantially.
This newspaper urged the GOL to persuade rice importers to purchase the locally produced rice, but for reasons no one can understand, that is yet to happen.
Why did FED and the GOL let the Lofa rice farmers down?
Now, according to Gloria Tamba, there is yet another American farming initiative in Liberia, the Liberia Agribusiness Development Activity (LADA), with a substantially reduced figure, US$20 million. LADA’s emphasis this time is on cocoa and aquaculture or fish production in ponds.
What is LADA expected to accomplish in five years? But a more fundamental question is: who asked LADA to come? Who asked them to engage in cocoa and aquaculture? Did the Liberian government, through its Ministry of Agriculture, ask USAID to come here at this time to engage in these things? Or did the US government take upon itself to come in and engage in cocoa and aquaculture?
What is the government’s current agriculture policy? Where do rice and vegetable production, poultry and eggs and tree crops factor in that policy, if one exists? Or does the government just sit there and allow foreign entities to come in and dictate what they want to do, with or without GOL concurrence?
All you who are running for President, are you listening or reading? This Editorial sums up the history of modern agriculture in Liberia, which has been a failure.
What can you do, and HOW, to fix Liberian agriculture? What can you as President do to turn Liberian agriculture around and MAKE IT SUCCEED?
This, we submit, is your most serious challenge. For a country that cannot feed itself is doomed; for the best schools cannot help the children if they are hungry. And without food and proper nutrition, the best clinics and hospitals operate in vain. For food availability and proper nutrition are already among the most critical means of disease prevention and the sine qua non to a healthy nation.