Why John Selma Is Our Person of the Year

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There are three reasons we dispatched our team of reporters to Lofa County to find our Person of the Year. The first is because we thought it most appropriate to focus this time on Agriculture. With Lofa being the nation’s traditional breadbasket, we thought it a good place to start.

Second, we heard about a hardworking farmer who was making a serious difference, especially in producing rice, our staple food.

Third, though we had held an extensive interview with him in Monrovia, we thought it important to follow him to Lofa in order to see for ourselves what he is doing, find the farmers he is working with, and see how he is impacting their work.

That is what our Agricultural Reporter, Gloria Tamba, and Reporter Alvin Worzi did last week, traveling to several places in Voinjama District.

They returned highly impressed with the work which John Selma is doing with rice farmers. Our reporters found Selma extensively involved in rice cultivation. They also found many farmers in the district who were benefitting from Selma’s training and even his purchasing of their rice or helping them to find buyers.

We find this extraordinary. Here is a hardworking, highly committed and selfless rice farmer who is determined to help others to succeed in rice cultivation. In our interview with him when he visited the Daily Observer’s new premises last week, Selma told us he had one objective in mind: Helping Liberia to become self-sufficient in rice.

After listening keenly to all that he had to say about his work, the Observer team asked him what he saw as a major obstacle to his work. He replied that the biggest problem was the lack of buyers for the farmers’ rice.

There were, he told us, too many farmers whom he had encouraged to grow rice, and they were doing just that. Often when he had the capacity, he would buy their rice, especially with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its agricultural subsidiary, Food Enterprise Development (FED).

Mr. Selma expressed one fear to our reporters: “I am afraid,” he told us, “that if Lofa farmers continue growing rice in abundance as they are doing now, and find it difficult to sell this rice, they will stop and find other things to do. This is my fear. I don’t want this to happen because if it does, it will be hard to convince them to return to rice growing tomorrow.”

Reporters Tamba and Worzi, during their visit to Lofa last week, found the identical fear expressed among rice farmers. Some of the farmers pointedly told our reporters that they already had huge stockpiles of rice in their kitchens for which there were no buyers. If this continues, they will stop growing rice and find something else to do.

The fact that John Selma has been able successfully to grow rice in large quantities and encourage many other farmers to do the same is the reason we have chosen him as Person of the Year. Under the same breath, however, we are making this urgent appeal to our government, most especially to our President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and her new Agriculture Minister, Dr. Moses Zinnah, to do everything possible to encourage our rice growers and work closely and conscientiously with them to keep them GROWING MORE RICE to make the nation self-sufficient in its staple!

The government can accomplish this in two ways: First, GOL can equip its network of agricultural extension agents and deploy them nationwide to help all our farmers, most especially rice farmers. These should be given every encouragement because they and Mr. Selma are convinced that Liberia CAN become self-sufficient in rice.

One of the answers to the decline in iron ore and rubber in our economy is self-sufficiency in rice, in order to save the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend importing rice.

Second, we suggest that GOL make it mandatory, that rice importers make it their first priority to buy local farmers’ rice.

This would be a great boost to our rice farmers, as it will keep them doing what they know and love best – growing rice.

Congratulations, Mr. Selma, and thank you for your worthy example.

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